Inspire Imagination with 4 Creative Design Catalysts

Do you enjoy creating?

GettyImages-988895880.jpg

Are you an illustrator, a graphic design specialist, or a photographer who loves to see ideas come to life?

If so, you’ve probably experienced a few slumps. Even the most innovative people need new inspiration from time to time. Ready to ignite a fresh perspective for your projects?

Here are some creative exercises that may spark your next fantastic idea.

4 Design Catalysts to Inspire Your Imagination

Loosen your turtleneck pullover and host an art night with friends.

 

If you create for a living, what better way to connect with your inner muse than to host a no-holds-barred, imaginative free-for-all with your best pals?

Tell guests to dress for a mess and drag out your paints, beads, clay, stamps, ink, and more. Remind people to leave the perfectionist self at home and have fun with the process. After all, some of the best art is spontaneous.

Takeaway: Creating things with friends reminds us that art is fun, and beauty can arise from unexpected sources.

Build and broaden your artistic muscle by doing icon reps.

 

Choose an icon (like a sun, heart, leaf, crest, or set of cherries) and create 25 thumbnail icons that depict its message and its meaning. If that’s too easy, try 50 or 100.

Start with basic sketches and transition into graphic design or large-scale renderings. As you build variations, try different shadings, color combinations, or typographic elements to stretch your normal design boundaries.

Takeaway: Forcing yourself to sketch the same thing in different ways can build and broaden your artistic muscle.

The next time you work on a concept, fill a full page with icon sketch versions of it before you settle on your design of choice. Begin with quantity and finish with quality!

Identify your core audience and ask yourself what subject would best connect with these viewers.

 

Then, brainstorm ways to feature the perfect person doing the ideal activity in perfect circumstances.

How can you best capture the age, gender, or appearance of this “perfect” individual? Experiment with collages, photos, silhouettes, stick figures, or only body parts (such as the hand, eye, or mouth).

Takeaway: Featuring the wrong people in your piece (or possibly the right people in the wrong atmosphere) can tank your design.

In contrast, a piece that features the right people in the right way can befriend viewers and make them extremely receptive to your product or message.

Tend your roots by asking yourself: “Why did I become a Creative in the first place?”

 

Make a list of passions and interests that led you to this stage in your journey. Then, cultivate these roots through revisiting some of the places or people who inspired you in the past.

Takeaway: Neglecting your creative soul apart from your professional commitments puts your growth as a person at risk. Nurture your nature, and momentum will freely flow in all that you do.

The Human-to-Human Connection

While many designers have a free spirit, often professionals end up spending a great deal of time alone.

However, much of our success in design is rooted in human-to-human connections. The connections you make will have a massive impact on how you see the world and what you create in response. So connect with others, connect with yourself, and have fun with your next best design.

Advertisements

5 Simple and Impressive Print Techniques to Strengthen Your Marketing Materials

GettyImages-1012821318.jpgIndividual design elements are the building blocks of today’s best marketing pieces, and with today’s technology, almost anything is possible when it comes to print.

Print products can vary in texture, color, shape, and finish, bringing a staying power that allows your company to shine strong among competitors.

Step Up Your Game with Memorable, Inspiring Print Promos

Here are five simple and impressive print techniques that can drastically improve the appearance of your materials.

1. Cut it Out

Whether it’s brochures, business cards, or door hangers, printed pieces aren’t limited to square or rectangular shapes.

Consider reshaping your invitation to match your logo, or creating a custom label in the shape of your most popular product. For brochures or folders, you can add custom-shaped pockets, a peek-through window, or die cuts that accentuate the featured product.

2. Add Texture

While embossing was originally known for its use in personalized stationery, today raised elements can be used in envelope flaps, business cards, hang tags, and more.

Embossing elevates your design from the background, providing a raised, textured effect. It can be used to create geometric patterns, add borders, or add a custom seal to product packaging.

