Graphic Designer as Detective

As designers, we wear many hats … layout expert, font wrangler, photo magician. But one most people don’t think of is detective. And to be a good graphic designer, you have to be one. Maybe even a super-sleuth.

One of the things I hear from time to time is `I want something new.’ Great! I love to do new. But do they really want new? This is more likely with a client with whom you’ve been working for quite some time, and often pertains to a job you’ve been doing for a while – a regular newsletter or other publication, perhaps a brochure, etc.  Here’s where the detective part comes in.

This is how the cover of a magazine I work on looked in 2007. In previous years, it was 2/color – a color masthead and only BW photos.

I ask if they have any ideas how they’d like it to be different because, of course, I want to do something they’ll be happy with. “No, not really,” they say. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

If you’re a designer, you’ve heard that many times. If you’re the person who wants the new design, you know that feeling. Here’s the reality – I can do designs for you til the cows come home, and may never hit the mark, and in addition, we’ll have run up a hefty bill. Here’s another reality – most people are not visually oriented. This realization came as a big shock to me many years ago (I think I was in college.) I thought everyone could see like I saw. Definitely not true.

HNcover-Redesign1-2

This was one of my ideas when it was decided a redesign was in order, but it wasn’t what they were looking for.

So … how does a good designer make a client happy? By being a detective. Whether for a new project or a makeover of a longtime project, I need to do two things. One, I need to ask questions, and a good designer can’t be shy. I ask the client if they have anything particular in mind. Do they want something lighthearted and fun or maybe more spare and elegant. How do they want people to react to this project? Will it be raising money? awareness? providing information? go only to shareholders? And here’s a good one – how much do they want to pay for this (re)design? Even though I have a standard rate that I will happily discuss, and will  work up a quote, you’d be surprised at how much or how little a client may be wanting to pay! It’s an important starting point for a conversation about working together.

This is a variation of how the redesign looks nowadays – 3 or 4 featured animal stories and seasonal background and layout. This is a Holiday 2017 issue.

Here’s the second thing I do to make a client happy. I think about them. What do they like? What have I seen them respond to in the past? Do they have a color palette they’re particularly fond of (even if it makes you scream a little inside)? This is where being a detective pays off … for everybody. Because a happy client = a happy designer and paves the way to working together again in the future. If we’ve worked with someone in the past, we actually have a pretty good idea of who they are and what they will like.

So … make your client happy, keep your creative self interested, have fun, and get your Sherlock on!

 

Growing in Our Fields of Interest

One of the things that’s important in any field we care about is growth. Are you growing in what you do, in what you care about, in where you want to go?

Based on the true story of the author’s Frenchie who defied the odds in agility

To this end, I think learning more and being involved is important in our being the best we can be, no matter what our interest, professional or otherwise. I am a regular attendee at SCBWI events (more on this sometime soon), but recently had the pleasure of being a guest speaker on a panel for an Animal Writers Workshop. Obviously, the commonality shared by both speakers and participants was our love of animals and writing. My fellow speakers shared their experiences in their writing process, road to publication, inspiration, and the difference in writing for a non-fiction vs. fiction reading audience and more. I spoke on the importance of good graphic design in self-publishing.

Flyer/program cover for the workshop, my design

With so many aspiring writers and illustrators turning to self-publishing nowadays – in addition to or instead of traditional publishing – there are new challenges to be faced. One of them is the importance of a well-designed product, which is where I, as a graphic artist, come in. My talk focused on some of the elements of good graphic design and how they come together to create an appealing book, and especially an appealing cover. I stressed how hiring a good graphic designer is every bit as important as a good illustrator, editor, and printer in publishing.

An adult novel from the point of view of the horse that changed the author’s life.

In a highly competitive field, now expanded due to self-publishing, you have literally seconds to grab the attention of a potential purchaser. A good portion of my talk included show-and-tell using examples to make my points. I brought along a bunch of particularly attractive children’s books from my own collection, had my fellow panelists hold up their well-designed books, and also showed a couple from my local library where I had tasked our librarian to find me some samples of poorly designed covers. I knew we had the right examples when I held up one of them and there were audible gasps from the audience!

