why use a graphic designer?

Do you need a graphic designer?

Sure, you can put together that ad or coupon using your basic word processing software. Yes, it’s cheaper, and yes, it gets the job done.

You may not have the need for a graphic designer on payroll, but finding one that you can contract and work with consistently will build a relationship. Your designer will come to understand your business, learn your audience, and work more intuitively over time, thus needing less of your time and input. That groundwork and communication on the front end will help you immensely as you develop a relationship, grow your business together, and excellently serve your customers together.

Then this:

…turns into this:

…with minimal effort from you.

My passion is to take your message, polish it, and create a beautiful design so you can proudly put it out in the world. If it’s a print project, I’ll take care of getting it printed up for you too. Let me take care of those things so you can focus on the parts that made you want to go into business in the first place.

How can I serve your customers? Let’s find out!

cover photo credit: markusspiske on Pixabay.com

7 tips to help your designer help you

“Help me… help you! Help. Me. Help you.”

I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I can still remember Cuba Gooding Jr.’s face when Tom Cruise angrily delivers this line in the movie Jerry McGuire. Cuba’s expression goes from beyond frustrated to totally amused as Tom’s character begs Cuba’s to help him do his job. (Oooh I found it! You can watch it here.)

OK, getting to my point:

Every service occupation has ways the customer can help the provider do a better job of serving. Graphic design is no different. Your graphic designer will probably not scream at you like Tom Cruise does in the movie, but…

You can help your designer help you.

Here are some tips for working with your graphic designer so the end result is what you’re hoping for and the process is as smooth as possible:

1 – Answer their initial questions the best you can.

When I work with a new client, I usually pepper them with questions about their organization, their customer, as well as the project. I know that I ask a lot of questions, and I realize that the questions can seem tedious, but I ask them so I learn the mark I should be aiming for. My client’s customers are my customers, so I want to be sure I know who they are. My client’s message is my message, so I want to be sure I know what I’m trying to convey.

Click here for some of the types of the questions I ask.

Put in some time at the beginning. Your designer realizes you’re busy, and you probably just want them to take the project and run, but fully answering those questions can save you time and money later.

2 – Say what you want.

I live in Minnesota: the land of 10,000 lakes and 5.5 million “nice” people… meaning most people don’t really say what they want. This can make designing difficult. Even if you don’t really know what you want, you probably have an idea of what you like, or you know the general direction you want to see the project take. Find inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram, Etsy, Google… look for what people in your field are doing for similar projects and show your designer what you like. I love coming up with ideas, and it really helps that process if the client provides some initial basis to start from. If you DO know exactly what you want: describe it clearly and specifically, find and show examples that represent your ideas, and give feedback along the way.

3 – Give specific feedback.

And while we’re on the subject of feedback, remember to give it and use specifics. Let your designer know early and often if you find things that aren’t quite what you’re looking for. Include exactly what it is that needs to change – is it the layout, colors, images, font choice…? Saying “I want it to ‘pop’ more” or “it’s just missing something” is not as helpful as “I would like a brighter color here” or “I’d like to add another image to this page”. Yes, it’s the designer’s job to design, but the options are endless, so your specific feedback really helps guide the direction. It’s also MUCH easier to make changes early in the process than to rework things at the end, so communicating things you want changed along the way saves you time and money.

Of course, everyone likes to hear what we’ve done well – that’s human nature. So, compliment your designer freely when they’re doing good work too! Say the things you like – again, using specifics – so they know they’re heading in the right direction and can keep building from there.

4 – Have your content ready to go.

If your designer is not helping with the writing and editing of the content, have it  cleaned up and finished before you give it to them. The better organized the content is, the less time he/she has to spend figuring out what goes where and how to best make sense of it all.

To make a minor adjustment such as fixing type-o’s or swapping out a photos is of course no big deal and is expected; but once the text is placed on a page, making major changes to it can really affect a design, and big changes to a design costs you (say it with me…) time and money.  Make sure the content you’re providing helps the designer achieve your goal for the project. For example: if you tell your designer you want lots of white space, visuals, and a clean look with minimal text, then you give them lots of text, it’s tough for them to meet your expectations.

