The “do’s and don’ts” of design

I was recently at a dinner party and the topics of gardening and native plants came up.

I mentioned the Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse and how the greenhouse and native plant nursery there support a good cause—Diakon Youth Services. I know a lot about the program because, as a freelance designer for Diakon, I had recently created several promotional items for the wilderness greenhouse’s grand reopening native plant sale.

My dinner friends shared that they not only had received the postcard, but that it also had prompted them to visit the greenhouse and make a purchase! They said the butterfly/flower picture used on the postcard caught their eye.

Before receiving the direct-mail postcard, they were not familiar with the Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse. They also were not aware I had designed the postcard. A wonderful “small-world” moment!

As a graphic designer, people often think I just make brochures or other promotional pieces “look pretty.”

While making collateral attractive is part of the job, I also must understand the specifics of the audience the promotional piece is intended to reach—and the effect it must have on them, convey an intended tone, and ensure that pertinent information is highlighted and easy to find.

In other words, it’s important to produce clear, concise communication, not just “pretty” promotional pieces. For those interested in learning more, I offer the following tips, which I call the “do’s and don’ts” of designing a promotional piece:

A good design includes a focal point and highlights the most important information. It should be easy to answer the five “Ws”—who, what, where, when, and why.

In the Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse postcard example, I used a close-up photo of a butterfly on a colorful native plant as my focal point. Knowing the intended audience was gardening enthusiasts, I made certain that the main photo instantly communicated a nature theme.

Prominent placement of the Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse logo answered the first “W,” who. Bright nature colors and a bold font highlighted the what, where and when (a native plant sale, at the Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse, and the date). The “why” was in the form of a special offer. Why attend the native plant sale? To receive a special discount offer valid only on the specified date.

The “why” also is referred to as the call to action. What do you want audience members to do when they receive your promotional material? In this case, the wilderness greenhouse manager wanted to prompt people to visit and make a purchase.

Additional information about the greenhouse was listed on the back of the postcard. The same nature color scheme and native floral elements from the front of the card were used on the back to pull the design together.

Avoid common design mistakes

1.) Too much information

A common mistake in designing a promotional piece such as a postcard is including too much information, or too many small pictures and graphics. Doing so will overwhelm the audience, forcing them to move to the next item competing for their attention, missing your message altogether. The audience needs something to draw it in. Keep your message simple with a compelling visual image. Less is more.

2.) Poor quality graphics

Photos or illustrations should be high quality, print resolution (minimum of 300 dpi, or dots per inch). I’m often sent photos that were downloaded directly off a web page. There are a few issues with doing this. First, the images are usually lower-resolution (72 dpi) for web viewing, so they will appear fuzzy and low quality in print. Second, the image may be someone else’s intellectual property, meaning you may not have the right to use it without first seeking permission. There are many stock-image sites from which you can purchase quality images for a small fee if you do not have a photo of your own to use. Some stock photo sites require membership, while others allow you to buy single images on demand.

3.) No call to action

So you designed a great postcard. It looks pretty. Pertinent information is listed. Now what? What do you want the recipient to do? Buy tickets to your event? Sign up for something? Make the purpose of the postcard (or brochure or poster) clear.

In the case of the Diakon Wilderness Greenhouse postcard, the call to action was to visit on a specific day to receive a discount on purchase.

With a personal computer and basic layout/design software, you can create your own postcards, flyers or posters.

But first remember these tips to design clear and concise communications—and have fun making it pretty, too!

Lori Baker Pizzarro, Owner
Design Department

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