Graphic Design 101: Contrast

non-contrast layout

Not a lot of visual contrast here. Zzzzzz...

example of better use of contrast

I'm lovin' it! The principle of contrast is used to make this layout more interesting.

Be Bold

Using contrast to make your pages look interesting is a lot of fun. It requires a bold touch – don’t wimp out here. In Robin Williams’ book The Non-Designer’s Design Book, she states: “If two items are not exactly the same, then make them different. Really different”.

How to create contrast? A graceful script with a bold sans-serif font, cool colour next to a warm colour, smooth/rough, small graphic with large, a long line of text paired with a tall narrow column of text. Creating blocks of colour with white type next to columns of dark type on a white background… there’s a zillion ways to do it. Next time you’re looking at a magazine, keep an eye out for the creative use of contrast.

Design Synergy

You’ll notice that in the various examples given lately that it’s sometimes hard to separate the one principal from the other. Proximity, Alignment, Repetition and Contrast all work together  to create interest in the pages you create. Look at what other designers have done and take notice of the various things they do to save the world from bland design. Experiment, and don’t be a sissy when it comes to using contrast.

These are the four basic principles as delineated in Robin Williams’ book The Non-Designer’s Design Book. There’s plenty more and we’ll cover that in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!


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




Graphic Design 101: Repetition

When my wife asks me to get the mayo out of the fridge (maybe this is a guy thing), if someone has put it in a different container than what I’m used to, I’m in trouble. I can look right past it; I expect to see it in the container I’m used to seeing it in. There’s an expectancy, a predictability – it looked a certain way last time I saw it, and that’s what I’m looking for.

People like repetition. It reinforces and builds patterns in our minds. Most popular songs have verses and choruses – a repetitive structure that builds and supports the song. Repetition helps us remember; and though the chorus of a song is different than the verse, it repeats itself, satisfying our need for variety and predictability.

This principle holds true visually as well. The third principle outlined in Robin Williams’ book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, is that of repetition.

So far we’ve covered proximity and alignment. But we have a few more tricks up our sleeves that we can use to increase the impact of our layouts. How can repetition help us?

aligned page no repetition

Not bad, but bland and lacks punch.

Headlines are a good place to start. Pick a different font, make it bigger, and make it bolder – the bolder the better. In fact, it’s a good idea to invest in a few extra-bold fonts, sometimes called “Black”. In the first example, we see our trusty page with the same font as the body copy. It doesn’t offend, but it’s bland and could use a bit more punch.

In the second example, I’ve used a different font, in this case Poplar and increased the size by a fair margin. It’s more interesting to look at and highlights the points brought out by each heading. Note that the size and font of the headings create a repetitive pattern that sort of ties everything together.

aligned page with bold headings

Here we've put the headlines in a different, heavy font, and made them red. What a difference!

When you’re doing something bigger than a single page – like a newsletter – the opportunities to use repetition abound. Page numbers should be the same font throughout the entire document (though different than the font you use in the body copy). Rules along the bottom of each page for multi-page documents help create a sort of graphic theme throughout; “bugs” that signify the end of each article should be the same throughout the publication.

What about pull quotes? If you’re working on a muli-page document like a newsletter, find some interesting excerpts in an article, copy them and insert into the appropriate places in the body of the article. Make sure all the quotes use the same font (though one different than the body copy) at least within the piece to create a graphic theme and enhance memorability. It draws the reader’s attention in a stylish way and makes the page waaaay more interesting to look at. And you do want people to look at your page!

Remember: the graphic elements that you repeat on your page are like the choruses in a song. Differing but repeating components satisfy our need for variety and predictability. Don’t neglect repetition. It’s another great way to increase the impact of your documents!


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



Graphic Design 101: Alignment

In the last instalment I wrote about proximity of graphic elements in design. Again, for further exploration of today’s topic, I refer you to Robin Williams’ book The Non-Designer’s Design Book. It’s an excellent resource for design basics! Today we’ll talk about alignment.

When I talked about proximity, I did sneak in a little about alignment because the two work together. Alignment and proximity both deal with organizing what’s on the page;  while proximity is primarily about the logical grouping of content (which requires less mental effort to digest by assembling information into sensible groups), alignment is about visual connections between the elements the proximity rule creates. You’ve made nice, tidy groups of information – now where the heck to you put them relative to each other?

Remember the business card samples from the Proximity blog? Its other sins notwithstanding, it was also poorly aligned. The combination of arranging the information more sensibly and aligning them along the right side of the card worked wonders to clean up the look of the piece. The strength of the hard alignment to the right gave strength to the layout.

centred letterhead example

Type centred. Visually weak and formal all at the same time

As a rule of thumb, centred layouts – though we may have done the right thing in the proximity of the document’s information – appear visually weaker than ones with strong flush-left or flush right layouts. If we want our documents to have impact, we want to do more.

letterhead with alignment to the left

...and here's the same letterhead with the type moved flush left. Looks neater, stronger, and definitely more with it.

The top letterhead that uses a centred alignment. It looks weak and sort of stuffy and formal all at the same time. It’s neat enough, but doesn’t have a lot of visual impact. At least the information is presented logically (rule of proximity) but surely we can do better than that.

Below that is a letterhead that is aligned along the left side. The leftward alignment lends visual strength to it. It’s a small, easy to do change, but makes a big difference.

We like order. It frees up mental space – our minds like to take the path of least resistance – so we can concentrate on more important matters, like what is actually being said. Lack of alignment is possibly the number one cause of ugly looking documents. Why on earth would we put our customers through that?

Other design examples

unaligned page

This makes me want to cry.

Where else can we apply alignment?

Look at the two last examples. In the top example, the headings are centred (weak) while the type is flush left – it’s jarring to look at. It’s messy and disorganized. The line spacing doesn’t line up between columns, and to top it all off, the picture doesn’t line up to anything in particular either. Very unprofessional.

In the lower example, graphic goodness prevails. Everything is lined up to the left of each column. The picture is lined up with the type columns, and the type from column to column is aligned as well. The visual consistency makes the document a lot easier to get inside the readers’ head. And we want to communicate as effectively as possible, don’t we?

aligned page layout

This is so much better!

Proximity and Alignment are the first two rules of good layout.  Being aware of these two principles will go a long way towards giving your documents a more professional appearance. But there’s still a few other basic ways we can spruce things up!

In the next installment, we’ll talk about using repetition to make your design more memorable.

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



Graphic Design 101: Proximity

An important part of your company’s brand is the image of professionalism you want to convey, and good looking, brand-consistent stationary is a vital part of that. When it comes to image, what is it that separates the professionals from the wannabe’s? There are some basic principles to good looking design that Robin Williams (not the comedian) discusses in her excellent book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book.

There are simple things you can do that can affect the impact your publications have in an exponential fashion, things that reinforce your brand in peoples’ minds and that will help keep you front and centre. There are four basic rules to consider: Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, and Contrast. I’d like to discuss them in turn: let’s start today with Proximity.

Ugly Business Card

No attention paid to proximity of elements or alignment.

Proximity implies relationship. Items that relate to one another need to be grouped in the same general area; they then become a single visual unit instead of a bunch of little unconnected ones. Blocks of type, images on a page and information relate to one another both stylistically and logically – you strengthen a piece’s visual impact by how you relate the elements with one another and you strengthen its logical impact by how you group the information.

The upper left card is an example of a business card with no sense of proximity. The card looks weak, disorganized and the information the card contains is scattered all over the place; it’s mentally and visually jarring – and amateurish. If your card looks sloppy, people will probably think the same thing about how you run your business. Yikes! Hardly the card a professional would want to hand to a prospective client. There is a better way…

Better Business Card

The same card, with information logically grouped and aligned. Sooo much nicer!

Here’s the same card with a few easy adjustments thrown in. Note the alignment (more on that in the next instalment) to the right border of the card. It’s clean, organized and looks like someone put some thought into the design; it lends visual strength to the piece. But notice especially that  the items relating to one another are grouped together; they are in the correct proximity to one another. In particular, there’s one spot on the card where the contact information resides. The city, street and phone number (and email, Facebook address and web URL if applicable) should all occupy the same general area. it’s easier on the brain and therefore easier to remember. The general order of information on the card is sensible as well: Business name, cardholder name, contact information.

Don’t worry that the type isn’t centred. The white space makes it visually attractive and easier to read to boot.

Your business stationary is a vital part of the image you present to your customers. By observing a few simple rules you can greatly affect the impression you make when you present your cards and letterheads to the people you need to impress the most: your customers.

In the next instalment, we’ll take a look at alignment.



Social Media: So Many Choices…

Tumbler, Facebook, Twitter, Google+… it’s easy to get “analysis paralysis”. Just when I start to figure out one sort of social media, some whiz comes up with a new thing that is going to turbocharge my business. I hardly know where to start!

Something I hear whenever I stick my toe in the social media pool is that after we identify our ideal customer, we need to listen. In a recent blog, Melinda Emerson (@SmallBizLady) talks about the HELP acronym: Help others, Engage people, Listen carefully, and Promote yourself with care.

It seems that different strategies work for different folks and situations, and it’s important to know what you’re trying to accomplish before you invest a lot of your time in a particular way of doing the social media thing. Melinda’s blog had a great piece on this – it brought some clarity for me, and I thought I’d share it with you all.

Have a great day!



Effective Writing for Business

Do we write effectively? We want to get our message across with as little fuss as possible; clear, concise writing that doesn’t want to impress with big words jargon. Less really is more.

A good resume is a study in efficiency. Employers have hundreds to wade through, and long ones are likely to get deep-sixed before they see the light of day. Writing for business is the same: a million things compete for our readers’ attention, and they’re less likely to read things with excess verbiage. We run the risk of either boring our audience, or overwhelming them with so much detail that it’s just too much trouble to wade through.

There are plenty of books on this. One of the classics is On Writing Well by William Zinsser. In the meantime, I found this excellent post by Mark Murnahan on effective writing. Check it out!



QR Codes

QR Code

QR code, courtesy Wikipedia

When I was a kid, I remember watching the girls at the checkout ring up groceries. She had to read and input every price into a mechanical cash register. In hindsight, I imagine repetitive stress disorder was an occupational hazard, and I’m sure that (experience notwithstanding) mistakes happened.

Then came bar codes. I can just imagine the sigh of relief felt by cashiers around the world; all they had to do was drag the label over a laser scanner and one beep later, it was rung in with all the information input into the transaction and the requisite inventory information transferred to the store’s database. But they’re sort of a one-dimensional device and can only hold so much information.

Now there’s a new thing called a QR code. Only they aren’t that new; they’ve been around since the 1990’s, when Japanese automakers started using them to track auto parts. It’s only recently that they have found a broader use as people realized they can store a lot more than auto parts information. QR stands for “Quick Response”, and these codes are basically a two dimensional bar code that can hold phone numbers, Web URL’s, email addresses, sales flyers, maps, and and just about any other information you’d care to include. They can be read by 3G enabled smartphones with free software, and are being found on realtors’ signs, billboards, and such.

For small business, there are some tremendous upsides. A QR code on a vehicle graphic, could hold a lot more information than you could fit on the back of your car. A smartphone can scan these things in an instant and capture all the info you need, rather than fiddling with pen and paper as you follow the car with that information on the back. Or if there’s extra information you want to include on a brochure or business card, you can put a QR target on there and it will provide access to the extra info neat and clean.

QR codes can also trackable, and therefore can valuable information on your promotion efforts. You can even stick your logo in the very middle. Pretty slick!

QR codes can be as small as 8mm square, although 10mm – 1 centimetre – is recommended as some Blackberry phones need a slightly larger item to scan.

I’d like to thank George Greenwood of Canadian Identity Resources for bringing this to my attention.

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



Cross-Border Shipping

Do you have products shipped from the United States into Canada? There are some possible pitfalls and complications you should be aware of. I talked to Keith Alton of White Rock Courier, who offers this advice:

It’s really easy as 1, 2, 3.

1.  Be prepared by taking the time to establish the necessary infrastructure of setting up accounts with a reliable Canadian Customs Broker, a safe and secure warehouse close to the border and a secure and reliable transportation company that can efficiently handle short hops across the border.

a) You don’t want to be in a position where you have a shipment stuck at the border waiting to cross into Canada and not have an established rapport and account with a Canadian Customs Broker.  Being unprepared at this point is not only extremely time consuming it can also become very expensive very quickly.

b) Establishing a safe and secure warehouse or “Ship to” location near the border can usually be accomplished through either your Canadian Custom Broker or your local Canadian cross border carrier.

c) In selecting your carrier for your short hops across the border make certain that they do handle short hops.  If your shipment coming to you in the Lower Mainland is sitting in Blaine, Washington, most major carriers will send it to Seattle or in some cases as far south as Portland, Oregon. For Canadian-bound shipments, this sort of handling is time consuming and expensive.  You are seeking a carrier that can pickup your shipment in Blaine and bring it up to you in Canada without sending it on the scenic tour.

2.  Many U.S. vendors will offer to send your shipment “FREE” anywhere in the U.S., but will charge a small ransom to ship directly into Canada.  This is where you have taken the time to establish a “Ship to” address in the U.S. close to the border, and this is where your rapport with your Canadian carrier or Canadian Customs broker is priceless.  The U.S. receiving location will advise you, your carrier and your customs broker that your shipment has arrived at their facility.  Your carrier and customs broker need to work together to get your shipment prepared for presentation to Canada Customs, cleared through the border for the final delivery to you, or forwarded to your clients directly.  Occasionally there are misunderstandings between some carriers and customs brokers which can cause a shipment to be delayed for several days or even weeks.  A delay at the border may cause the loss of a sale and occasionally the loss of a client so it is very important to choose a carrier and a customs broker that are both well respected in both industries.

3. Once your shipment is Canada Customs cleared and across the border you need a carrier that can handle your delivery requirements on your time schedule.  Some carriers may hold your shipment for several days before they send it out for delivery while some carriers may have it delivered to you or your client the same day it clears Canada Customs.  Some business do wish to have their shipments held while others prefer a prompt delivery, it is important to work with a carrier that is willing to work with you and your clients.

The key is being prepared by establishing accounts with carriers and Customs Brokers well before shipments start arriving.

As a designer and print broker, I can appreciate the economies of using a professional with the appropriate connections and facilities in place. You can always do it yourself, but it can be time consuming with a steep (and often expensive) learning curve. Keith’s company, White Rock Courier, is a company that specializes in handling short-hop cross-border shipments for their clients. If you don’t have an established account with a Canadian Customs broker give him a call and they’ll give you some suggestions on which brokers may best handle your products. For more information and for contact information, visit their website at  www.whiterockcourier.com

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



Twitter for Business

Are you tweeting? Twitter is an online free “micro-blog” that helps you get the word out. It’s a great way to connect with people, to become an online citizen and trust agent in your particular field. But you have to engage. You can’ t just sign in and expect business to pour in. You need to contribute.

Here is a link to a great little course on using Twitter for business.

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



Writing Good Copy

I found this excellent article this morning and thought it worth sharing. You may have a great looking website or a pretty brochure, but what it says tells quite a tale about your business or non-profit society. Here’s a few tips on creating good copy.

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


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