Below is a collection of blog posts I’ve written on various design topics. I’ve collected them here to make them easier to find.
The next time you have a project in need of design, go to your design meeting prepared. Gather all your project info together and see if you can answer these questions:
Preparing for design
Some of your answers may change as you have the conversation with your designer and their expertise brings new ideas and perspective to light. Be prepared with answers and be willing to hear new ideas that may lead to better success in the long-run. If you keep your objectives in mind, how you get there can happen a number of different ways.
- Can you clearly articulate your overarching brand strategy? If you can answer yes to the questions on this Brand Assessment Checklist then you have the elements that go into creating your brand strategy even if your strategy hasn’t yet been developed.
- Is there a particular event this project needs to be completed for?
- What’s the budget?
- What are you trying to achieve with this project?
- Why are we doing this (and not something different)?
- What medium will we use and why?
- What are the goals?
- Define the audience.
- Who are they?
- Where do they hang out?
- What are their likes and dislikes?
- What will capture their attention?
- How do you know?
- Do you have access to your audience (i.e. could they be interviewed or surveyed somehow)?
- Why are they not doing what we want them to?
- Why should they do it?
- Define success. (e.g. “I want my boss to be happy” or “I need to get 200 subscribers”).
- What will the approval process look like?
Download it: Project Definition - 18 questions
Marketing is not a skill I had when I began my business. I’ve had to learn on the job, and for many years I didn’t market my business at all. It’s been a process (sometimes a very slow-moving one) and I now feel like marketing is not the elusive goal it used to be, but a tangible part of my ongoing business practice. This list is a collection of the resources I’ve found while learning how to market my own business:
Social Media Marketing
I have only begun to take advantage of social media, and as I do so, I look to Laura’s advice and services to help me learn how and what to incorporate into my practice. She can take you from zero to pro in whatever social media space you want to learn about. She also hands out actionable advice in her free weekly newsletter.
Business & Marketing
Godin’s bio reads, “American Way Magazine calls him, "America's Greatest Marketer," and his blog is perhaps the most popular in the world written by a single individual.” I just recommend you read his blog. I do.
She has a great weekly blog/video post. It’s free!
Word Of Mouth Marketing
Check out his blog and videos where he talks about how he uses word of mouth marketing.
I just recently stumbled upon this blog by Jackie Huba & Ben McConnell. And I’m so glad I did.
How do you feel about handing out your business card? If you hesitate at the thought of sharing your card, we should probably talk. You can ask that same question about any piece of collateral you have.
If you’ve done your homework, you already know that your audience wants what you’re selling. So what’s the problem? If they aren’t buying, then the way you’re talking about your product may not connect with them. It might be your words. It might be your visual style or it might just be how you arrange your content. Are your top-level messages jumping off the page? Everything else should take a back seat. If that top-level message is working, everything else is just supportive, and they will read it. But they won’t read it if you don’t first capture their attention. So get their attention—that is your first priority.
If it doesn’t feel right, then something is not in alignment. Your gut is not wrong. But knowing what the problem is and how to fix it can be more challenging. So I created a brand assessment sheet to get my clients thinking and to help them identify weak points in their brand strategy and look & feel.
Want help evaluating your collateral? Request the brand assessment sheet and I'll send it your way.
Here are a couple of resources that I’ve found very useful and that I like to direct my new clients to. I thought you might find these inspiring or helpful.
Explains the relationship between Purpose, Mission, Vision & Goals. A great resource to look at when you’re just starting your business or to look back on if you find you’re perhaps missing something in your strategy.
Liquid Brand Exchange: Steal This Idea by Marty Neumeier
An excellent video that talks about the importance of understanding your purpose or your “why” and how it can be used in your business. I struggled with nailing this down for myself for quite a while. Then I saw this video. I highly recommend it. I also mentioned this video here.
Why do you do what you do?
That can be a really tough question to answer. It’s not about what you do. And it’s not about making money.
It’s about what drives you to do the work you do.
I personally struggled with this question for a long time. I recently watched an inspiring TED talk by Simon Sinek about figuring out your big “why,” and it finally clicked for me what my purpose is. I believe that any story worth telling deserves to be well designed. That’s why my business exists.
"I believe any story worth telling deserves to be well designed."
You probably aren’t the only one who does what you do. But you are the only you, so you likely bring something to the table that a particular segment of the market wants. Being really clear on your purpose is the thing that will attract the people you most want to work with and who most want to work with you. And they’ll also be the ones most likely to appreciate and recommend you.
Why is this so important?
Aside from attracting your audience, by clearly articulating your purpose you and I can make clear decisions about your strategy. And it ensures that your decision-making process will build a business that supports your purpose and vision even when plans don’t turn out as expected. It’s the thing you always fall back to.
Put it up on your wall and tell me about it when we meet.
Why do you do what you do?
It took a little over four months from the first meeting to the site being launched.
January 24: Met with Subtext for the first time, and we had a brief discussion of what I want to do with my website.
February 15: We agreed to work together.