5 – Address their needs as quickly as possible.

As with any kind of project, questions can come up during a design project. Maybe I’m missing a logo or maybe there’s something I want to clarify, and sometimes work can’t continue until that question is answered. The timeline is usually a big part of the projects I get hired for, but I can’t meet the deadline if I’m waiting for a response from the client. When the ball is in your court, remember that the designer may have to put your project aside until you lob it back and they can continue working.

6 – Ask questions.

You hire a designer to provide a service for you, and you should ask questions if you’re unsure of something or want clarification. Ask for drafts, updates on progress, or whatever you need to feel comfortable. You’re spending your money, so your expectations need to be met. And like I said before, it’s easier for a designer to correct any issues earlier in the process than have to re-work the design when it’s close to done, so don’t assume you’re on the same page if you’re not sure.

7 – Be open.

Sometimes having someone outside your organization take a look at how you’re presenting yourself can be the best way to find what you’re missing or could improve! Let your designer make suggestions and consider new possibilities you haven’t explored before. Trust this person you’ve hired. I imagine you’ve vetted them and looked at their portfolio – give them room to work and use their creativity and skills for you! An outside viewpoint could be just what you need to change how you connect with your customer.

Almost all of these tips come down to communication. Keep the communication open and frequent with your designer, and you’re much more likely to see the outcome you’re looking for. The end goal for any designer is for you to be happy with what they’ve created for you, and they can only achieve that if you help them.

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How can I be helpful? Do you have questions about working with a designer? Or do you have other suggestions I missed? I’d love to hear from you!

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bicycle gear photo credit: user JarkkoManty on Pixabay.com

document design: “boring” but necessary

It’s back-to-school time, and for all who are parents, it means forms. So. Many. Forms. As I was filling out the same forms I’ve filled out each year for 7 years now, I got to thinking about how many businesses and organizations have poorly designed forms, or documents that just don’t take advantage of that small opportunity they have to market to their customer.

Our boring (but necessary) forms and documents are an important place to provide good customer service, and they can be an easy place make sure your messaging is on-brand.

Here are some simple pitfalls to avoid when putting together your more “boring” documents:

It’s Good Enough

When’s the last time you looked at your organization’s documents? Have you been photocopying the same ones for 10+ years? Even worse – have you lost the original so you’re photocopying photocopies? Maybe it’s time to review them, make sure you’re still asking for information you need and use (i.e. still asking for fax number despite not even having a fax machine anymore), and that the document looks fresh and in line with your current marketing, instead of like it’s been in use since the Reagan Administration.

No Branding

This one is simple! Make sure you include your branding on the form/document, including your logo. If the form is something that is printed in color, be sure to use splashes of your branded colors in headings and other design features. I recommend you use a consistent typeface across all of your forms/documents, even if you don’t have an “official” one with your branding. It helps bring cohesiveness into the suite of documents your organization uses, as well as provides familiarity and a kind of comfort for your customer as they move through your processes. Depending on the form and its use, you may also include your address, website, social media, etc., but not at the expense of keeping the document clean and simple.

Thinking about Your Processes, Not Your Customer

When you are developing your forms, think about the person using the form. Who is your typical customer? Under what context are they reading and completing this document: in your office or at their home to be sent in later? If it’s in your office, do they usually have a bit of time to fill it out, or is it just a few moments? When people use the form, do they typically have distractions: Do they have kids with them? Have they just gone through some kind of crisis or are they under stress? Is your service/organization a very small part of their otherwise busy life? (Answer to that last one: probably.) These are all questions to consider when deciding how much content to include and how to design your document.

Your own processes should also come into consideration of course – you want to be sure the work that needs to be done with the form afterward can be done efficiently. But, your processes should be secondary to the needs of your customer whenever possible.

