A very cool Illustrator Trick

Found this on YouTube earlier today – a really effect in Illustrator. Click here to check it out!




Saving Money and Using Colour


Piper Cub Airplane

OK, it's just that I like airplanes. And THIS is a colourful airplane!

Colour Gets Noticed. Are you using colour in your page layouts?

From a production point of view, colour printing can get pretty expensive, though it’s gotten cheaper with the advent of digital output. It’s still more expensive than black and white, though. Is it worth the trouble? I’d say so.

Using colour can make the difference between your brand getting noticed or not. As Melinda Emerson points out, a recent Xerox Colour Survey reported that 76 percent of respondents said they could access information faster when printed in colour. Read her full blog here.

Think hard about cheaping out on the colour of your printing. That being said, here’s a few ways you can save on print costs:

  • Order your printed material in standard sizes – 8.5 x 11 for brochures and flyers, 2 x 3.5 for business cards.
  • If you’re using digital output, (which is usually the case for smaller print runs) try to design your work without a bleed (that’s where the colour runs off the edge of the finished product).
  • If you’re using conventional printing realize that unit cost is hugely impacted by the size of the print run, because fixed costs (platemaking, design, etc) are all needed to even print a single copy. Once the press is running, the only variables are paper, ink, and press time.
  • Proof your work carefully before committing to print. Really. And get more than one person to look at it.
  • Make sure you use proper file formats for different kinds of image. Type is type, pictures are pictures. Set your type in Word or (better yet) InDesign, Quark or similar page layout software. Jpeg (i.e., a picture file) is not the best format for type. You’ll thank me for this later.
  • Shop around for price. Costs can vary significantly from shop to shop, and some specialize in colour (called 4-colour or process) printing the same way WestJet can offer cheaper flights because they only use one kind of airplane (Boeing 737s for you aviation aficionados out there). The size and format capabilities of a print shop’s output devices – whether it’s a printing press or the size of their digital output – can have a bearing on the price break they can give you.


How to Make Professional Looking Pages: The Proper Use of White Space

I’m a musician (kind of) and have played in ensemble settings long enough to know that music can be made a lot more effective by knowing when NOT to play as well as when actually making some sound.

Skillful musicians and composers use the silences in the song to lend more power to song’s content.  Good music uses tempo, volume and silence to add drama to the song. And that’s what it’s all about. If you want to be remembered, add drama. It speaks to the heart and provides emotional impact.

White space example

There's no need to fill up the page with type as in this example. It's a visual turn-off - looks like too much work to read.

We want our page layouts to have that impact as well. There’s a real connection between musical silences and the use of white space on the printed page. You can use the white space to create interest, to direct attention a certain way, and in all cases create a more impactful publication. Let’s take a look at how it’s done.

Take a look at the top example. There’s lots of information there, and it’s organized enough.  But it’s pretty dense and uninteresting to look at. Making the length of the article end where you want it to can be problematic as well.

What if you’re over or under by a paragraph?

better use of white space

This is much better. The white space adds emphasis to everything else on the page and breaks the information up into more digestible chunks. Definitely easier on the eyes!

A more elegant solution would be to spread the article over two pages. You can use the white space to create more interest while having a little more flexibility in fitting your copy into the page.

The use of white space also allows you to make better use of the Rule of Thirds to add even more interest to the page. When you’ve got some empty real estate, you have options.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and play with the empty places; they can add a lot of punch to your layout. Have fun!



A New Way of Doing Solar Power?

One of the things that presents an uphill struggle for clean energy, and in particular solar and wind technology, is the cost of installation. Although we’ve improved, solar energy still costs more than conventional electricity, especially since the cost of installation comes before the benefit. When individuals buy a solar panel array with all its required systems, it costs a lot.

Maybe I’m the last to think of this – or maybe it’s been tried – but I’ll ask anyways: why don’t communities buy solar resources? An ideal situation would be a large strata corporation such as a group of townhouses. If they were to buy solar panels en masse, would they get a break on the purchase price and perhaps terms of loans? As well, (and I speak as a layman) I wonder if duplication of systems – batteries and inverters come to mind – could be eliminated. Would everyone still have to have their own? Perhaps these things could be located in a single building that serviced the entire strata.

Townhouses that were consuming little electricity – typically when the occupants were on holidays – would still contribute to the community grid, increasing the electrical resource to the group, or even selling it back to the local utility.

