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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

logo decisions

Have you met Jolly Corley?

She is a fire starter. She takes sparks of ideas, runs with them, and turns them into incredible things. She builds leaders, she empowers people, she is creative and fun, and she gets the job done. Fortunately for all of us, she’s taking all that wonderfulness and starting a leadership development and coaching business. In her business, Jolly will be presenting to groups and working with individuals to build leadership skills; her audience includes just about anyone from camp staff to firefighters to business leaders. The trouble is, she’s having a hard time deciding between three logo concepts I’ve started for her.

When Jolly came to me for a logo, she said she wanted a clean, simple, and classic logo with a simplified version/symbol that she will probably use more often than the full name. She wants to be sure her logo is inclusive of her entire audience, so nothing too feminine, but still reflective of who she is. She loves the clean look of each design I came up with, and just can’t decide which one she wants to go with. She asked me to get some feedback, so it’s your time to weigh in!

Will you help her narrow it down?

Version 1 incorporates a light bulb to symbolize this creative woman’s ability to dream up ideas and then RUN with them.
Version 2 focuses on her initials and uses a dot to symbolize a “starting point”. Jolly’s ideas are always just a starting point with so much more to follow!
Version 3 brings in the “starting point” idea from version 2, but the symbol logo is simplified and there is less of a focus on her initials. The symbol is also carried over into the “o” of Jolly.

👉 Comment below with your vote for your favorite design option – feel free to give your rationale. Your perspective is much appreciated!

Side note: these are simple, one-color mockups. The numbers in the corners give a peek at one of the fun colors we’ll incorporate later.

cover photo credit: user qimono on pixabay.com

designed to be unique

I saw a friend out and about a while back, and he mentioned he needed new business cards. He owns a painting business in town, and he said he got his current cards from his accounting software for super cheap and he’s almost out of them. But he also said, with a tone of annoyance in his voice, “Another painter in town has the exact same cards as me, so I need new ones.”

You guys, I live in a town of around 50,000 people. I don’t know how many painting companies we have, but I can’t imagine we have a ton. And the fact that two of them ended up with the exact same business cards just screams the old adage:

You get what you pay for.

I’ve seen it before too. My hairstylist used to have the same logo and business cards as a bridal shop in town. When you get your designs created by a one-size-fits-all shop online, you run the risk of sharing your branding with someone else in town, or even your competition. The internet is big, but not THAT big.

A small design company will take the time to listen to you and learn about your business, your customer, and the message you’re trying to convey. They will create something that is unique to you and YOUR company… something that stands out from your competition’s marketing instead of matching it.

Plus, if you give that designer your repeat business, they will become an extension of your team. They will grow to understand the nuances of your business, and you won’t have to explain who you are or how your business works to them each time you have a new project. It’s like having a designer on-staff, but without having to budget for it.

Sure, you will likely have to pay more for the service of custom design. But, you didn’t design your business to fit into a template; why design your marketing around a template?

photo credit: user RawPixel on Pixabay.com