5 steps to reduce your content

As a business owner, you LOVE what you do. You breathe it. Every aspect is important to you – every little nook and cranny, every small detail.

BUT…. is all of it important to your customers too?

I often see businesses and organizations so excited about everything they’re doing, they want to tell everyone about all of it. They want to make sure to include every last detail and nuance so the customer fully understands just how awesome it all is.

The thing is, if everything is important and exciting, then nothing is important and exciting. And if you include all of it? Well, then it’s just plain overwhelming and your audience won’t read it.

So… how do you learn to trim it down?

How do you go from this…

…to this?

1. Start by laying it all out

Put it ALL in there, like I did in the first image above. When I was working with this client, we knew the final version was not going to include all of that text; but by laying it into the document, we could see our starting point. We could see just how much we needed to trim out in order for the pages to look like we envisioned.

2. Ask questions

Keep asking questions to determine what actually needs to be included. Questions like:

  • WHY is this important to include?
  • Does the AUDIENCE care about this? (Not, “Do I want to TELL the audience about this?”)
  • Is all of this information necessary for this particular marketing piece? (Should some be shared at a different time, perhaps further in the onboarding process?)
  • Are these details necessary for understanding the message, or can some be trimmed out?
  • Will someone from my team be present when this marketing piece is being used? (Rather than including all of the information in written form, consider using bullet points and fill in details through a spoken explanation.)
  • How can I say this with fewer words? (Can you shorten/simplify sentences? Use bullet points instead of paragraphs?)
  • Can I tell this part of the story with a photo, image, or graphic?
  • Would it make sense to direct them to a website for more information?

Intentionally asking these kinds of questions will help you think through your content, and you will bring focus to what’s really important.

3. Zoom out and look at it

Without reading the content, determine if the page/spread of pages looks interesting. Do this by asking yourself more questions:

  • Is there enough white space, or is the content all jammed together?
  • Are there headings to break up the content into sections?
  • Does the layout make sense? Does it encourage the reader to move their eyes from section to section in the order that you want them to?
  • Is the font easy to read? (Read more about choosing fonts in this previous post about consistency in design.)
  • Are the images interesting? Do they invite the reader in to read more about what the image is portraying?

4. Get an opinion or two

Have someone outside of your organization take a look at it. You want it to be someone who doesn’t know your product or service well; preferably someone in your target market, but that may not be necessary. Explain the context in which the piece will be used (mailed out, used in initial consultations with clients, etc.), then get their feedback.

  • Does it look good?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Do you know where to go if you want more information?
  • Do you know what you’re supposed to do next?
  • Is there anything missing?
  • Is there anything you don’t like?

5. Final product

That’s it! Being mindful during the content development and design process will result in a piece that engages your audience and helps them fully understand your story. Sharing in manageable pieces (rather than excitedly telling them everything in one breath) will make them WANT to come on your journey with you.

It’s how you get from here:

to here:

cover photo by pixabay.com user: janeb13

the design & editing process

Many of my clients tell me that the biggest benefit they see when they work with Blue Sun is that the content doesn’t have to be “final” before we get to work. I take the rough, the incomplete, the “too much”, and the “not quite there yet” and I help clean it up as I design. I work with you to figure out what’s important and should be included, as well as what can be left out.

Today, I’ll walk you through what it looks like to hand off a piece of your business to me, so you can focus on what YOU love to do… while giving tips in case you’re in DIY mode.

the starting point

The Goalie Club’s camps are impressive, and their coaching is helping build amazing athletes who compete at elite levels. Their previous brochure was jam-packed with excellent information about their programs:

The Goalie Club has a robust and comprehensive website. The printed materials don’t need to tell every detail; they need to give the basics then drive interested families to the website to register.

Here’s how we redesigned the brochures tell their story in a different, more engaging way… with powerful content and strong design.

the design process

We started with a conversation so I could understand the programs, the camps, and what was most important for the customers to know.

Then, I got to work to pare down the content.

  • Long blocks of text tend to be overwhelming, so consider reformatting paragraphs into bulleted lists.
  • Look for low-hanging fruit that is easily cut down. For example, I reduced the number of testimonials and selected new, shorter ones.
  • Consider cutting out pieces of content that an interested customer could easily find on your website.
brochure content - first draft

From there, I began to add design elements:

  • color – it’s important to stick with brand colors and use them intentionally to break up the text into sections.
  • photos – choose just a few photos but make sure they’re strong and carry the story well.
  • layout – spacing and size of text are important for engaging your audience and keeping them engaged. (Tip: If you work hard to reduce content, you’ll be able to use a larger font size and add white space.)
  • call to action – the purpose of this brochure is to turn casual browsers into customers. A large call to action tells them exactly what they need to do next.

All along the way, I reworked bits of content and considered how everything was worded; every single word was put under the microscope.

While I was working, I stayed in communication with TGC staff to ensure I was on track and sent updated versions to get feedback and changes. Together, we landed at the final product:

build from there

hockey camp poster

TGC was so thrilled with the brochure, they asked me to design a 24″ by 36″ poster as well. I changed the layout, reduced the content even further from the brochure, and kept the web information super prominent.

Once everything was final, we high-fived and I sent the brochures and posters to print for them. TGC staff got to stay focused on what they love to do – building strong and skilled goaltenders!

Have questions? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below or contact kate@bluesundesigns.com.

Learn what TGC and others have to say about working with me.

designed with love

It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it!

We know that there are non-verbal aspects to our communication when we’re speaking: things like facial expression, body posture, and tone affect how our message is interpreted. This is true with written communication too! In design, font choice, colors, and images communicate the tone of the message.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I came up with this quick example:

Let’s break it down.

#1: The Default

The Default

This is done in the default font in Microsoft Word. I put in zero design effort and made no attempt to convey emotion. It’s the Valentine’s Day equivalent of Dwight Schrute’s birthday sign: it is a statement of fact.

I see this in business communications all the time. Using the default font is just fine when you just need to type up a quick agenda or simple internal communication. When you’re communicating to your customers, try a little harder. Pick a font for all of your communications and use it consistently.

#2: Cutesy Curlz

Cutesy Curlz

I’ll start out with the old adage, “Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD.” Using cute fonts just because you like them, adding cartoony clipart, and unnecessarily filling in white space makes the design look homegrown and unprofessional.

Again, choose a font to use for all of your communications that aligns with your brand and conveys the tone you’re shooting for. Skip the clipart and use more professional-looking illustrations, images, or icons. Also, be careful about putting images behind text; it can make the text hard to read. Finally, remember that you don’t need to fill in white space just because it’s there.

Click here for a list of low/no-cost design tools.

#3: The Stalker

The Stalker

Design elements can portray different moods. Just like music in the background of a movie or body language as a friend tells a story, design communicates the tone or mood of the message.

The details you add such as borders, backgrounds, and images shape the mood of your organization’s communications. Be sure to select photos that match your company’s personality and target market. Use colors that appeal to your customer and align with your branding.

#4: The Love Story

The Love Story

The design is clean and simple, there are no distracting extras, the fonts pair well, and the underlying tone of romance is strong. There is emotion here (unlike #1), but the cheese factor from #2 is gone. There isn’t a hint of creepy, despite using the same words and a heart as I did in #3.

Wrap it up.

Each example above sent a different message despite all containing the same words. Thinking about your “non-verbals” as you create your materials can make a world of difference as to how your message is received.

Reach out if you need help as you’re working or if you need an outside perspective to review your design once it’s done. I’m happy to help!

Cover image by user “kaboompics” on pixabay.com

creating change

I’m sitting in my office, looking out at the leaves, admiring them as they transition from green to gold. Fall is officially here, and there is so much to love! Minnesotans love the cool, crisp air, the apples, the explosion of color, but most of all, the absence of mosquitoes.

This fall is especially exciting for me, because it marks big change for Blue Sun Designs. Since January of 2018, Blue Sun has been my side-gig. My creative outlet. A way for me to learn and grow outside of a classroom.

Blue Sun Designs is changing today.

Starting today, Blue Sun has dropped the “side-” designation and has become my gig! This is a DREAM for me. To be able to use my gifts and talents to help you and have that be my sole professional purpose is beyond amazing. It is possible because of YOUR support, your encouragement, and your investment in my company. Thank you.

With this new full-time status, you will see some things changing over the coming months:

  • Most importantly, I will be able to serve you better. No more squeezing in meetings when I can; meetings will be when they’re convenient for you. I’ll be able to respond to you faster, and turnaround time on projects will be quicker. You will feel this shift immediately.
  • Focusing my energy will give me the space to be more creative and better able to solve your communication needs.
  • You’ll see an increase in visibility. I am so looking forward to attending community events, volunteering, and being more visible on social media. I will have more of myself to give to our community and you.
  • The Get Out brand of adventure tees and products will be refocused and reworked. I am BEYOND excited about what’s to come with that. Details to come.
  • There will also be so much happening behind the scenes that you won’t see, but will definitely affect how I can help you.

