As the Jr. Graphic Designer and Photographer at Cheshire Academy, I see a lot of great independent school design. However, I have seen a lot of poor examples as well. Not every independent school has the luxury of having their own designer (even though you might reconsider after reading this article). But here are 8 Do’s and Don’ts to think about when designing for your marketing department.
DON’T: Center Everything
Centering everything looks great on certain pieces like an invitation or a pamphlet with very few pieces of text. Many people believe that centering text will make it stand out to the viewer. However, the general rule of thumb is centering all the text makes all of the content weak. One design basic is the idea of hierarchy. Hierarchy is what moves the viewer throughout the design and keeps them interested and engaged. Below is a great example of how hierarchy can work for you when you do not center.
This is the back of a homecoming postcard Cheshire Academy sent out this year. Notice how the copy on the left feels overwhelming and your eye has a hard time focusing on one specific element. There is no hierarchy to move the viewer throughout the page. However with the copy on the right, the eye travels from the title, to the subheads, then to the details.
DO: Experiment with the Placement of Text
Don’t be afraid to move text around the page. Play with different alignments, angles and sizes. It is through experimentation that you can form the solid hierarchy I discuss above. No one likes to see everything simply right justified, centered or left justified. For example, you might make a title big and bold to ensure it attracts more attention than your body content when the body is shifted to the right. The perfect mix will make the perfect design.
DON’T: Copy Other Designs
I often get the request, “Here is this booklet I love. Can you make it for my department?” Copying is not only ethically wrong, but it hurts your school because it makes you look like everyone else. I highly discourage using pre-designed templates available on the internet as well. In a time crunch they are handy, but a template is something hundreds of competitors may have downloaded as well, hurting your graphic identity.
DO: Find Inspiration
Now just because I don’t copy other designs doesn’t mean I am not inspired by designs. When a client makes a design request, I take that design and find inspiration that ties with it. Pinterest is my best friend. I have hundreds of boards for every project and department imaginable. Anytime I start a new project, I dedicate at least an hour to researching and creating a board so I don’t walk into the project blind.
DON’T: Use Every Graphic Element Imaginable
Stephane Rolland says it best when he says, “I continue to be drawn to clarity and simplicity. 'Less is more' remains my mantra.” Including 500 pictures, clip art, shadowing and huge pieces of text doesn’t make your piece better. It actually decreases the message you are trying to get across in your marketing pieces because….
DO: Use Strategic Photos and Graphics
I am a minimalist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love photos or graphics when properly used. One strong photo with a clean text overlay speaks more than a page of 5 photos and huge paragraphs of text. We are in a visual age with a decreasing attention span. The first 15 seconds someone looks at your piece is the make it or break it moment to determine if the message comes across. Make it powerful.
DON’T: Get Discouraged
When I get wrapped up in a new project, I’m lucky if my first design turns out great. More often than not my first design is terrible. This was something I struggled with in college, always leaving a class hating my designs. We are our worst critics. This is where cutting yourself some slack and learning your design process comes into play. I have come to accept that my first draft will usually be the worst design.
DO: Get Critiques
Without critiques, you never get better. Sometimes you need a different perspective to jostle your creativity. However, only get a limited number of critiques. Don’t go running all over campus asking everyone their opinion. Pick people who understand the message you are trying to portray. Have three critiques maximum and call it quits. There is a certain point you have to step away from a design and call it finished, simply due to timing, quality and keeping on track with other projects you are working on.