It was a fun talk to an interested and interesting audience, with more opportunity for discussion afterwards at tables in an Authors Alley. Panelists and additional writers were  set up for book signings and a get-to-know with attendees.  What made this event so much fun was the sharing of experiences with fellow writers whose passion was our love of animals. Certainly, I had plenty to share, but I also found plenty to learn. And that’s what makes workshops and conferences both fun and important in our lives.

One of the books published by the event coordinator and moderator

If you have a dream, a passion, I encourage you to find opportunities to expand your knowledge and connect with others who share that passion. You will grow in many ways, some unexpected, and be inspired. Of course, if I can help you bring your dreams into fabulous visual format, just contact me and I’ll be happy to help.

 

Self-Publishing – III

One of the major differences between self-publishing and being published by a mainstream publisher can be in the imagery. When you sign on with a publishing house, you, as an author, will be paid for your story and unless you are an author/illustrator, they will make the arrangements and hire someone to provide the artwork. When it comes to self-publishing, you’re pretty much on your own to provide the images.

If you, as an author, wish to pay an illustrator you will find that it’s not an inexpensive proposition. Creating art takes time – and talent, of course – and may be beyond the financial wherewithal of the average author. For this reason, particularly in picture books where images are critical to not just the look and feel of the book, but also the understanding of the story, there is a preponderance of photography used in the self-publishing world.

So what can one do about that? Why not be creative with the photographic images? Pictured here is Daniel, Dog Camp Champ! by Loren Spiotta-DiMare, a picture book for an older picture book reader. Loren wanted more than  straightforward images cropped to accommodate the square format, so I had some fun with them and used a variety of techniques in Photoshop. Most of them were quite simple, but made all the difference in the variety of images from one page to the next.

In the image above, I used two simple techniques – I silhouetted the two dogs on the top, dropping out the background of the photo, and softened the edges. I placed the image low on the page, giving the feel of the dogs sleeping on pillows on the floor.

Another technique I used here and there throughout the book was to combine photos which were not originally related. So on page 9 we have our energetic Welsh Springer Spaniel having a great time romping on the shore of  the lake at the doggie agility camp. Was he ever there? Not at all. but with some handy silhouetting, combining,  and juxtapositioning … he is now!

Silhouetting can also be a very powerful tool in evoking a feeling from an image. Daniel, our little Dachshund hero, is fearful of participating in the agility challenges. Each time he tries one of the obstacles, he becomes afraid. He is more comfortable watching from the sidelines. I think silhouetting this particular photo is a strong way of showing that Daniel is not just looking on but may also long to be a part of the fun. It also removes background that may have nothing to do with the scene being written about. Again, I’ve used the soft edges as I have through much of the book.

This was a fun project to do. I had the opportunity of playing in Photoshop and designing a book that relied on photography have more of the look and feel of illustration.

The cover, at top, was also fun. Daniel, the trophy cup, and the biscuits were all separate photos combined for an image that tells a story by itself, but even the title font added some playfulness.

One could go and purchase a wood-y font that looks like summer camp, but why, when you can create something similar in Photoshop? Photoshop is any artists’s dream tool and with minimum effort, the letters can look like carved wood. This isn’t any major magic, just playing around with some of the program’s variables to get a result.

For those who are self-publishing a picture book but do not have the availability of an illustrator, consider the photos you plan on using – might they lend themselves to some creative effects to make your story more attractive and readable? If you think so and are looking for overall lovely book design, please contact me and we’ll talk!

p.s. Should you wish to talk design in person, I will be a guest speaker and panelist at the Animal Writers’ Workshop to be held on April 28th in Oldwick, NJ. There’s still time to register and tickets are still available. Read about the Workshop here.

 

 

Bookmarks for Everyone

While bookmarks are clearly a natural fit for authors, they’re also great for all kinds of organizations, both profit and non-profit alike. As mentioned in an earlier post, people ARE still reading books!

And people notoriously love little giveaways. So why not have a bookmark made up for your shop? A bookshop? Well, a double bonus, of course, but any smaller, special interest shop will do well to tuck a bookmark in your customer’s bag. It will remind your customer of the wonderful goodies in your shop, your helpful staff, and the lovely area they visited when they found you. All that in an attractive item that is relatively inexpensive to produce from start to finish.

 

 

 

 

Pictured here is a bookmark I made up for a sweet little gift shop nearby. Sadly, this business is no longer, but the owner faithfully tucked the bookmark into each customer’s bag, a warm little invitation to “please come again” all on its own. I suggested she holepunch one end and slip in and knot a ribbon, which makes an even more effective place keeper.

What about if you’re a non-profit? What better way to keep your cause, your mission, in front of potential donors’ eyes? A bookmark can pack a lot of punch in a small space and provide great imagery that speaks volumes. I designed this bookmark for Mylestone Equine Rescue, an organization I’ve worked with for many years. It provides the basic contact information for the rescue and photos of the horses that are now looking fabulous thanks to their efforts. How simple is this? And who wouldn’t want to keep it, check in on their website, or make a donation?

Bookmarks are a great, simple, and effective way for businesses to make their mark, whether profit or non-profit. And all without breaking the bank. If you think a bookmark would help your mission, please contact me and let me know.

Direct Mail Campaigns

One of the advantages of direct mail is that you can land something absolutely stunning right into someone’s hands, tailored to their interests. You can write something meaningful – informative, heartwarming, or heartbreaking (maybe all three) – that speaks to that person, and, as an option, you can enclose a premium that they will want to keep or use. And you can give them the opportunity of sitting with your piece on the sofa, at their desk, or dining room table, away from the incessant demands of their computer or phones, if they so wish.

Contrary to the assertions of some digitally-oriented naysayers, direct mail is alive and well, but its success depends on at least two things – one, know the audience you need to reach to insure a positive response, and two, send an attention-getting package that matches up with the recipients’ interests.

Featured in this post are the components of a fundraising package I created (wrote and designed from start to finish) for the Associated Humane Societies, a humane society I’ve been working with for 30+ years. They are a hard-working organization dedicated to taking in the animals that society has discarded and giving them a brand new, loving future. I’d say their donor base falls in between the hard left humane organizations which don’t hesitate to show you the most brutal images of animal cruelty and the soft right which focuses more on cute puppies and kittens. So the pieces I work on with them have to be honest, but not so raw that people want to throw the piece away without really looking at it. If you don’t get the recipient to open the envelope, you’ve lost the donation. This particular package is mailed to their regular donor list, but with minor adjustments, could be easily used in a cold mailing.

There are 5 components:  a 4-color, 5″x 7″ card with photos and an appeal letter written up inside which tells the story of these two animals, an outer envelope, a BRE, a response document, and a premium. We’ve done labels successfully in the past as our premium, but people are on label overload nowadays, so we featured, for the second year in a row, a flower seed packet. The custom designed packet (below) is glue-tipped to the back of the card so it shows through a window on the back of the outer envelope.

The theme of the piece is “UNWANTED”, and tells the story of a senior dog, left horribly neglected and sick, then abandoned on the street, and a 5 month-old kitten, put out on the fire escape in the dead of winter as punishment by an angry owner. The outer envelope and card front show Emily (the dog) and Christopher (the kitten) as they looked when they arrived at the humane society. The interior of the card (above) details what the humane society did for these two, how they took care of all their medical needs, and best of all, found them loving  homes. The back of the card shows the dog’s happy adoption day photo. In addition, the recipient received a packet of Thumbelina Zinnia seeds, encouraging the donor to enjoy planting and  growing them as they can help the organization grow and help more animals like these. The response document and BRE, continue the theme of these two animals and images of the zinnias.

This is just one of an endless variety of possibilities and formats in fundraising campaigns. These donors seem to really like this format, as it’s been used with great success, but in reality, they are responding to the outstanding work of the organization, and the presentation that moved them – written from a heartfelt perspective and in a visually attractive package.  (I’ll take the credit for that part.) Let me also mention that I work with a wonderful printing outfit, the Ballantine Company,  who takes the utmost care in every aspect of the package’s printing and mailing.

Can I bring my talents to your organization and help you make a difference? I’d be happy to, so feel free to contact me with any questions.

p.s. And just to add a little happy ending for you graphics readers, here is a photo of that sweet senior dog, Emily, after the humane society restored her to the best health she had probably known in years.

 

 

 

How A Newsletter Works for You

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to reach your audience, be they fans, donors, colleagues, or others who have an interest in you. A newsletter can be a great way to let “your people” know what’s going on with you and/or your business.  Depending on your needs, a newsletter can be sent snail mail, digitally, posted on your website and social media for download, or all of the above to meet your recipients and followers’ preferences.

But here’s the thing –  no matter your delivery system, the newsletter still has to be designed, written, and produced. Of course, that’s where I come in! The newsletter you see here is one I created for Popcorn Park, an animal refuge in New Jersey. ZoonooZ  is the official publication of their Zoological Society.

One of the things that I do for the ZoonooZ (and could do for you) is use my excellent writing skills to write the entire publication from start to finish. After I write it, the ZoonooZ then goes to Popcorn Park’s director for proofing and any corrections in content. Or I can design a beautiful newsletter for you; you can send me all the content; and I can do the layout and prep for e or standard mailing. Or I can re-design that tired newsletter you already have that needs a facelift!

This is a simple 4-pager, and it’s gone through some re-designs over the years since its inception 23 years ago. Personally, I would prefer more white space, but because there is always so much content to squeeze in, it presents a challenge. Your newsletter, however, will have a unique look all its own that represents you and/or your organization.

Who do you want to reach? What do you want to tell them about what’s new with your organization or cause? And if you’re a charity, remember — a newsletter keeps your donors in touch with you and serves as a fundraising piece. Can I help you with your newsletter? Just contact me and let me know.

See more samples of newsletters and other graphic projects.

 

 

Getting to Know You

Beyond meeting you in person, how do people get to know you? Nowadays, the internet is going to be the primary way of learning about you, what you do, and what services and/or products you offer if you are in business. Between a website, blog, and social media, people will know plenty. And then, if they want to know more, they’ll pop your name into a search engine and know more than you’d probably ever think (or want) to tell them.

But let’s go back to that personal meeting and the humble business card. I recently re-designed my business card. The front, as you can see, echoes the exact same look as the header of this site. It includes my basic services, my website, this site/blog, and my e-mail.

The back of the card provides information about an aspect of my business I am expanding, helping people self-publish in children’s books. I’ve detailed my services, provided a few samples, and repeated my e-mail.

Here’s what’s important about the front of the card looking like my web design – when people come visit, using my card for “directions”, they know they’re arrived at the right destination. Each time they look at my card or come to this site, I am now associated with that gorgeous river shot and that I will bring their dreams to life. (Yes, I will.) It’s called branding, or brand recognition. You recognize it best when you see a company’s logo which appears on all their products, communications, etc. However, I’m not that big of a company to need a logo (in my opinion), so I’ll be happy if you just connect the dots.

Let’s take a look at my last business card as it relates to my current website. Looking at a screenshot of my site, you can clearly see that the two are related and the same person. Both utilize my own artwork and a crow. (You’ll have to go to my website to read more on that.)

The card details what I do. It also listed my physical address and my phone number (deleted here), neither of which I choose to display nowadays, nor do I need to. Connected as we all are via the internet, my location is irrelevant, and I choose to make all initial contact via e-mail. I liked this card just fine, but I am also no longer offering some of those services;  the back side of the card needs to serve prospective clients better; and I want that all important visual cohesiveness.

So … getting to know you? I’m very happy to meet you, but when I go home, how will I remember who you are? I just met 30 people! Oh, I know – you gave me a business card. And look at that – I’ve arrived at your website and I can learn more.

How can I help you be better known? As you can see, I have a few ideas, so get in touch!

 

 

Self-Publishing – II

As discussed in an earlier post, print-on-demand has allowed more people than ever to see their dreams of being published come true. And while it has given many this opportunity, it still hasn’t changed the responsibility of putting something worthwhile out into the world. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

Certainly, well-crafted writing is still in demand, and putting forth a product that is visually appealing and which appropriately complements the text is critical. What makes someone want to pick up a book?  I think most would agree  —  it’s the cover.

Not long ago, a writer friend and I came across a self-published book written by someone we know. I don’t know who did the cover, but it did a huge disservice to the writer, so much so that neither of us were really excited about knowing what the book was about. It was actually off-putting. And that’s where good graphic design comes in. Your cover – and the graphic design of your book – can make or break you. Want someone to open your book? Make it look good.

The book featured here is one I designed for a client who wrote it for an older child reader. She wanted to make it look less like a typical picture book, even though it is rich in photographs. It is about a northern water snake named Bo. He lives by a pond where all his animal friends have families of their own, what Bo dearly wishes for himself.