With all this change, there are some things that will remain constant:

  • Commitment to quality. I have built this business on my commitment to providing you with clean designs that communicate your story clearly. I remain focused on creating well-written and grammatically correct content for your projects. I will always use high quality printers, papers, and other materials in production.
  • Personal connection. You need a designer who understands your organization and your vision. I will always communicate frequently throughout the design process to ensure we’re on the same page and work to build our relationship so as we move forward, projects require less input and work from you.
  • Environmental responsibility. This one is big. Now, more than ever, our Earth needs us to commit to doing our best. I choose printers that use plant-based inks, ship with minimal packaging and eco-friendly products, and donate a portion of all revenue to reputable environmental organizations.

Just like I needed your help to get here, I need your help in launching this new chapter in Blue Sun Designs’ story.

  • Please like and share @bluesunmn on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Reach out when your company or organization has a need for a graphic designer who is passionate about helping write and edit the content so your story is told well.
  • And please be sure to tell someone about your experience working with me; your words are gold.

Big things lie ahead. Thanks for being a part of the story!

designing forms that function

Once again, back to school time has me thinking about forms. I wrote about forms this time last year too… about how they’re a reflection of your organization, they speak volumes about how you care for your customers, and they can make your job easier if done right. So, let’s talk about how to do it right .

First, let’s define usability. Usability is the idea that your USER can navigate and complete the form efficiently and effectively. It is not about YOU. It’s about your customer. So, the first tip for creating a form or document is…

always think about the user and their experience with the document…

…and not just how quickly you can get this thing done and off your desk.

design hierarchy

When you design a form, you want to define the process for the user. You want to be sure your user knows what steps they need to follow, and in what order. Here are some basic tips:

  • Use font size, bold text, or underlines to define headings for your sections, and keep them consistent. Use multiple levels of headings, if necessary.
  • Define form sections on the page by using white space between sections and indents from the left margin. Make sure subsections are defined as well.
  • Be sure that the parts the user has to fill out are clearly defined from the informational/instructional text. Use arrows, space, lines or other markers to make it easy for the user to find the parts they need to complete so you don’t have to follow up with them later to get the missing information.

use white space

If there is one thing I hope you take away from this post, it’s to increase the empty space on the page. White space allows the user room to breathe and makes your form less intimidating. Here are some ways to make room:

  • Reduce your informational text. I know your instructions are important, but see if you can provide that information in fewer words. (You probably can.)
  • Use lists and columns instead of long, wide paragraphs.
  • Rethink and update the information you’re asking for. (Do you really need a fax number? Will you ever use the it?)
  • Eliminate redundancy. Do you always use the same forms together? Then combine them. Take out the redundant questions – saves you space and your users don’t have to fill out the basic “name/date/address/phone/email” information multiple times.
  • Add another page if you have to. I know, it’s so much better to have everything on one page, but don’t sacrifice usability for convenience. (If using paper forms, consider printing front-to-back to save on resources.)

Side note: Give them enough space to write. This is partly a white space thing, but also just a legibility and usability thing. If the user has to write tiny to fit their answer in, you have to try to read tiny writing. And if they get frustrated, that tiny writing will get less legible. It’s human nature.

usability tips

Using basic word processing software like Microsoft Word is an easy way to get started, and it can work as the finished product if you’re using them as paper forms. However, if people are going to be using the form electronically, you will want to consider a few things:

  • Use text boxes rather than just typing in the document to help avoid formatting issues.
  • If you’re using Word, use the Insert/Shapes/Line function to draw your “fill-in” spaces rather than using repeated underscores. This will allow your user to type in the form without ____breaking up____________ and shifting the line. (Hint: hold the SHIFT key while you’re drawing your line to keep it level.)
  • Word does have the capability of inserting clickable checkboxes, drop-downs, and other controlled content through the Developer tab. (If the Developer tab is not visible, you can add it to the menu “ribbon” at the top of your page by going to File/Options/Customize Ribbon.)

software

Remember that MS Word (and other word processing software) is not really designed for creating forms, especially when used at its most basic level. That’s why the frustrating shifts of content happen when you go back and type in your finished form.

  • Consider using a PDF writer to turn your Word form into a PDF form users can type in. You can choose what they’re able to edit and where they’re able to type. I use Adobe Acrobat, and it does a fairly good job of automating the process of turning your original document into a typeable form. (FYI: Acrobat is not free software.)
  • Another option for creating forms is Microsoft Publisher. If you’re a comfortable Word user, you’ll recognize the functions within Publisher and hit the ground running fairly quickly. You’ll be able to more easily place text, images, and spaces on the page wherever you want without things “randomly” shifting on you. However, you will need to save the finished product as a PDF for distribution, and if you want users to be able to type in it, we’re looking at Acrobat or similar software again.

Creating visually appealing and usable forms takes time and thought beyond just typing in a blank document. You’ll be rewarded for your time when you have happy customers and fully completed forms that require no follow up for missing information!

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Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have as you’re working on your next form/document. I’m happy to help!
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photo credit: pixabay.com