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!

..::
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!
::..

photo credit: pixabay.com

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.

..::

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!

::..

bicycle gear photo credit: user JarkkoManty on Pixabay.com