Friday, October 23, 2009

Four Amateur Design Mistakes

image via

Note: Tomorrow is International Day of Climate Action. Be part of the solution by getting the world's politicians ready to act on a Global Climate Treaty in December. Click on the banner on the right and attend an event tomorrow!

Usually I focus on social media or writing, since that is what I do, but I've also done my share of design work. This week, I've decided to address some problems that are common to small nonprofits when designing brochures and other outreach materials in-house.

You're Doing What, Now?

No question. If you have the budget for a professional designer for your brochure or other Marketing Communications/Outreach materials, then engage one. Working on design all day, everyday is what professionals are about. A good one will get to understand your nonprofit and give you the design you need to support and enhance your communication of your mission and the people it serves. Unless you're really, really, REALLY lucky, asking someone on staff to take care of it is asking someone who isn't trained and is already wearing at least one other hat, if not more. This means you will likely get not-as-good design and get it in twice the time. If you rush them, you won't even get not-as-good design. Especially if he or she hasn't the right tools, which (again) is likely in a budget-crunched small nonprofit. Face it - MS Publisher is not InDesign. Not even close.

My expert for this post is Cathy Moon of New Moon Design Group in Santa Cruz, CA. Cathy is a professional designer who has worked with many of the small businesses and nonprofits in our central coast area. She's the go-to designer for the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County's Open Studios Art Tour Catalog/Calendar each year and she has more than a few times had to ride to the rescue of materials suffering from bad design. She says small nonprofits need to look at design for these pitfalls:

Too Much Information
Keep the text simple and to the point. Sure, your nonprofit does a lot of good and can use a lot of help, but focus on the greatest benefits and needs. People will call or check out your website for details.
I'll second that. As much as I love text, remember that with marketing materials, text is another graphic element. It takes up space and it should work with the graphic elements, not crowd them. Say it clearly and as sparely as possible for the best result.

Poor Quality Images 
Even though you are a non-profit, people like eye-candy. It helps strengthen the integrity of your program if your images have a high-resolution and are well taken. Again, don't use too many; keep it simple to tell your story.
Too many times, I've seen small nonprofits try to use 96 dpi (dots per inch) for printed materials. That resolution is best for websites, not quality printing. If you can't get better resolution (at least 300 dpi, if not more), think about purchasing a few high-resolution stock images from iStock or another photographic stock vendor. For an event where you know you will need photos, consider renting a digital SLR camera or asking a photography-savvy volunteer to take some pictures for credit.

Buried or Unclear How-Can-I-Help?
Make it very clear how someone can easily make a quick donation or volunteer some time.
Indeed. It's a shame to make people who want to volunteer time or money to your nonprofit hunt all over the brochure or newsletter or find out how they can do it.

Poor Quality Printing
Just because you are a non-profit doesn't mean you can't afford professionally printed material. Nowadays there are many on-line print companies who can print beautiful, 4-color brochures, flyers and newsletters sometimes at the same cost as copies.
Although in-house copiers are miles beyond those old purple, nasty-smelling ditto machines of my youth, some materials really do require professional printing to deliver the most impact. As Cathy points out, there are a lot more printing options than there used to be and you're not restricted to brick-and-mortar print houses in your community. Although, if you're lucky enough to have a printer that thinks green and is community minded, then you're ahead of things. And remember, that using your copier for doing newsletters and invites and brochures, etc., is using it for purposes it wasn't designed to serve except in short quantities. Turning it into a substitute press will likely mean more maintenance and a shorter life for the machine, and that is probably not built into your budget.

The Last Word

Again, if you can, use a professional both for design and printing. And when you find your small nonprofit in the position of having to do the design work for materials, make sure you keep Cathy's advice in mind or even as part of your checklist. Better design means a better reception for your nonprofit's "brand;" a perception of a higher level of professionalism and stability. And these perceptions can mean better return on your design investment!

1 comment :

Kittie Howard said...

I really enjoyed your comments, especially the part about how/where to donate. I'm constantly amazed at how often this is left out! And, YES,I agree, we all have to work to clean up our planet...and THANK YOU for your extra time.