Social media is a new way of using existing, off-the-shelf technology. It didn’t require inventing a new kind of computer or internet – it’s just a new way of using existing resources. In our search for cheaper energy, maybe we can look into new ways of using what we already have.




Don’t Be A Victim

Paragliding at Mt. Woodside

I went paragliding for my 55th birthday. Seize the Day!

I’m not going to sugarcoat the state of things right now. We’re in volatile times as the manufacturing economy we’ve enjoyed for the past hundred years or so gradually recedes into the past. There’s been a lot of people left out in the cold by these changes, myself included.

Baby-boomers grew up in the jobs-for-life paradigm. If you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you could reasonably expect to be employed for most of your adult life – with the same firm. I myself had been in the print world for 31 years, and was with one employer 23 of those years.

And then I was cut loose. What have I learned?

First – and perhaps most important of all –  that we don’t have to be victims; we can choose to succeed. It takes a lot of work, and you may not get it right the first time, but the only real failure is to give up. In the wage world, you’re always afraid of what is going to endanger your job and you do whatever you can to protect it.

Secondly, that there is much good in people. I have met so many generous people since I set out on this journey; optimistic, forward looking. It does a soul good to hang out with these folks.

Thirdly, even people of similar disciplines can be collaborators. Business doesn’t always have to be a zero-sum game. We all have our strengths: sell that, and surround yourself with experts you can call on should the need arise. Web design is a good example: I deal with the visual end, but coding and all the back-end stuff I’d probably job out. It’s more efficient for the customer, and it spreads the work around – everyone contributing lending their particular strength to the project.

Finally, there’s never been a better chance to find yourself. What’s your passion? Maybe, just maybe, you can do that for a living – making the job fit you instead of the other way around. Imagine a world where most of the working people had careers that spoke to their actual calling – people who enjoyed what they were doing because they were wired that way.

Maybe we’ve gotten complacent. Lulled to sleep by the security of a humdrum, rat-race career, we’ve settled for what merely pays the bills. I remember a quote I heard somewhere: “I thought I wanted a career; it turns out all I wanted was a paycheque”. Maybe what’s been going on the past few years is a good thing. It’s pulling talent out of the woodwork; people who have been forced to examine themselves and what makes them tick, and actually doing something for a living they care about. It’s re-introducing a morality and work ethic that can benefit all.

Don’t be a victim. We can choose to succeed, in business and in life. Carpe Diem!



How To Make Your Publications Rock: Graphic Design and the Rule of Thirds

When I updated my iPhone’s software last week, I noticed that my phone’s camera now has a grid option. It divides the picture area into thirds each way, for nine equal squares. This is a handy graphic design thingy that improves my picture taking. How, you ask?

Lots of folks seem to think that the best place to put the subject of a picture is smack dab in the middle. This is not necessarily true: introducing the Rule of Thirds!

This graphic design concept has been around for a bazillion years; designers and photographers are taught about it pretty early on in their schooling. It’s surprising how many people don’t understand it, but it’s a pretty important design tool. In a nutshell, the rule suggests dividing a page into thirds vertically and horizontally – and placing important elements along the intersections of these lines. It leads to a more interesting looking page.

Illustration of Rule of Thirds

An example of the Rule of Thirds in composition. Note that the subject's not in the middle, yet the picture looks great.

Take a look at this example, courtesy of Wikipedia. If the tree was centred, we’d have a picture of a tree, period. Blah, c’est non? By moving the tree off centre and aligning it on the grid, it becomes more attractive to our eye. Centred, it’s a tree. Placed according to the rule of thirds, and it becomes a bit of a visual vacation, an oasis in a desert of boring, looks-like-it-was-done-in-a-home-office lookalikes. Our eye is drawn to it and wants to rest there for a minute. And having enriched the world with this visual gift, we feel more like graphic designers.

This doesn’t just apply to how you place your subjects in a picture. You can employ it on the printed page, as well; the placement of text, headlines, and graphic elements are all fair game and can be used to spice up your business documents. Try placing a block of text so it fills up two thirds of the page each way, and stuff it into a corner. Then balance it off with the title or a headline somewhere in the remaining white space. There’s a great page with some illustrations of this here (It’s about half way down the page, but the whole post is worth reading). Thanks to DesignFestival.com for their informative blog!

