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

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

creatively giving

For 12 years, a young lady in our town hosted “Lauren’s Treat Stand” – an annual bake sale held on the first Saturday in June. It benefits the BackPack Food Program, which is a local non-profit that sends meals home with elementary students on Fridays so they don’t go hungry over the weekend. Through the treat stand, Lauren has donated almost $20,000 to help fill hungry tummies! That is amazing! Lauren is now graduating from high school, so she is passing the torch (or more literally, the rainbow umbrella) to another aspiring leader.

Jade’s Treat Stand debuts on June 1, 2019, and her mom reached out to ask me to help with the marketing. Let’s walk through the process of building the event marketing from the ground up!

it starts with a logo

While we wanted to create Jade’s own “brand”, carrying forward the tradition and history of the fundraiser are important – not only to make sure that Lauren’s incredible contributions are recognized, but also to capitalize on customer recognition of the event. So the rainbow umbrella stays, and the name “Generous-organizer‘s Treat Stand” stays – not just with Jade, but also when she passes the event on to someone else in a few years. But how can we make this JADE’S Treat Stand for now?

I drew the the rainbow umbrella and “treat stand” image to keep tradition, incorporated a light teal/mint color and drew Jade’s pup Bailey, then left plenty of space to grow and modify as the event continues to change hands. We created a logo that nods to the past but also looks ahead to the future!

building for the future

From there, we created business cards. We decided to leave the date off and really dial in on “The First Saturday in June” so customers would know when to expect this event – not just in 2019, but EVERY year. Also, printing a larger run of cards that can be used in future years decreases the per-card cost, and allows us to maximize the donation to BackPack by minimizing expenses.

The plan is to continue to use the poster design each year as well, with just the modifications to the date, sponsors, and new photo of the event host. This will continue the visual identity of the event from year to year.

The event banner is just basic information with no date – it will be used as a sign for customers to identify the actual treat stand location. Keeping specifics off means the banner can be used for a few years.

relying on social influence

From there, we created a Facebook page and named it Jade’s Treat Stand, but intentionally gave it the more generic link/address www.facebook.com/MankatoTreatStand for a seamless hand-off in a few years. A Facebook page will collect her fans in one place, and they will get notified when the event is coming each year.

Of course, we created the Facebook Event as well. Facebook now allows you to add Event Sponsors, which is a great tool. We can add the businesses that are sponsoring her event, and by doing so, it adds the Event to those businesses’ Facebook pages. So not only are we giving them recognition for their contribution and connecting Jade’s customers with them, but it’s expanding the event’s reach to those businesses’ customers too!

The Page Profile Photo, Page Cover Photo, and Event Cover Photo all contain the same imagery; again, for consistency and to build that recognition with her customers.

Side note: We didn’t create an Instagram page because we are being mindful of the amount of time/energy that is going in to this marketing plan, but I did size some images for Instagram so Jade and her mom can share the event information on their own Instagram pages.

wrapping up

The goal here was to create fun, simple marketing that catches the eye and lays groundwork for the years ahead. We put in a lot of work this year creating the logo, document layouts, and social media; but, because of the way we set it all up, the workload will be significantly reduced in future years. (Work smarter, not harder, as they say!)

And of course, we want it to lead to the big dollars needed to fill those hungry tummies!

Interested in helping? Here’s how:

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What do you think of the process? Of the designs? What would you suggest we consider for future years?
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cover image credit: user “silviarita” on Pixabay.com

design with consistency

“Consistency is next to godliness.”

-Roland Nord, 2010 (and probably a million times before & since then)

Roland was one of my professors in grad school – my favorite, if I’m being honest. If there is one statement that stuck with me since being in his courses, it’s that one. I quote it often and in almost every aspect of my life, but here I’m talking about your marketing and a simple change you can make to increase your brand’s consistency.

Consistency in your marketing creates recognition. Using the same colors, the same fonts, and the same feeling in your advertising, social media, and documents helps your customers become familiar with your brand. Familiarity is comforting, and humans gravitate toward what is comfortable.


Consistency in your marketing creates recognition.


The visual look of your communications is as much a part of your brand as your logo. If you’re using whatever font you feel like that particular day when creating a new document or advertisement, that underlying branding message from your organization becomes choppy. If you consistently choose the same font(s) and colors, your separate pieces flow together as though they were all created at the same time.

Of course, a graphic designer can help you define a direction and create a style sheet (such as the one pictured below) with a color palette and paired fonts as a part of a brand design. That can be important as you grow, expand your reach, and create more advertising for your business, but it’s not always necessary as you’re just starting out.

design standards help with (say it with me…) CONSISTENCY

The visual look of your communications is as much a part of your brand as your logo.


If you’re just starting out or if you’re just trying to create some consistency in your day-to-day business communications, start by using the same font for your communications. Here are some tips:

  • Choose a single font for now. One that came in your word processing software is just fine; choose one that has a variety of weights (regular, bold, italic) so you can create headings, subheadings, and body text.
  • If you are looking for a resource for free fonts, Google Fonts, DaFont, and FontSquirrel are great options. Just be sure to use a font that is licensed for commercial use and you read the fine print before you put it to use.
  • Make sure the font you choose is clean and easy to read. There are a lot of fun fonts out there, and you might like a lot of them, but keep your focus on what you would want to read if you were given the document you’re creating. Stay away from cutesy or decorative fonts. They have their purpose, but it isn’t here. Here you want to stick with the basics.
  • Consider your audience – do you need to be more formal, or is more casual ok? If more formal, maybe you will want to choose a serif font (these are the fonts with the small lines at the tops and bottoms of the characters such as Times New Roman, Georgia, or Garamond). If you can be more casual, or if the communication will mostly be read on a screen, a sans serif font would be a good choice (these are the fonts with no small lines, such as Arial or Verdana).
  • Be consistent. Use it in all email communications, new documents (both internal and for your customers), and wherever else you can. Make sure your employees know to use it in their communications as well.

Bottom line: don’t stress too much about choosing a font for your organization’s communications. As you grow, you can hire a designer to really dial it in and find a font family or pairing of fonts that speak to your customers and represents your brand’s personality. For now, just make sure what you choose is easy to read and you use it consistently.

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What do you think? Will you be applying any of these tips in your business?
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cover photo credit: pixabay.com user free-photos