March & April: Worked with Robyn on writing the content and creating draft wireframes for the site, logo, and moodboard/brand guidelines. Photography for the site happened during this time as well.
April 29: Began working with Kristin on website design and development. We met once a week to review the site design and progress. We meet via Google Hangout to review the site together and discuss details.
May: This month consisted of weekly check-ins, early design reviews, and me dropping content in so we can test design.
June 5: Site launch!
Typical price range for a project like this: $15,000–$25,000
Who I worked with
Writing, Editing & Consulting: Evil Genius Communications (Robyn Crummer-Olson)
Photography: Art Sower Creations (Sarah Woolley)
What I learned
It was time for a change. I had struggled with my website for more than 11 years. Never satisfied with what I had. Always bumping into areas I couldn’t control. I wanted to finally be in a place where the website looked and worked in all the ways I wanted it to and be flexible in all the ways I needed it to be (because websites are never “done”).
It was a lot of work. I revised my brand strategy and built up from there. All content and design choices came from this new strategy. The original site was light on content. The new site needed to round out certain areas that I now knew were important to talk about up front with potential clients.
Know what you’re about. My brand strategy dictated that I not try to appeal to the masses (I am just one person, after all) but to be very clear about what I do, how I do it and whom I work with. Industry expertise might suggest that some of my choices for the website are counter to being more broadly appealing, and my team did question me on these decisions. I made those choices with very carefully considered intention. I might not have done that without having a brand strategy in place.
It was worthwhile. I have now finally clearly defined my business for myself and my clients.
Collaboration is good. Working with a team was awesome. The expertise that these people brought was so valuable. If I did it all on my own, I could not have created this site.
Pay for it. Paying for it means it’s real. Other people were involved and affected by my actions. Accountability is a great motivator. I needed to do this work as much for my internal business strategy as I did to have the site updated. In a way it forced my business to grow up. So the value to me far exceeds the value of the website.
That’s the question I wanted to answer with my website.
I updated my website because I want you to get to that answer more quickly, more confidently, and without having to do a lot of research. I want to give you everything you could possibly want to know about working with me—up front. And if after visiting the site, you still want to know more, then we can meet and get into the details of your project. By the time you see the proposal I’ve prepared for your project, all your questions will have been answered. There will be no surprises about me, my work, or my method.
Does your website answer this question for your audience?
If not, how will they be able to make a well-informed decision about working with you?
Does your website make them hunt for the information they want?
Are they sticking around or are they giving up on your site (on you or your business)?
How can you help your audience choose you or your business?
Start by understanding what they care about.
Modify your content to directly answer their needs.
Revise your site navigation to be more intuitive.
Assume that people won't read every word on your site, and prioritize the emphasis of your content accordingly. Organize it to give them the answers they're looking for more easily, and highlight it visually.
You may not need to overhaul your website to answer your audience's problem. Do what you can now. Any action is better than no action.
Obviously, if your content is not inspiring, this won’t help you at all. Let’s assume you’ve got something to say and an audience that needs or wants to hear it. Follow these rules when composing your slides:
- Each slide should contain one point or idea. Imagery, if any, should support or reinforce the ideas on the slide.
- Be very selective about what you will allow to take up real-estate on your slides. Does your logo really need to be on every slide? Really? Seriously, why?
- Use one or two typefaces consistently throughout the deck, and set the point size to 30 or larger.
- Use color consistently. Except for when you’re applying number 5 (below).
- Be unexpected. If most of your slides have a white background, every once in a while make one of them a colored background to make a point stand out or to signal a shift into another area of your talk.
- Be engaging. If you follow the rules above, you probably don’t have to try very hard to do this.
There’s certainly more that can be said about creating an effective slide show, but this gives you a quick set of rules to get you started.
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This question came from a client of mine. I’ve modified the question to be less specific to their particular dilemma so you can see how these ideas can be applied to your situation.
Q: Our advertisements are boring, and customers are ignoring them. My co-worker wants to use lots of colors and fonts to make our promotional posters stand out more than the one-font, one-color template we’ve been using. I’m worried this will take us off-brand. What do you think?
My first thought is this: your co-worker’s solution to the problem is only one of many possible solutions. And it has the potential to create a disconnected visual experience for your customer (taking you off-brand). Here’s what I’d like you to consider: there are solutions to the “boring” problem within the limits of one color and one typeface.
In order to stand out from all the other signage and messages in your environment you need to create visual drama. Here are 3 ways to bring some drama into your visual pieces:
- High contrast color: you don’t need more colors. Black & white is high contrast. Try using one brand color with black or white for a simple and high-contrast palette.
- High contrast typography: Less is more with ads and marketing materials that need to grab attention fast. Make your top-level statement huge. Make all the supporting language subordinate, while being large enough to read.
- White space: No distractions. Get their attention, then get to the point. If you don’t have access to great art to include in your poster or sign, don’t worry about it. You can create a lot of visual interest with type alone. White space provides visual rest - letting your message stand out even more.
Brainstorm options within your limits and you’ll be surprised at the possibilities.