3. Be Blunt

Adding contrast is one of the most effective ways to add spark to your print piece.

Contrast helps organize your design and establish a hierarchy, guiding viewers to the most important parts of your design.

Add contrast by mixing dark and light colors (like white fonts on deep, rich backgrounds), by using opposite hues in close proximity, or by mixing organic, fluid shapes with angled, geometric elements.

Contrast texture in your font pairings, graphic sizing, or in disrupted patterns like these.

4. Go Retro

Though the eye loves symmetry, the heart connects with the imperfect.

From scary scars to burned edging, imperfections in design can humanize your creations and strengthen the bond between a brand and its user.

Add retro elements by making things look dirty or ragged. Degrade pristine images with vintage photo filters, add blur or gradients to your designs, or add artifact images that scream authenticity.

5. Finish Well

Like dolloping whipped cream on your pie, adding a stock coating in your designs can bring a delicious finishing touch.

In addition to providing extra protection to your marketing materials, coatings can draw attention to key elements by adding texture and shine. Add sophistication with a glossy UV coating, shimmer with pearlescent glitter coatings, accents with spot varnishes, or coarse texture with grit coatings.

Coatings add class and show that you approach business with pride, which can make customers more comfortable working with you.

Create a Timeless Treasure

While new trends take shape every day, you can make a modern design statement with existing techniques that give your print materials a sleek twist. Great designs mix the old and the new to create timeless print pieces your clients will love.

Mastering the Psychology of Discounts to Make More Sales

price reduction 3D render illustrationWhat is the right strategy when it comes to discount marketing: presenting strong visuals, mystery offers, or the word “free” in your print ads?

Everyone is attracted to a deal, no matter the size. By using coupons or discounts, you appeal to shoppers in a unique way.

Incentives Prompt Action

When shoppers feel like they’re getting a good deal, they are excited and more willing to purchase.

Incentives also create urgency, build goodwill with clients, and dissuade people from looking for other offers.

Want to move more products? Experiment with discount tactics like these:

1. Dollar or Percentage Off

This discount type is the most widely used, simply offering a reduction on the original price, such as $50 savings or 40% off.

Discounts can be placed on specific products or applied to an entire order.

2. BOGO

Short for, “Buy One, Get One,” this discount type prompts customers to purchase additional items.

Examples of BOGO include, “Buy One, Get One Free” or “Buy One, Get 50% Off the Next Item.”

3. Quantity Discounts

Quantity discounts encourage shoppers to increase their order value to receive a discount.

For example, “Purchase two items and get the third free,” or, “Receive 30% off your $100 purchase.”

4. Rebates

A rebate is an amount that’s returned or refunded to customers after their initial purchase.

Often used for large-ticket items, the most common is a mail-in rebate. One example? Listing a price as, “$499 after rebate.”

5. Free Shipping

Increasingly popular among online business owners, this removes the shipping cost associated with any order.

Many merchants offer free shipping for a specific order amount, such as “Free shipping when you spend $25 or more.”

Test Discount Variations to Find A Formula for Success

Since there are so many ways to frame discounts, it can be helpful to test multiple variations of a discount to see which are most impactful.

For example, you could offer a segment of your VIP customers a percentage discount and another segment a dollar-off discount to test which discount best appeals to core customers. Or you can experiment with varying communication channels, length of promotions, or discount “add-ons” (like free shipping or store credit for a future purchase).

Here are some examples to consider:

Catherine’s Women’s Clothing: Private Offer

In an ad pitching swimwear specials, Catherine’s framed a gleaming yellow swim ring afloat a dreamy blue pool.

The overlaid text offered one of two choices: a “Buy 1 Get 1 Free Clearance Item,” or “Private Offer Up To $100 Off.” Catherine’s used imagery that transports viewers to a place they want to be, evoking an emotional fondness for swimwear. The bright floaty draws eyes to the deal, and the company wisely gave two sale options to accommodate the price points of individual customers.

