Back in 2003, I set up a recruitment agency called Ethos Recruitment. I had absolutely no idea about branding and marketing and I remember thinking how awesome my MS Publisher leaflets were that I had produced myself and printed on my Epson inkjet printer. My first lesson in design and marketing came from a marketing consultant, who still works with me today, Karen O'Mahoney from Market Energy. She may not remember the story, but I can recall every detail as it was the first stage of my marketing journey.
Karen's words of wisdom
We were in our conference room and she asked me to collect every single bit of marketing collateral we had. Deskpads, coasters, leaflets, letterheads, compliments slips, business cards, etc. I rallied around the office searching for all my material that I was extremely proud of and handed everything over to her. She then asked me to leave the room. After a few minutes she invited me back to into the boardroom and there, spread all over the boardroom table was all of my Ethos Recruitment marketing collateral, BUT she had used various items to cover up the actual Ethos Recruitment logo.
Seeing the puzzled look on my face she asked me one question “What is it about all of this “stuff” that makes you know that it is Ethos Recruitment”?
To me, the answer was obvious… it was all green! Everything on the table was green in colour. She then asked me “what green is your green?”. Now that question got me thinking. The actual green for the company was in the company logo, which was currently covered up by a range of objects. “It's a dark green”, I responded. “Can you see the same dark green on any of your other items?” – my face said it all as the penny started to drop. My MS Publisher leaflets were one type of green, the business cards were the Ethos green, but my window cards were completely different. Her next question was about fonts. I had not really thought much about fonts, but when she pointed out that my leaflets were in Times New Roman, the window cards were in Arial, and the Ethos logo was a bespoke font, I was starting to understand what branding was all about.
That was then, and I have learnt a lot since then (with the help of our very talented in-house designer Mark). Here are his top five tips for non-designers:-
Tip #1 – Limit your typefaces and keep it in the family
The human eye finds it difficult to read multiple typefaces, so we advise clients to stay with a simple collection of fonts, or a family of fonts. If a design is too busy then this causes confusion in the brain as the eye does not know where to look. Ideally, you want your viewer to have a pleasant experience, so keep to the golden rule of no more than two fonts!
The font needs to reflect your brand. For example, a font that is “fluffy” (such as Brushscript) should not be used for an accountancy practice or a legal firm.
Tip #2 – Create order with alignment
When PicMonkey introduced “grids” we all did a little dance in the office! It is important to make sure that elements of your design are lined up for design balance and composition. If you are using an iPhone to take photos for your social media accounts, then the same principle applies. Activate the “grid” feature on your phone, so that you can easily set your composition and place elements in the right place. Go to settings > camera > grid
Tip #3 – Remember, white space is a good thing
As non-designers, we tend to see white space and want to fill it with yet another sales message, but you need to resist. Give your content some breathing room and let your audience focus on the important elements of the design. Leaving white space is a hugely beneficial design technique and not one to be ignored. Often, less is more.
Tip #4 – Know your platforms
How often have you seen an image on Facebook or Twitter that is chopped off at the end? Perhaps it's a square image, and the company have tried to fit it into a circle as a profile picture. It looks naff and reflects badly on your brand.
Every social media platform has specific dimensions, and they also change on a regular basis (which is very frustrating). I would recommend adding your image or design to Landscape, which is a free tool that will automatically resize your images for the various social media platforms.
Tip #5 – It's all about the images
Please do not search on Google images, right click, save picture as… on ANY of your designs or social media. Learn from my mistakes. I was fined £895 for doing exactly that a number of years ago, and I have never used a Google image since. There are many places to gain free or low-cost images, such as Pexels.com or Pixabay.com. Both of these sites also offer free video content, which is handy if you are creating Facebook video cover designs.
I would also avoid the cheesy clip art type of images. These are so 1990's!
I know that some of the above tips may appear a bit obvious, but I see these mistakes every day. Fonts, colours and images are not just making a design look pretty, but they represent your brand and the culture of your organisation. Take a look at your timeline on Facebook or your last twenty tweets – what do the images say about you? Take a look at your Facebook cover photo, or your LinkedIn company page overview banner – are they consistent with your brand?