Too Much Content

Think about the information you truly need. When putting together the content, don’t just throw things on the paper in order to have them; know your purpose of asking for the information. For example, if you ask for birthdate because you send out a promotional coupon to customers for their birthday, that’s great! If you ask for birthdate because that’s a thing that’s on forms and you might use it one day, consider omitting it. If possible, try to pare down the text to bullet points and brief sentences rather than lengthy explanations. Again, think about the customer and how much time they have to read what is included in your form or document.

Poor Design

We’ve all filled out forms or perused documents that have all of the information smashed together, there are no breaks or heading dividing the content into manageable sections, and the spaces are too small to actually write in your answers. This is a chance to provide better customer service! At best, a poorly designed document makes an already annoying task even more so. At worst, your customer will register a negative opinion of the service they are receiving from your organization.


Tying It All Together: Case in Point

When I worked for a local non-profit a few years ago, we had a form each participant had to fill out. We had a problem with many participants filling out the basic identifying information, but skipping some of the essential information we needed in order for them to participate in the program. We spent so much time tracking people down and calling them (often repeatedly), it was a huge drain on our human resources. We decided to do something different.

We talked about who our “customers” were, and what their lives were like. Then, we took a close look at our form and realized the information provided about our program was too wordy and used terms that a new participant wouldn’t necessarily understand. We found that we didn’t highlight the areas of the form that the participant needed to fill out; those parts were crammed in among informational text with little white space. We also realized we could cut out a couple of unnecessary questions.

I completely redesigned the form to significantly reduce the amount of text and call out each of the three steps the user needed to complete on the form. This increased the amount of white space and made it much more clear and usable. We saw a huge decrease in the number of forms that needed follow-up work, so that was good on our end. More importantly, because the forms were more complete when we received them, we could assume that they were easier for the user to fill out, which means they had easier access to our services. It was a clear win-win.


To wrap up, even those boring documents that we don’t think much about are opportunities to showcase your branding and serve your customers better. Give them a little love!

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What success have you had with changing a document’s design? I’d love to hear about changes you’ve made to an organizational document/form that improved your customers’ experiences and/or your processes.

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photo credit: user “myrfa” on Pixabay.com

proofreading: details matter

I can’t help it. I see them everywhere.

I blame my dad, whose liberal use of red ink on anything I did for school when I was a kid shaped my worldview (and frustrated me to no end).

Now, I can’t ignore a grammar or typographical error if I try.

For instance: I recently noticed a new company popped up in my community. When I decided to explore their website, I found that there was a typo on their homepage. This error was a part of my first impression of their business. They are brand new and working to establish their reputation, and something that little is what jumped out at me and stuck with me.

Mistakes happen – no one is perfect, and sometimes little imperfections give your business a bit of humanity. The trouble is when errors are repeated or not corrected, are a part of your company’s first impression, or are frequent, they can leave a negative impression of your business on your customer.

grammar-390029_640.jpg
photo credit: PDpics on Pixabay.com

I know, I know… not everyone is as… umm… fastidious about grammar and such as my dad and I are. In fact, I can hear your eyes rolling from here! But before you click the little ‘x’ at the top of your browser, hear me out:

Most of your customers that catch errors in your communications probably don’t really care so much, but they do garner an impression of you, even if subconsciously, unfair, or inaccurate. All of your communications (even social media posts) are a reflection of the care and concern you have for your customer and their experience with your business. Grammatical and typographical errors are so small and so easy to fix – you don’t want them to be a part of the impression you give a potential customer.

If you don’t have a full-time writer/editor on staff (ha!), hopefully you have someone who is able to glance over your smaller communications and proof them for errors. When your bigger publications or marketing materials are at stake, be sure to have someone with the appropriate background proof and edit them. Don’t let something so easily corrected cast a shadow on your customer’s impression of your business.

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Side note: Most graphic design companies put the ball in your court on this; you own any errors that make it through to print. I’m no different – the final version of anything I create is yours to approve – but you can elect to have me proof or edit the content you’ve written, or even write the content for you. I can’t promise perfection, but I can promise I’ll be vigilant about getting it right.

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cover photo credit: user 3844328 on Pixabay.com