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!


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.


photo credit: user “myrfa” on

a push to achieve more

I know a couple who owns a local business. They are clients and friends of mine, and they live their lives in a way that shines light on all who come in contact with them. Their business is a fun one, and they make sure they operate it in a way that aligns with their personal beliefs. They give to community organizations, they smile and engage with everyone who walks in their door, and they truly live what they believe. They don’t do it because they want recognition. They do it because it’s in their hearts.

When I stopped in recently to drop off a completed project (read about that here), they said they had a “proposition” for me. Always excited for new ideas and projects, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to hear it. They “proposed” that I attend Christy Wright’s Business Boutique conference in November, and they would help fund the trip. That’s it. That was the proposition. No return favor, no quid pro quo. Just, “We want to do this for you.” This was weeks ago, and I still do not have words for how grateful I am.

If you know me well, you know I’m irrationally terrified of flying. I also have two very active kids to drive all over the place, two dogs to worry about, and a full-time job outside of this side-venture. It is also VERY MUCH outside my nature to accept help or gifts like this from anyone. I have a million reasons (excuses?) to turn down this most generous offer. But I have one big reason why I accepted it.

It is 100% outside of my comfort zone.

The whole thing: the travel, the leaving my responsibilities at home, the asking someone else to manage those responsibilities, the accepting a gift from someone, the taking a leap and investing in myself and my company in this way… all of it is beyond what is comfortable for me.

So, from my perspective, what they’re giving me is huge. They are not simply encouraging me to attend a conference to learn about entrepreneurship. They are pushing me to grow as a person; they are encouraging me to think bigger, to believe in myself and what I’m doing, and to take a risk. They’re also demonstrating what it means to live fully and completely in kindness and give to others.

Hopefully, the conference turns out to be worthwhile and I learn a ton; I’ll find that out in November. But the impact of this act of kindness has already begun.

10 tools for DIY design that don’t max your budget

Hiring a designer isn’t always in the budget, and it isn’t always necessary! For simple projects, there are tons of DIY resources online that will help you put together that quick image for your newest social media post, blog post, or to stick in an email campaign. Many of the resources have free and low-cost options that are still pretty powerful and will get the job done. Here are a few I trust:

Photo editing

To overlay text on an image or otherwise doctor it up, you don’t have to have fancy software. Online resources like and allow you to easily create those fun customized images I’m sure you’ve seen on social media and blogs. Both resources have free tools as well as more powerful paid options.

**If you have an event or campaign coming up, I can create artwork for you to overlay on your images, like I did for K&G Gymnastics. They use Canva to place the artwork I created over pictures they took at some of their clients’ businesses, and shared them on social media, like this:

photo credit: K&G Gymnastics

Free photos and images

I’ve posted about them on my Facebook page before, and I love them: and have free, high-res stock art you can use wherever you want to and for whatever purpose, including commercial use. TOTALLY FREE! You don’t even have to give artist credit when you use them (but it IS the nice thing to do). Unsplash has photos only, but Pixabay has videos and vector art in addition to photos. (I even have a couple of my photos out there!)


Sometimes I get stuck when trying to find the perfect color to compliment a main color, or I want inspiration for a palette of colors that go well together.

If you find yourself in the same boat, one option is Colourlovers has tons of color palettes, and you can use search terms to find just the mood you’re looking for.

Or if you know exactly what color you want, is a free add-on tool for your web browser that lets you pull colors from literally anything you can pull up on the web. Use the little eyedropper tool to click on an area of a photo or webpage on your screen, and it will give you the RGB and hex color codes for that precise color. Pretty neat-o! This is also helpful for when you’re trying to describe that VERY SPECIFIC color you want to your graphic designer. 🙂

Finally, Coolors helps you find a palette from a starter color or photo. It is definitely one of my frequent go-to resources.


photo credit: user “vixrealitum”


If you’re tired of the fonts that came with your computer and want to find something to better fit your branding or the voice of the message, it’s hard to know what sites you can trust to download fonts. DO NOT just Google “free fonts” and get download-happy, lest you end up with nasty viruses and a big ole’ computer repair bill.

A site I’ve trusted for just about ever is Pay attention here though – many of the free fonts are only licensed for personal use, and you’d need to contact the designer (read: pay for a commercial license) before using them commercially. I recently discovered, which has only free fonts that come with the commercial license (and therefore can be used for ads or pretty much anything). GOLD MINE!

Bonus fun for font nerds: if you just HAVE to know what a certain font is, there’s a site called Identifont. You answer a bunch of questions about the different attributes the font has, and it spits back what font(s) it could be. Then you can use it in your own project!


When a picture needs to tell a thousand stats, is a great tool. With multiple price levels, including basic free tools, you can get that data looking good and much more appealing to your audience. also has 15 free downloadable templates you can edit in Powerpoint.


So, there you go! Now you have a bunch of free or low-cost tools to get you on the path to creating your own designs when hiring someone just isn’t in the budget. Of course, this list isn’t intended to be all-inclusive or exhaustive. There are tons of other great options out there too! Know some reliable and trustworthy sites? Share them in the comments here!

If you you do use some of the resources shared here, I would love to see what you come up with! Share it with me on Facebook or Instagram @bluesunmn.

Finally, when you DO need a designer (like when your time carries more value than the cost of hiring a designer, or when the project is beyond your abilities, or when you want something a little less home-grown and a little more professional), I’ll be here! Reach out and tell me about your project!

Happy creating!


cover photo credit: