5 Rules For Non-Profits To Avoid Graphic Design Pitfalls
There are a number of pitfalls when beginning the graphic design process that a non-profit can avoid if they consider a few key issues.
1. Know Who You Are (Or Want To Be) Before You BeginTo Design
It is absolutely critical to address this component before starting any design process. You need to truly understand your marketing message and voice internally before you attempt to communicate externally.
A really big mistake that non-profits and many businesses as well can make is to allow their new logo, theme or look to define who they are as an organization. They jump directly into the excitement of the design process without much consideration for how they would like to integrate the overall character of their non-profit with their new logo, look or feel, and the message it will truly convey.
Your design work should always reflect who you already are as an organization, never the other way around. A graphical style that works well for a large, multi-national non-profit may not work at all for a local grassroots organization. Even the highest quality, most impactful graphic design work should always come second to the message and voice of your organization.
you cutting edge. And a more “homey, down-to-earth” design style won’t transform your non-profit into that type of organization, either. If your design work doesn’t support your organizational beliefs, you’re sending mixed messages that can confuse the audience you are trying to draw in. You’re wasting time and resources (read: money) creating a look that doesn’t really fit your organization.
A great example of this is the recent trend in creating Web 2.0-style designs and websites, with 3D-looking logos, featuring “bubbly” graphics, gradients, and drop shadows. (Think of Twitter, Skype, PayPal, Flickr, Facebook) This style may work well for a Web 2.0 website or tech company, but may not be effective for other kinds of brands including your non-profit.
Remember that having great technology and utilizing new, sophisticated communication platforms - which you should absolutely be doing in 2012 - is very different than how your graphic design defines your organization. You can convey your advanced technology and communication channels by focusing on them within your marketing message, but your graphic design work itself should represent what you are (or want to be) and your values as an organization.
Realize that a “cutting edge” logo, website or overall marketing theme won’t actually
2. Stop Using Words Like “Cutting Edge” To Provide Better Artistic Direction
Now that we’ve told you not to attempt to be “cutting edge” in your design work if it doesn’t fit your organizational philosophy, we’re going to tell you to stop using the concept in the first place.
There is no definition of “cutting edge” to begin with, as it is completely subject to the person who is saying it. And this provides no real direction to your graphic designer, the most critical component of a successful design project. The more information you can give your designer upfront the better. When a designer doesn’t have any clear artistic direction or preferences in hand when he or she begins the process, they must simply begin with a shot in the dark.
This obviously can lengthen the overall design process, increasing the resources and time spent on the project. It can also get you started down a path that isn’t the best fit for your organization, but that you continue on simply due to momentum. This means you need to take the time to consider the personality of your organization and what specific elements of your current design that you’d like to change, or what you’d like to see in a new one, before the creative process begins.
Instead of using generalized words and phrases like cutting edge in your artistic direction, spend some time researching what you like and don’t like about your current design, or what you’d like in a new one, and why. Be prepared to explain in detail what feelings or thoughts you are really trying to convey to your target audience(s) and what responses you are trying to illicit in them with your logo, website and overall design.
3. Understand Your Logo
Your logo is the image that will define your organization more than any other. Remember that the goal is recognition. When working with your designer to create a new logo, the key to making a popular and recognizable logo is to combine all of the elements listed here: size, style, color, typography, and originality.
Realize first and foremost that the simpler the logo, the more recognizable it will be. Start with the most complicated version of your initial design or brainstorming ideas, and distill from there. You and your designer shouldn’t get carried away with Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, Photoshop or any other graphic design programs, filters and effects. Of course, experimenting with these to see if they can enhance the logo is fine, but keep reminding yourself that simplicity is key.
A logo has to look good and be legible at all sizes. A logo is not effective if it loses too much definition when scaled down for letterheads, envelopes, and small promotional items. The logo also has to look good when used for larger formats, such as posters, billboards, and electronic formats such as TV and the Web. The most reliable way to determine if a logo works at all sizes is to actually test it yourself and see if it looks legible and clear in all potential formats.