When you’re looking at a particularly nice magazine, try dividing it up into thirds in your mind’s eye and note where everything fits. Interesting!

And of course, that reflects well on your business. Having attractive looking publications and websites should be an important part of establishing your brand, because it says a lot about who you are.

What do you think?



Book Review: Civilization by Niall Ferguson

While I was at Costco a few months back, I spotted a book called Civilization: the West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson. I’d never heard of the fellow (more a function of my not getting out enough than anything else), and subsequently found out he’s actually written quite a bit. By happy coincidence, my one of my daughter’s classmates got the book for Christmas and was decent enough to lend this cheapskate his copy.

I’m now a confirmed fan. Ferguson is an articulate writer who does his homework;  his books are easy to read and well researched. His impressive background includes  an MA, D.Phil. and  is  Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. As well, he’s a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford.

Civilization asks: Why did the West leap ahead of the rest of the world and become the dominant civilization for the next 500 years? What made them different from the rest?

He then goes on to outline 6 forces which, working together, created a cycle that reinforced and built upon itself, benefitting in particular the West. They were:

  • Competition
  • Science
  • Medicine
  • The Rule of Law, Representative Government and Property Rights
  • Consumerism
  • The Protestant Work Ethic

Of course, there are lessons to be learned, especially in a day and age when so much of what we’ve taken for granted seems to be coming off the rails. Only by thinking through the layers to the bottom can we start to understand where answers might be found, and Ferguson’s book does it with style. Ample citations drive home the point that these six things combined to create a tipping point, a cycle of virtue that has created the affluence we enjoy today.

It also helps us understand why some places in the world just can’t seem to get going while others are starting to move forward. Without these fundamentals in place, progress as a society is next to impossible; once in place, things pick up.

He also asks if the West is losing its edge. The Rest are catching up pretty quick, while we seem to have lost our own sense of direction. Is this prosperity is a zero-sum game? Will the Rest forge ahead at our expense, or is there room for all to prosper? Ferguson suggests that everyone can win, but stresses the need to return to the values that made it possible in the first place.

I love this sort of stuff: it’s like getting under the hood of the whole world. It’s easy to forget that our present society is the healthiest, best fed, longest lived society that has ever existed. His book suggests we’d better not take it for granted; a civilization that’s lost its way can, and usually does, disintegrate in a matter of decades.

I found this volume a handy companion to Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat, which explains a lot about how the Rest are catching up. Read them together if you can.



How to Celebrate Your Own Independence Day

Things sure have changed.

Western society is moving from a manufacturing model to service industries. Long time employees are being shown the door as companies do more for less, trying to economize with automation and outsourcing. People who have led comfortable – if uninspired – lives suddenly find themselves on the street with an uncertain future; still too far away from retirement age, and without enough saved to finance a long retirement. Maybe they still have kids in school. And don’t even get me started about the way governments have behaved, buying votes our votes (though I suppose we’re to blame for that too).

What’s a soul to do?

Look for the silver lining. What all of this is doing is making us reinvent ourselves, and I’d suggest this isn’t a bad thing. It is a disruptive time, but one is forced to examine their gifts and passions. Is it possible we will find out what we were meant to do?

I believe very much in the idea that we all have a calling on our lives. We are wonderfully complex people, each with our special gifts, quirks and viewpoints; and I believe we all – every one of us – has something special to contribute that nobody else can do.

I’ve been a printer for 31 years, but I didn’t grow up dreaming about being a printer; I just sort of drifted into it, was reasonably good at it, and it stuck. There was no sense of purpose in what I wound up in.

Then I discovered design; happily, something that connects nicely my print experience, but not limited by it. I can design a book or magazine, but I can also design for the iPad or the internet. Now this was more of a calling, and in 2010 I took the plunge and started up a design company. It’s been a disruptive, scary time as we left the security of a wage job for something more uncertain – but like some sort of adrenaline junkie, I’ve never felt more alive. I can now:

  • Work to a more flexible schedule
  • Learn more (in fact my financial success demands it)
  • Share with the world, living in a culture of generosity.
  • Meet incredible, upbeat people who have a can-do attitude – every week.
  • Do for a living what gives me joy
  • Being the only one responsible for your success – not standing on the sidelines while management makes a decision that might cost you your job
  • Sheer freedom!

Imagine waking up looking forward to the next project, the next time you are able to give the world a gift that comes from somewhere deep inside. Working to our own schedule, and in an office that can be just down the hallway. That’s the sort of world we can expect.