J. Crew: Flash Sale

In a spread featuring outdoor apparel, J Crew positioned a yellow sailboat cruising the waves of a dark blue backdrop, using this pitch: “Smooth seas and clear skies – perfect conditions for a flash sale. Extra 30% Off & Free Shipping, Use Code: SetSale.”

For this flash sale, J. Crew took advantage of good sailing weather to create urgency and nostalgia that tied to real life. Because this ad catered to unique preferences and behaviors of a particular market segment, the piece moved beyond a sale into the emotional story of its readers. This, combined with a compelling offer (and clever coupon code), brings a winning combination.

Once you have a better understanding of your most effective offers, you’ll be a great position to mix up your campaigns and boost customer engagement.

4 Mistakes that Make Your Ads Fall Flat

Have you ever seen someone make a pitch without clearly selling their product?

GettyImages-1146443724.jpg

In business, sometimes we get so close to our product that it’s easy to assume every reader “gets it.” Marketers spend big bucks to grab attention but fail to craft a message that truly connects. Take this example:

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) is a technology company offering innovative computing and graphic solutions for work, home, and play. AMD has begun partnering with a famous auto company to significantly reduce design time on new electric vehicles.

AMD recently ran a 2-page BusinessWeek ad with this headline: “AMD Makes It Possible.” The problem? People have no idea what AMD is. So what would cause people to keep reading?

In this ad’s copy section, AMD mentioned that they were able to cut design time on electric cars by over eight months. By burying this information under an obscure headline, AMD confused the reader and probably lost many sales. A better, more specific headline might have said this: “How AMD Cut Design Time From 12 Months to 10 Weeks.”

Quick Fixes to Make Your Message Count

When you use print advertising, you have approximately three seconds before your prospect moves on.

You need to make your message count! Here are four things to avoid in your next ad or direct mail campaign:

1. Too Much Copy

Too much copy is boring to read.

Often direct mail buries the lead under volumes of copy, hoping to save the best for last. This assumes people are interested in your content and that they’ll read to the very end. Even if you’re lucky, only a handful will.

Instead, try this:

  • Use loads of white space.
  • Keep things short.
  • Use sizzling adjectives and action-packed verbs.
  • Put your main benefits in your headlines and other prominent places.
  • Do all you can to make your offer leap out when people scan the page.

2. Focusing on Benefits vs. Value

The service you sell has its benefits, but sharing those features isn’t enough.

Customers want to know more than “what’s in it?” they want to know, “what’s in it for ME?” If your coffee pot has a delay start option, don’t just share this perk, describe the value it brings. Which statement do you find more compelling?

Equipped with a Delay Start Feature

— OR —

Prefer Breakfast in Bed?

Delay Start Brings Piping Hot Coffee as Your Feet Hit the Floor!

3. No Clear Call to Action

One of the primary reasons print ads fail is a lack of clarity.

Does your piece contain a clear, single call to action? Is this call large, memorable, and easy to follow through with?

In today’s market, it’s not enough to give people a reason to buy your product. You must also show them why they need to act now. Don’t leave an offer open-ended – put a deadline on it (like, “Shop today! Sale ends on Monday!”) Or use a personalized URL, QR code, or concrete numbers to grab attention. Try something like: “Book today! 15% off your next visit,” or “order by Sunday for 1-day shipping!”

4. Vague Visuals

When designing an ad, ask yourself, “who is my target market?”

If it is 17-28 year-olds, be sure your images reflect this demographic. When possible, use photos of your target customers putting your product or service to use. When prospects wonder WHO your ad is for, your images should show “WHO” with a “when, how, or why.”

Tired of Falling Flat in print?

We all make mistakes from time to time, but using these tips will ensure you don’t keep repeating those errors.

Be clear, be brief, and offer value and your print ads will undoubtedly hit the mark.

Practical Skills for Successful Entrepreneurs

Smiling designer in her studio

It’s not easy to start (or run!) a business.

