If you’re a creative entrepreneur or solopreneur here are some things you should know about design in 2017.
1) You need to show up consistently and be visually consistent too
You don’t need me to tell you that you need to show up consistently in your audience’s social media feeds to stay on their radar. But you need to be visually consistent too.
If you look at a Pinterest graphic, from, say, Melyssa Griffin, you’ll know straight away that it’s from her because of how it looks. It looks similar, of course, to the previous 6 Pinterest graphics that she produced.
If you want that sort of brand recognition, you need to produce graphics in a regular, consistent way. How do you do that? See below.
2) You need to stick to your brand guidelines (if you don’t have any, write some).
Melyssa’s posts look the same because she follows her brand’s guidelines. If you’ve never seen any, they are like a blueprint for which colours, fonts and layout choices you’ll use.
Once the guidelines are created you can simply follow them, instead of having to re-invent the wheel every time you want to create an image. It gives you the consistency your audience is looking for, and it takes a fraction of the time to create something.
If a designer has created your branding for you, they’ve hopefully created some brand guidelines for you too. If you’ve designed your own branding, think about how you can use it in a consistent way, and create yourself some rules to stick to. For example, always use the white version of your logo over a photo, or always use your specific light blue colour to overlay on images).
This can take some time to produce, but it’ll pay off the next time you have to create some images in a hurry. If you use software like Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign it’s possible to create a template, which can speed things up even further.
3) You’re competing with professional designers, whether you want to or not.
There is not a level playing field. Not only do more established brands have larger email lists than you, more followers and many other advantages over you (insert your #1 gripe here) but their websites and social media presence look way better too.
Why? One reason is that they’ve got the budget to pay professional designers to create their websites, graphics and social media images for them. And it’s money well spent. Because it keeps them one key aspect of their competitive advantage. What can you do about that? One option is to take the tip below.
4) You might need to pay to play.
One way of competing with more established brands is to hire a professional designer for yourself. It might well be worth the money. But before you part with any money, consider doing what a lot of firms are now doing: ask them to create a template for you.
This means that they’ll do the initial design work, but leave it in a format (usually Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop format) that you can continue to use. This is highly recommended for social media graphics, because I imagine you don’t want to be paying a designer every time you want a new image to go along with every Twitter post.
5) Professionals use professional tools.
The formats I mentioned above (Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop) are professional tools. They aren’t free (they cost from $49 a month). But these are the long established tools of choice for professional designers. To take an example, if you think of any famous logo, from Starbucks to Apple to Twitter, they are all created with Illustrator.
If having a more professional online presence is important to you, you should at least consider using these tools (possibly in combination with a professionally designed template). If you’d like to use these tools on your own, we can help you learn.
6) A little terminology goes a long way.
I’m not going to get too technical with you, but there are two bits of terminology you should know: the terms bitmap and vector. These are the two different kinds of graphics that you can create, whichever software you use.
You may know that when you take a photo with your mobile phone it captures what it sees by breaking it down into thousands of little squares of colour, known as pixels. An image that’s made of pixels is technically known as a bitmap. File types such as jpg, gif and png are examples of bitmap graphics. Photoshop is the professional tool used to edit bitmaps.
If you think of the Twitter logo, the Apple logo or a simple infographic they look much simpler than an image taken with a camera. You can normally count the number of colours used in them on the fingers of one hand. These simple, crisp images are known as vector graphics. They are not made of pixels. Instead, a bit like a dot-to-dot drawing, areas of colour are mathematically mapped out.
A key difference with a vector graphic is that if it’s enlarged you won’t see any loss of quality, whereas that can happen with a bitmap image (as the pixels get larger when you make the image bigger). Illustrator is the professional tool used to create and edit vectors.
7) Everything is changing, but some things stay the same.
Online marketing is changing all the time. New trends, new technology, new tools, new expectations. That won’t slow down any time soon. But good design doesn’t change much, even if things go in and out of style.
One of the best skills you can invest in, in my opinion, is to develop your visual awareness. Simply notice what you like and don’t like, and think why. Try and work out why some things look better than others. Use your discoveries to try and make your own images, graphics and designs look better. And notice when the prevailing fashions do change (as they surely will) and try and adapt your work to fit in (if you want to). We’re here to help you develop these skills (as well as to teach you to use tools like Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop).