Whether you begin with words or art, designing effective collateral material is a challenge. While big businesses spend enormous amounts of money to get just the right logo and imagery to represent their corporate brand; entrepreneurs have to either design their own, or work outside their area of expertise to direct someone else to design for them. It is difficult because, while it’s easy to know when shown what we don’t like, it can be extremely hard to identify and explain what we do want and why.
There are a number of ways to approach this. But one good way to start is to look at your body of work and identify what aspect of it feels core to what you do. That can be a passage in your biography, a tagline for a series, a cover design that particularly resonates, or it can be a character in your story. This element may not find its way visibly into your design (ie. for a business card, banner, postcard, brochure, sell sheet, or for swag) but it can help give you a perspective to start to work from.
Once you have that concept in mind, you can consider style and content. Don’t think too hard at the start about trying to come up with the right answer, just browse for samples of similar items that resonate with you and save them in a format you can easily reference – I like PowerPoint for this, since it’s easy to browse, rearrange and edit.
Think in terms of imagery, color, typeface and tone of messaging – and then use free association and jot down a list of words you may want to incorporate. Then sort out which elements you like best and think how those might fit together. It’s fine not to have a clear picture of what you’ll design at this point, but you should find you have more of an idea then you did before of where it might be headed – and you may have examples of what you like to show others to get good ideas about what you might want to do.
There are many free and affordable apps to use for design, such as Canva and DesignBold (for drag and drop formatting), PicMonkey and BeFunky (for photo editing), Type Genius and Google Fonts (for typeface selection), and Pictaculous and Adobe Color CC (for exploring color combinations). You can also find specific template apps for designing posters, brochures and other materials.
When working on your own or with a designer, it’s good to keep in mind basic design principles:
- Make sure to include key contact information and your website link.
- Avoid clutter and have good flow to the text.
- Use strong graphics and good contrast, so the piece is appealing and easy to read.
- Don’t use busy textures, or lots of colors and fonts that can compete with each other.
- Keep design elements simple and remember to use negative space.
- Include a call-to-action such as an email address or invitation to visit your website.
- Opt for classic or timeless design over what is trendy, unless you’ll redo frequently.
- Check that you have permission to use the art or graphics.
- Use hi-res images and high quality paper stock.
- Don’t fall in love with a single idea, so that you’re not willing to consider other options.
Ensure the design you come up with can be used on multiple pieces and platforms, so you build a visual identity. Remember too that less is often more when it comes to good design.