Many factors compete for your time and attention. Unexpected storms dampen passion or erode your resiliency. And then there are your competitors, who often have a jump on your best ideas.

The best entrepreneurs master a broad set of skills to manage obstacles that arise each day. While you need expertise and focus to succeed in your business, you’ll also need to nurture these four practical skills:

Adaptability

In business, things change quickly.

The smartest people in business are those who grow and evolve. What works today might not work tomorrow, so to stay competitive, you need to keep a few steps ahead in the game. Be flexible and be willing to change your strategy. This requires ambition, strategic planning, and creativity.

How do you keep those a priority? By embracing change!

If you always do the same thing, you won’t enjoy greater results. Be proactive about enriching your life with new experiences, expanded networks, and unique learning experiences. This may be as simple as talking to customers, delegating your areas of weakness, or signing up for a community course. Each experience can open doors to opportunities, or open your eyes to possibilities you hadn’t previously considered.

Time Management

If you don’t manage your time, your time will manage you.

Time management is the art of telling your minutes where you want them to go, and this requires two things: self-reflection, and the ability to say no. When you’re the leader of a business, there will be many demands on your time. People will constantly ask you for input, attendance, or leadership in areas that can overwhelm and distract.

How can you manage time well? Block out calendar segments where you can’t be interrupted or double-booked.

Hold firm boundaries: end meetings on time, set timers during phone calls, and refuse to multitask (when possible). Define your priorities, give focus to individual tasks, and use laser focus on accomplishing the very next thing, and you will be one step closer to achieving your big-picture goals.

Money Management

Nothing works if cash doesn’t flow.

No matter how solid the idea, success is doomed without the ability to raise, manage, and generate money.

As a business owner, you must create (and stick with) a budget, keep up on bills and expenses, and effectively invest in the right areas. If this seems overwhelming, consider taking a class, finding a professional mentor, or hiring an accountant to keep you on track. This is a small investment that can save you a load of sweat (and cash) while you’re growing your business.

A Thick Skin

Growing as a leader is an exercise in rejection.

Investors will pass, people will criticize, and team members will leave. To be the best in your field, you’ll have to learn from mistakes – and from criticism. If you let failures get you down, your business will never succeed.

Instead, view each disappointment as a chance to learn about people or to grow your courage. Be kind to yourself when others aren’t, and remember, you’ve only truly failed if you decide to quit! You can’t succeed without a few risks.

Seize the Day

Killing it as an entrepreneur isn’t easy.

But when you are flexible, courageous, and intentional, the odds tilt in your favor! Start with small improvements so you can seize the day and get the job done.

4 Ways to Maximize Impact with Pictures

script-blogThey say a picture paints a thousand words, but pictures go beyond just that. Sometimes they force an emotional response.

Consider the Snake Campaign from Playland, an amusement park in Vancouver.

This print ad features a horrified man on a background split between two scenes: on the left, a jungle landscape, on the right, an outdoor amusement park.

In front of the amusement park scene, the man clutches the handle of his roller coaster safety bar as he seems to be hurtling from a high drop on the ride. In front of the jungle scene, the man’s hand is nearly clutching an enormous snake that has slithered itself over his neck and waist. The snake and safety bar are precisely symmetrical, harnessing the man in for a ride he wishes he hadn’t taken, while playing on people’s nightmarish aversion to snakes.

The message? Playland is a place to scream yourself silly: “Fear Made Fun.”

For the Love of Imagery

People like pictures. A lot.

Why? For one thing, pictures help our brains process and retain information.

According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, people can often remember more than 2,500 pictures with at least 90 percent accuracy several days after seeing them. When comparing pictures to oral presentations, researchers found that people listening to an oral presentation could only recall around 10 percent of the details. But when an image was added, recall rose to 65 percent!

