Sometimes you don’t have a graphic designer on staff. So what do you do when you need to mock up templates for business cards or letterhead? With the abundance of computer programs and online templates available, it’s easy to design your own. And with plenty of quality online printing services available, getting your custom printing done affordably is no problem.
However, it isn’t quite so easy to design good business cards, letterhead, brochures, posters…. All too often small businesses put out flyers that are cluttered with fonts and colors, boring business cards or ads that require a good five-minute of examination to understand what they’re for.
So how can you design great business and promotional materials without going back to college for an art degree? Just familiarize yourself with a few fundamentals of graphic design.
This is probably the single most important rule here. Be consistent! Definitely no more than two different fonts (one for the headings and one for the text). Try to keep your colors to a certain scheme (pastels and neons should only be combined by experts) and use images that have a similar look to them. Consistency will go a long ways in giving your promotional materials a professional look.
The best promotional materials are ones that, at first glance, can be identified with a brand. Think about ads for Absolut vodka or the ‘Got Milk’ campaign… You don’t need to spend any time reading the fine print to know what product is being pushed. These brands got to where they are with repetition. By printing ads that are all variations of a theme, the consumer becomes familiar with a certain style and comes to recognize the brand without having to spend any time thinking about it. And when you’re trying to grab the attention of someone walking past a poster, those seconds saved are crucial.
Even if you don’t have an established brand identity, design like you do. Visual consistency that can tie your business cards to your brochures to your employees’ nametags will help you establish a recognizable brand and make it easier for your promotional materials to leave an impression.
You’ll want to be consistent with your colors too. Try to limit the number of colors you use on your print products (there’s no specific you should limit it to, but try to keep it proportional to the size of the product with fewer colors for business cards and envelopes and more colors for posters and mutli-page brochures).
When you’re choosing the colors, start with your logo. Pull out a color, or several colors, from the logo and pull that into the design. For accent colors, pull out that old color wheel from elementary school and find an opposite hue to put into the design. Orange logo? Make it pop with a blue background.
Beginning graphic design is definitely a time to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle. Professional designers may produce complex and beautiful posters, but when you’re starting out it’s better to use fewer elements.
Fill the space available, but only use a few different elements: not a sampling of different pictures and patterns. Experiment with sizes and composition before you decide to add more elements.
An eye for great composition (where on the space the elements go) is often a matter of practice and training. Here are just a few basic rules for composition. Photographers follow something called the ‘rule of thirds’, which states that the eye naturally breaks an image into thirds. For an effective image, photographers will position the focus of the picture so that it is along one of the lines that would divide the page into thirds. Take a look at almost any landscape photo and you’ll see that more often than not, the horizon runs two thirds up the image.
Once the focus of the image is in place, see where your eye takes you. Your vision will naturally follows any ‘line’ it is presented with (this might be works or images or even background patterns). What you want is for the eye to naturally travel around the entirety of the image, seeing every aspect of it without having to purposefully jump from element to element.
If you’re not confident on where to put the elements, trying printing them off, cutting them out and rearranging them on a large-scale model of your project. This way you can freely move them around see what looks good and what doesn’t. Ask for opinions from co-workers (just be wary that everyone will have differing ideas – don’t try to please them all!).