Monday, May 18, 2009

Combining Text and Graphics in a Flyer

(Advice for the Accidental Designer)

*Please note that I'm not advocating for, or supporting any causes in the flyers used as examples in this post*

The first thing to remember when you're creating an event flyer is the balance. Personally, I think balance is something to think about in everything, but we're only talking about flyers here. Everything used should be balanced - the graphics should not overpower the text or vice-versa. Try to keep that in mind as you construct it.

What is the Reason for the Flyer?

The main reason for an event flyer would seem to be about informing them that the event is going to happen. But, no. The main reason for the event flyer is provoke an emotional response that will cause people to want to attend the event. Giving information about it is secondary.

A Good Example of an Emotional Appeal

The example for "tearfund" is a good example of what I mean. It's pretty simple in terms of graphics, and the "The World Can't Wait" headline provokes an immediate emotional response from the viewer: curiousity. You can't keep yourself from reading the text below, which is nicely set off in a clean white box.

And in case the reader wants more information about the event, the website is clearly set off at the bottom in its own black box.

Typefaces Should be Carefully Chosen & Limited

Another thing to notice is that only two typefaces were used, though there's variety through the different fonts, maybe a light and a medium condensed of one and a heavy or a display face used for the headline. This keeps the message from getting muddled and reinforces its severity.

Graphics are Great, But Don't Over-do Them

Only two graphic objects are used: the logo and an illustration of an alarm clock and the colours used in the illustration and for the text echo the colours in the logo, tying the whole thing together.

Your event probably won't be able to get away with a flyer like this. For one thing, this event was obviously internet-based; people were asked to take an action, but they didn't have to be in a central location to do so. For another thing, you've probably got SPONSORS. Cue the music - Dum, dum, DUMMMMMMM!

Sponsor Logos Are Important

Sponsors are usually good guys. They don't generally expect you to put their businesses front and center in your event flyers, and they will often overlook amateur mistakes in a small nonprofit that they wouldn't tolerate in a commercial event because they mostly likely are local and really care about what you're doing. Show them you appreciate this by doing two things - knowing where you'll be placing their logo and using a nice clean copy of it. Here's a nice example: 

The Sponsor or Partner logos are shown small enough to allow the focus to stay on the event, but large enough to be recognizable and clean (not fuzzy or distorted) to show the event organizers are proud of the association. If you don't have a clean logo on hand for a sponsor, ask them for one. At some point, I may do a post on using small graphics in a flyer, but in the meantime, if you don't know anything about computer graphics, invest some time in educating yourself. If you're going to be doing this kind of work, even if it's only off and on, you'll want to do the best you can and you'll the confidence you'll gain in this and other areas will be worth it. Books and online there are lots of resources; here's just one: MyDesignPrimer

Keep it Simple and it Won't Look Stupid

Don't let all of the design power go to your head. Professional designers train and work for years to get their results. Your best results will come from sticking to a clean and simple layout using limited typefaces and graphics. And limited text. Remember that the more you stuff in there, the more likely the flyer will end up looking like a big blob, uninviting and therefore, unread. Step away from the design every so often while you're putting it together. Print out a copy and look at it from a few feet away, which is how most people will see it. If it doesn't make you want to get closer, it probably needs work.

End Notes

This post is - obviously - not a primer on graphic design. Or flyer composition. I could write successive posts for weeks and still not come close to encompassing the nature of good design. My purpose here is only to open your eyes a little to what a successful event flyer incorporates. You'll learn the most by trying, experimenting, and failing, and then trying again. The results will probably not be a pleasing as if you could afford professional help, but when your small nonprofit is short of cash and you have to undertake designing the flyer yourself, I'm hoping that you won't feel totally overwhelmed and panicked.

Full disclosure - here's a picture of the flyer I did most recently. It's only what I would call serviceable, but I needed to include a lot of information and create it in a format the (very) small nonprofit could use several times over. I used MSWord, since that's what the agency had that they knew how to use, employed two common typefaces, and created one graphic.


I'm not a professional graphics artist, but I have done years of graphic design in technical writing, marketing, and for nonprofit causes. So if you've got a flyer you'd like me to take a look at, I will. I won't re-do it (that isn't the point), but I will tell you where I think you went right and where you might have veered off track and ask a few questions that might help clarify things for you.

Email me at robynmcintyre@gmail dot com or find me on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Write Arm - Farmed Out

When you can't farm it out, you have to work it

One of the most horrendous things ever to come weasling its way into my ether landed in my inbox last month. It was a one page flyer for a nonprofit event and it was... scary.

It was nothing but text, lines and lines of text in Times New Roman (typeface) 11 point (font), all centered, and a liberal use of CAPS.

I know, huh?!

My fingers itched to take it apart, yet I was repelled at the same time. It was just too awful.

So let's talk about it.

Most of the time, when I want to talk about a flyer, it's usually the graphics I want to discuss - and we'll get to that - but right now I want to talk about how a small nonprofit handles an event flyer when their economics suck too much to be able to hire a graphic artist.

First, you need the basics

You may think you know them, but you'll save yourself a lot of irritation and do-overs if you have in writing and keep nearby for referral:
  • What the event is called (you can always use a placeholder, but be sure and note every place it's used)
  • When (date and time) and where the event is taking place (ditto the remarks above)
  • What it's for (don't just say "to raise money" - raise money for what? Be specific)
  • Who you want to attend (big spenders, grandmothers, general public? This will determine how you word things, graphics, etc.)
Only one person should be in charge of the finished product. You can have 20 reviewers and 50 approvals required (shudder), but only one person should be allowed to touch the file.

Word Processing or Graphics Program?

You may have a kick-ass graphics program at home you use for making posters and scrapbooking, but if no one has it at the office, don't use it. Stick with something everyone has got. That way, if you aren't around, they can still update it or change it. And even if you have a graphics program at the office, if you're the only one who knows how to use it, forget it. If you plan to release the flyer into the wild to be used by other people, create it using something that most everyone else knows how to use, even if it's the stupid slideshow program.

Now, about those pretty display typefaces...

You may have some nifty typefaces installed on your computer (I know I do), but try to resist the urge to use them in favor of more standard typefaces, unless you'll be converting the file to a PDF (a good idea if you're planning a wide distribution). If you use a typeface that others in the office don't have installed on their machines, their version of the software you used will substitute something else and that something else may not fit the same way, let alone look like it. And even if you are converting to a PDF, not all typefaces can be embedded in a PDF, so substitutions can be made and the results may not be pretty. If you don't know what I'm talking about when I mention embedded fonts, then definitely use more standard typefaces.

Now you can start working on the flyer. And even though you can't run wild with creativity, it can still be attractive - which I'll address in next week's post.