Choosing the right font type and size for your logo is much more difficult than many beginner designers realize. If your logo design includes text, either as part of the logo or in the tagline, you will need to spend time sorting through various font types and testing them in your design before making a final decision. Try both serif fonts and sans-serif fonts as well as script, italics, bold, and custom fonts.
You should avoid the most commonly used fonts, such as Comic Sans, or run the risk of being seen as amateurish. You should also strongly consider a custom-created font for your design. The more original the font, the more it will distinguish the brand. Examples of successful logos that have a custom font are Yahoo!, Twitter, and Coca Cola. Make sure the font is legible when scaled down, especially with script fonts. One font in your logo is ideal, and avoid more than two. Once created, you should not use your logo fonts as headlines or text. Doing so will take away from the impact and stand-alone nature of your logo.
Color theory is complex, and something that your designer will probably have a more nuanced understanding of than you do, but a good rule of thumb is to use colors that are near to each other on the color wheel in your logo. In addition to color, your logo should look good in black and white and grayscale as well. As we will discuss in the next tip, adhering to your brand standards at all times, including the use of your precise Pantone/CMYK/RGB color designations in your logo, is very important.
There are lots of other things that your designer must keep in mind when crafting your logo. One example of this is the fact that logos aren’t always seen “head-on” in real world situations, like on the side of a bus or a billboard that you drive by. So your logo should be viewed from all angles to ensure that it’s recognizable from any direction. Work with your designer to understand each of these elements and how they will affect the creation and future use of your logo and overall design.
4. Use Brand Standards
Once you’ve created a new logo and/or design, it is of great importance to keep it consistent at all times. Repetition is your best friend. Don’t forget that your marketing is often the only thing that represents your brand to certain audiences. Using a consistent image projects the utmost professionalism and polished branding and messaging at all times.
Having the same colors, themes and designs (along with taglines and marketing messages) in addition to your logo can build your brand by conveying identity and unity. This generates greater levels of awareness within your target markets, and builds loyalty to your non-profit brand from external supporters and throughout your own organization.
Your brand is what consumers and supporters “connect to”, and is of increasing importance as you grow as an organization. Especially when there are multiple individuals and/or designers responsible for creating marketing collateral, having a consistent brand is one way to avoid the mistakes that some non-profits (and many other companies and organizations) commit, such as:
Inappropriate or indiscriminate use of their logo, taglines, use of photos and design elements
Different logos, aspect ratios, taglines, colors and layouts on promotional materials
Different handling of the brand in general, causing confusion among supporters or the possibility of being perceived as unprofessional or inexperienced
Discrepancies in brand elements, without cohesion or harmony throughout the organization, which lead to inconsistent messages and lost opportunities
The best way to ensure your brand is consistent is by creating and using a branding style guide or standards manual. If you need help in crafting your own brand standards rules, consult an expert. The style guide should be shared with anyone who is designing materials for your organization.
The style guide should include primary (and secondary, if appropriate) logo guidelines, the proper use of trademarks, photo image policies, organizational fonts, the color palette, aspect ratios and sizing, rules for printed collateral such as letterhead, business cards and signage, and other important details related to the overall look and feel of your organization.
An added benefit is that your brand standards manual can contain other critical items such as use of taglines, media releases for supporters and event participants, legal requirements necessary to ensure compliance, sponsorship and vendor guidelines, general print and online marketing guidelines and tips, and much more.
5. Don’t RUSH The Project If It Isn’t Really A Rush
Many creative firms and artists will provide discounted rates and special deals to non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, too often these same firms and artists will work furiously to meet deadlines set by the client only to have the client not respond or provide feedback and approvals in a timely fashion, letting these deadlines pass by.
This can create frustrations or additional stress upon the designer needlessly. Also, having a designer that must tack on “rush fees” so that they can fast-track a project – only to see a deadline missed because of the client – negates the discounted rate that was offered in the first place.
You should treat your designers as well as you would any other donor. As someone who comes to know and believe in your cause intimately, they could potentially become a large donor of either financial resources or in-kind services. Truly invest in this relationship. It will certainly pay off as you work in partnership to create new, impactful design work and marketing pieces that will increase the future success of your organization.