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!

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.