Everything in this 32-page book has been carefully thought out from the title page (right, top), to chapter beginnings (bottom), to every page in between, whether there is one or multiple images. All elements serve to create a coordinated look that moves the reader along seamlessly from page to page, and allows them to enjoy each of the photos.

I really enjoyed working on this project for the same reason Becky created it – to appeal to an older child reader. It looks more grown up with the novel-like page layout and the 6″ x 9″ format, clearly not a book for a 5 year-old. I was excited, also, by the many beautiful photographs I had to work with, and even to research a few more that really enhanced the story.

It takes a lot to bring a book to life, and a good graphic designer is one of your best investments if you plan to self-publish. If you want your book to draw people’s attention, please contact me and let’s see what we can do together.

Business Cards

They’re light; they’re portable; and easy to save. Business cards really never go out of style, and anyone conducting business of any kind always needs to carry them with them.

The standard business card is 2″ x 3.25″, a little larger than what you see here in the post. To optimize the space on a business card, you generally want to take advantage and use both sides of the card and include as much information as you need to share.  But in some instances, one side will do. Those who take your cards can make notes on the blank side.

Because the space is limited, you want to think carefully about what wording will be on the card – certainly you need your name and/or business name, a visual that tells the story of you/your business, and contact information. In my own business card, upper left, you see only the front. The back features another illustration of mine and all my contact information.

In the card at right, there is no need for extended information beyond what the front of the card shows. What makes this card unique is that I did a portrait of one of Toni’s dogs and incorporated her favorite flower, the pansy, and then used that as the focus for her business card.

Another example of a one-sided card is the one I designed for Laurie Wallmark for her first published children’s book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. It’s simple, to the point, shows the beautiful book cover, and provides Laurie’s contact information.

Bring your business card with you everywhere, ready to hand  out to anyone who wants to know about you and what you do. Include them in mailings, with your product, in other businesses that will promote you, and so on. It’s one of the simplest and most basic ways you can promote yourself.

In addition to knowing what needs to be included on a business card, you also need to know a good designer, and that would be me. Contact me with your business card needs, and check here for additional samples of business cards I’ve designed.

Brochures … for Authors

There are plenty of ways to promote yourself as an author, and here’s another one – a brochure. Shown here is a tri-fold brochure which features a selection of animal books that a well-known local author,  Loren Spiotta-DiMare, has available – some for adults, most for children. On this particular project, Loren had asked for my help in  re-creating the brochure to be similar to her last one. The original designer was unavailable, so I essentially did a new layout, added new books, plus new design elements and fonts. The end product was similar, but clearly new and different.

I’ve worked with Loren in the past in helping her self-publish, as well as with several other projects, so I was happy to bring something fresh to her brochure. The front is simple and tells you what you’ll find inside. In the center panel of the outside of the brochure we have author information and a photo of Loren with some of her children’s books. On the third fold-in panel, are featured four books for adults.

Inside the brochure, above, you’ll see a fairly comprehensive selection of her children’s books, including short summaries and pricing. In the upper right is an order form.

Brochures like this do assume that you have a good selection of books to offer, but a brochure doesn’t always have to have 3 panels, either. It could have 2 panels, or it could just be one – 1/3 of what you see above – known as a rack card. In a case like that, you could feature your book(s) on the front, and on the back, author information and an order form. Simple.
And … any of these can be made into a PDF and shared by e-mail or be made available for download on your website or social media sites.

Where would you use these? Certainly at events, book festivals, and at, and in advance of, school events for kids. You could have them on display, or if you suspected your audience might want to order more than one title, or in multiples, you might send some on ahead of your visit. In fact, send them to anyone you think might be interested in purchasing your book(s)! While I’m not sure of the policies they must follow, librarians might welcome a small catalog such as this as well. Some of the books featured are self-published, but others have been printed by traditional publishers.

If you want to sell more books, you need to be pro-active, especially if you are self-publishing. When you are published traditionally, a huge amount of publicity is done by the publisher on your behalf, far beyond what the average self-publishing author could ever do. That’s why it’s so important to think of how you can promote yourself! If I can help, let me know.

See more samples of my graphic design work.