From social media graphics to freebie downloads, and podcast covers to brochures, there are so many materials and ‘things’ within your business that need designing. Of course, working with a professional graphic designer (ahem!) will ensure everything your business puts out into the world looks on-brand and gorgeous, but it’s not always possible to outsource your brand’s design needs – I get it. So, how do you design things yourself? Well, the answer to that question really depends on a few factors such as your brand personality and the purpose of the material. It’s a whole other post in itself (note to self – write that post!). Instead, today, I want to share ‘5 mistakes to avoid when designing materials for your business’… as they are five mistakes that apply to most brand personalities and all sorts of business materials, so should help lots of you.
Mistake 1: Not enough space
Not enough ‘white space’, or blank space around any and all elements, is one of the biggest mistakes I see so many small business owners make when designing materials in-house. Before I say anymore, let me just clarify… including space in your design doesn’t have to mean a minimalist style and likewise just because you have a minimalist style doesn’t guarantee you’re using space well in your materials.
Space is a bit of a magical tool within design. It’s one of the key things that tends to set professional graphic design apart from in-house creations. White/blank space within a design helps the viewer, quite literally, have space to think as they take everything in.
Instead of trying to fill every millimetre of your design with content or interest, give room for both the elements in your design and your audience to breathe.
Leave space around headings and other copy (text) – as well as the edge of your design (unless of course it’s a purposeful design choice to let typography touch, or even extend beyond, the edge of the page or screen).* Create space between lines of copy within bulk text, so it doesn’t feel too heavy. Avoid putting images too close to text and other elements (again, unless you’re making a purposeful design choice such as overlaying text on an image); and try to keep a consistency to space within the same design.
*Bonus tip: in general, the larger your margins the more elevated your design will feel. So, if you own a high-end, quality, or stylish brand… make your margins bigger than you might usually dare.
Mistake 2: No balance
Once you’ve got enough space in your design, you need to make sure it looks balanced. As I’ve already said, keeping a consistency to space within the same design is important but, more than that, you also need to look at the balance of elements.
Does one side of your design look heavier than the other? Is an image taking your attention more than it should? If there are columns, or a grid layout, do sections feel equal?
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as keeping things symmetrical or perfectly even. In fact, there are many times when you want to tip the balance one way or another to direct the viewer’s focus and designs often look better when they are perfectly imperfect. However, overall, you’re looking for a gentle balance to the design so that everything works together and flows.
Mistake 3: No alignment
A mistake I see many people make when designing materials for their own business is not aligning elements. You can have a great use of space, with plenty of room around things, and even a good overall balance to your design, but if there is no alignment, it will still look ‘off’.
I’m not just talking about text alignment here (i.e. left, right, centre, or justified), I’m talking about the alignment and connection between every single bit of content in your design. From headings to images, and body copy to borders… each element (in general) should align with at least one other piece in your design, even if that ‘piece’ is the page or screen itself.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean everything needs to align to just one side or look boxed in and boring; but, if you’ve got two or more things sitting along a similar line, make sure the line is straight.
Alternatively, if you’re going to use alignment creatively (something a lot of graphic designers do for impact, myself included) be confident in your decision and make the misalignment or mix of alignments purposeful so it doesn’t look like a mistake. Just FYI, I wouldn’t advise getting too creative with alignment if you’re relatively new to design, as there is quite a fine line between something stunning and something clumsy.
Mistake 4: No hierarchy
No, I don’t mean your business structure and leadership rankings. Hierarchy within design is all about the order of importance and what you want the viewer to focus on first, second, third, etc.
This particularly applies to headings and copy, but it does also take other elements such as your logo and images into account.
Working out the correct formatting to best represent the hierarchy within your material is quite specific to each project and design. You need to think about font size, weight, colour, case, and position, as well as the size, colour, and position of images and brand assets.
Ask yourself ‘What do I need the viewer to look at first?’, then think about ways to make that piece of content the most prominent. Make sure there is enough definition between headings and body copy; think about whether any text needs to be brought to the viewers attention through things like an accent font, all upper case characters, or a heavier/bold weight; and, if you’re including your logo or a sub-mark in your design, think carefully about how important it is within the context of the material and therefore how noticeable it needs to be.
Mistake 5: Too much information
I’m not hear to judge how much you share about your personal life, views, or feelings in general… the mistake of including too much information when designing your brand materials has got nothing to do with your most recent date or bathroom visit, and everything to do with the previous four mistakes combined.
We’ve all been there. We’re so excited to share something, we want to tell everyone everything straight away. The thought of removing a paragraph of text is scary – what if that paragraph held the piece of information to persuade the viewer to contact you? It seems counterintuitive to reduce the number of pretty images in a design; and surely adding extra pages will put viewers off… right?
If you have too much information on one page, screen, or area of a design, it’s really hard to create that all important space. You’ll struggle to get a balance or align elements, without everything becoming one big block. It will also make creating a distinct hierarchy really difficult, because there will be too much content competing with each other.
Look at everything you want to include in your material and carefully consider what’s actually needed to get your message and style across. There are some brand personalities who come alive in a more is more type of design, but this isn’t true for the majority of brands. More often than not, you can get away with removing at least one element from your material.
Once you know everything you must include, decide if you can spread it across either a larger area (i.e. a bigger page) or multiple pages. Obviously, this isn’t possible for something like a social media graphic or postcard design as there are set sizes involved – in which case you have to be even more strict about what you do or don’t include, but for things like brochures, client proposals, booklets, and even websites, choose bigger or more pages over trying to squeeze too much information into something smaller.
Trust me, it will take your materials to a whole new level of gorgeous professionalism.
Mistake 6: Off-brand design
Okay, so, I couldn’t stop at just five mistakes to avoid. There are actually so many more I can think of, but I’ll share those another day. However, here is a little bonus tip.
Don’t go off-brand.
Whether you’ve invested in a professional visual brand identity or created branding yourself, you don’t want to dilute all of that effort by putting off-brand material designs out into the world. This doesn’t mean everything has to look the same – quite the opposite. Once you’re more experienced in designing materials for your own business (or you choose to work with a graphic designer) you’ll be able to experiment and have different looks for different materials. However, everything should point back to your brand. From the colour palettes to the font choices and layouts, designs don’t have to be exactly the same for every single material you create but they should always feel on-brand and aligned to your brand personality.
So, there you have it, 5 (well, actually, 6) mistakes to avoid when designing materials for your business. I hope you’ve found this post helpful and it’s given you some pointers for ways to improve your own in-house material designs. On the other hand, if the thought of creating clean and creative branding materials, or other graphic design projects, makes you stressed – get in touch. I love designing things for other small businesses so they can focus on the things that actually bring them joy.
P.S. If you would like to see visual representations/examples of these mistakes, let me know and I might add some images to this post in the future.