The brain also processes images faster than any other form of communication. A team of neuroscientists from MIT found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds.  So whether you’re writing a report, brainstorming ads, or creating handouts for a seminar, be sure to prioritize pictures!

Bring Your Content to Life with Pictures

Here are several ways to incorporate images in your next project:

Show, Don’t Tell

Since pictures are so efficient, an image almost always exceeds an explanation.

A diagram of a machine, a blueprint of a building, or a map of your facility will do much better conveying a concept than paragraphs of text.

Overlay Text

An image can be a great way to introduce a chapter or a section of your presentation.

To add clarity, try placing text on top of an image (like a magazine cover, which features a signature photo with overlaid text) to create a nice header. Many online editor tools exist to help you with this, or even basic tutorials from Photoshop.

Color Code

Since colors are a form of imaging, using color coding in brochures, catalogs, or store displays can help viewers make sense of your information.

Color-code sections of a binder with predominantly red images in one section and green in another section to delineate subjects. Color code inventory or training manuals to keep people and products organized, or use colors to organize workflow boards to convey urgent tasks versus those that are on-going.

Turn Bullet Points Into Icons

Looking to spice up a flyer or brochure?

Lots of text is distracting to an audience. Instead, try replacing bullet points with a photo or icon that represents the message you want to share. A yellow triangle with an exclamation point works for highlighting caution areas. A speedometer can be used for acceleration. A bulls-eye can be used for sales targets. Be creative and have fun with icons!

Like any campaign, consistency in tone and photo content will naturally boost the message you bring. Adding thoughtful, seamless photography can help you maximize the impact, clarity, and beauty of each piece you produce.

Best of Script Fonts: 3 User Tips and 12 Fan Favorites

script-blogFonts are fun, and today many spectacular fonts are just a few clicks away.

But, it can be tricky to use decorative fonts well, especially script (or cursive style lettering) fonts. Script fonts can be challenging to read, size, or space, so frequently designers shy away from using them at all.

Have no fear!

Script fonts are beautiful typefaces that can appear elegant, informal, or even downright playful. These decorative delights can be managed well with three basic tips:

1. Read Between the Lines

When using a script font, pay attention to the design elements between individual characters.

If a script font looks crowded (or too condensed), you can adjust the font kerning. This will give the eye more breathing room by adding spacing between each letter. But if you adjust the tracking, you may disrupt the flow or connection between letters. If you loosen your kerning, be sure to double-check that each letter is still correctly flowing to the next.

2. Be a Minimalist

Many script fonts have exaggerated ascenders or descenders (letters that go above or below the main text line) which may require greater space between lines.

Typically, script fonts are best when used for one line only (like a quote or a tagline). If you do need to create space between lines, adjust the leading of your font to make it more reader-friendly.

Since the priority of your text is readability, script fonts should be used sparingly. They are best used for headers or call-outs, and a good rule of thumb is to use them for script sections that are seven words or less.

3. Be Distinct

The purpose of script fonts is to add a personal, handmade feel to your message.

When you use an overly formal font, it can come across as snobbish or condescending. Instead, go for script fonts with a more personal feel (like your best friend’s handwriting).

While some cursive fonts can be unprofessional, some of the best fonts are those that aren’t too calligraphic or too casual. Look for something right in between that makes your reader feel right at home!

Need some suggestions? Here are 12 fan favorites for fonts, many of which are FREE:

  • Alex Brush
  • Pacifico
  • Great Vibes
  • Lobster
  • Allura
  • Grand Hotel
  • Windsong
  • Black Jack
  • Arizona
  • Euphoria Script
  • Italianno
  • Qwigley

Want to view a few script fonts in action? Here are 35 script fonts on display for your enjoyment!

Looking to bring more warmth or friendliness to your message? Script fonts are a beautiful way to add authenticity and humanity to your visual brand, but they do come with unique design challenges. Keeping these tips in mind will help you use the script and cursive lettering in a way that brings a simple, sophisticated touch.