There’s a lot of relearning to do, and we will be stretched. Sometimes it’s a lot of work to dig down deep to find that sweet spot, something you love that has a reasonable chance of being a career. It’s not always fun, and your comfort zone will be violated on a regular basis. But that’s OK. We’ll be better people, and the world will be a better place for it. All we have to do is hang in there.

So go out there and celebrate your own Independence Day. You can have the joy of doing what you love. Who knows? You might even get rich doing it.



Graphic Design 101: Hues, Tints and Shades

The colour wheel we discussed in our last exciting instalment dealt with pure colours; what we would call  hues. The range of available colours increases when we start adding white or black to these basic colours, creating what we would call tints (by adding white) and shades (created by adding black).

Image editing software usually comes with a control panel that lets you select colours. Whether it’s a high-end piece of software like some of the Adobe stuff, or more common applications like Word or Apple’s Pages software, there’s usually something in there that lets you select the hue or fine-tune the tint or shade you’d like to use for a background or type.

Making your own shade and tints

Here’s a typical way of choosing colours, in this case from TextEdit (Mac), but similar to what you’d find in Word and other such programs.

TextEdit colour slidersOn the top example, we’ll look at three of the ways of looking at the colours available. The left panel shows the colour in particular palettes (the one shown on the drop down menu colour sliders with tint and shade samplesis the Apple default, but the others include developer, crayon, and web safe) one can choose from. Now take a look at the lower set of dialogue boxes. If you’d rather roll you own, you can click on the colour wheel icon on the top of the dialogue box to reveal a colour wheel (centre); more on that it a bit. Finally, when we click on the sliders icon we can create colours by dragging different percentages of the primary colours to create our colour nuances.

Let’s go back to TextEdit’s colour wheel. Hues – the pure colours – are on the outer rim of the wheel. If we click anywhere on the wheel, the spot we sampled appears on the bar at the top of the dialogue box. If we drag from there down to the chip well at bottom, we can save that colour.

To create a tint, simply position the cursor inwards on the wheel (centre). If you click anywhere on the wheel, the colour appears in the bar up top. To save that tint, again, just drag from the top bar into the little squares at the bottom.

To create a shade, click on the area you’d like to work with and drag the slider on the right to darken the colour. You’ll notice that the colour in the bar at top darkens as you drag. Once you’ve got your colour nailed, likewise drag it down to the chip well to save it.

Again, I must credit Robin William’s excellent book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, as the inspiration for these explanations. It’s available on Amazon.





Graphic Design 101: Understanding Colour

People have commented (I’m not making this up) how much better I look since I’ve been married. It’s hard to sneak out the door without the Fashion Police giving the thumbs-up or thumbs down. I’m a bit of a klutz when it comes to knowing what’s cool and/or appropriate.

Colours are like that too. How can we use colour to enhance our page designs? How do we know what colours go with what?Enter (drum roll…) the amazing Colour Wheel!

colour wheel

public domain, courtesy Wikipedia.

We can start with the Primary Colours. They are called that because they are colours you can’t create. They just are.

If we space them evenly at 120 degree intervals, we will have yellow at the top, magenta a third of the way around, and cyan two-thirds of the way.

Let’s add secondary colours: red at 2 o’clock, violet at 6 o’clock, and green at 10 o’clock. These are made by mixing the two colours that reside on either side. cyan and yellow make green, cyan and magenta make violet, and yellow and magenta make scarlet (aka warm red).

Next we put mix between those colours to arrive at the tertiary colours and so on.

How do these relate to each other? Colours opposite one another on the colour wheel are called complimentary colours. They won’t clash, but work best when one is the main colour and the other used as an accent. They work great together.

A set of 3 colours equidistant from each other create a triad, like yellow, cyan, and magenta, or dark orange, lime green and bluish purple. They also work well together.

Split complement triads are found when you find a colour’s complement across the colour wheel and then pick the colours immediately adjacent the complement; like green, dark orange, and violet.

Analogous colour combinations are made of of those colours next to each other on the wheel. Because they share the same undertones, they work well with each other as well; for instance, yellow-orange, orange, and reddish-orange.

In our next exciting instalment, we’ll discuss shades and tints. Stay tuned!

Give your business an image makeover the easy, stress-free way – call us today at 604-773-0035.



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