What to do when you can't afford a graphic designer

In a perfect world every start up would have enough funds to hire a passionate and experienced designer to create and advise them on their brand. This is simply not reality for many businesses though. Entrepreneurs in the start-up space are often required to wear many hats and that of the designer is one of the most difficult.

To avoid a brand DIY that looks like a dogs breakfast, here are 6 simple pieces of free advice from an experienced designer.

Typography is by far the trickiest thing to master without any formal training or experience as a designer. As boring as it sounds I strongly recommend against being creative and instead aim for neatness and consistency. Typography really is a designers game, so if you want it to be the main focus of your brand then you should hire a designer. 

You can however achieve a decent result result by following this process : 

Spend some time figuring out which fonts work best for your brand and limit yourself to three. One should be used for headings, another for the main text (or body copy) and a third as an accent – think pull out quotes or subheadings. Stick to the system and don’t mix and match their uses and you’ll find your collateral looking neat and well considered. 

Print out some sheets with the fonts  and their intended use on them and pin them up around your office. Put it into an all staff email so that everyone is clear on which font is to be used where and there will be no inconsistencies across your brand collateral.

My favourite places to find fonts are;
Google Fonts (added bonus is that they are FREE!)
Envato Bundles  You need to sign up and you'll be notified when a new bundle becomes available

This seems like a no brainer but I see it all the time. A display font is a font that is not a typical serif or sans serif. Often it will be stylised a particular way. For example a stencil style font is considered a display font. Do not use this for paragraphs or even subheadings. These fonts are mainly designed to make great distinctive logos and can be used as headline fonts at a stretch. There is nothing worse than asking your customer or user to read a paragraph of cursive script or hand drawn style scribble. It’s just rude!

This is probably the number 1 rookie error I see in client designed collateral. Never under estimate how much margin you need to leave around the edges of a page or between elements on screen. White space is not ‘wasted space’ it’s somewhere for the eye to rest, making your content more inviting for the viewer. As a quick guide, I think that a minimum of 30mm around an A4 or US letter page is a good place to start. 

It’s great to have a couple of distinctive colours that represent your brand but not every shade in the colour palette needs to be bright. Anchoring the selection with some nice neutral shades will soften the palette and let the bright colours stand out by comparison. Look to beiges, charcoals and pale greys to achieve this.

Before starting out, it pays to make a mood board of the type of imagery you think will work for your brand. Be really critical and make sure that each image represents your brand well. Whenever you need to source an image for something, refer back to the mood board and ask yourself if this new image fits in with that existing suite of images. If it does then it’s good to use, if not ditch it and find one that does. Edit and develop the mood board often so that it's a constant progression of your brand direction.

Some places to find great free or affordable images are:
Unsplash – totally free and amazing images. It's where I got the feature image for this post!
Dollar Photo Club – subscription based but each image costs only $1
StockPhotos – user lead content, check each image for copyrights

Designing your brand is not the same as decorating your house or picking out an outfit. Unless your brand is all about you, then it’s not important that the look and feel reflect your personal taste. What is important is that it will win the attention of your target market, stand the test of time and set itself apart from your competitors. Try to leave your personal taste at the door and think about what’s best for the brand.

It's important to remember that graphic design is not as expensive as you may think. Ask around and get some quotes, you might be surprised at what you can afford and it will pay dividends for your brand in the future!

Emma FawcettComment