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August 27, 2021 - No Comments!

Be a designer. (Or… just look like one.)

As creative software becomes more accessible through subscriptions such as Adobe Creative Cloud and online platforms like Canva, clients now have the power to create better looking materials to promote their ideas and services. While most Marcom professionals and savvy small business owners can tackle the technical side of communications capably, there’s a level of finesse that only comes from formal design training and years of practice. (This is where having experienced creative partners in your corner can make a major difference in branding and marketing impact.) But by applying some basic design principles to your presentations, proposals and social media posts, you can elevate your messages and your brand. 

Here are five tips to help when you can’t hire a graphic designer.

1. Choose your color palette. Keep it to three colors, plus one or two lighter hues as backgrounds for sidebars (e.g. orange type in a cream sidebar). Select a dark color for legible type, a brighter color for headlines, and a medium color for subheads, pull quotes, etc. Keep in mind universal color meanings, too: red can be aggressive and signal stop or a warning; green is softer, optimistic and can indicate something is eco-friendly, etc. 

One of my go-to combinations: Navy headlines, lapis blue subheads, black body copy, dark gray sidebar copy on an ice blue background. I’ll have more ideas on great color combos with palette examples to share in a future article.

2. Choose your typefaces. Only two. Select a sans serif family (e.g. Helvetica) and a serif family (e.g. Garamond) and use them together to create a hierarchy of information. A hierarchy is like an outline — it indicates how you read through the information. Headlines, subheads, pull quotes, sidebars, tables, and captions are typically in a type hierarchy. 

Within each typeface, you have many fonts so you really can use 6-8 styles in a document. (Whew!) A typeface is a family, such as Garamond, but a font is a specific style (aka weight or cut), such as Garamond Bold. Think of it this way: typefaces are to an album, as fonts are to songs on an album. 

Example of a type hierarchy: 

  • Headlines are 24 point Helvetica Light
  • Subheads are 12 point Helvetica Bold
  • Body copy is 9 point Garamond Regular
  • Tables use 8 point Helvetica Regular & Bold
  • Pull Quotes are 12 point Garamond Italic

In a future article, I’ll cover why you should limit the use of ALL CAPS, how to select typefaces that communicate your brand personality, and show you some great hierarchy examples that are easy to implement on your own.

4. Keep it simple. If everything “pops,” all you have is a bowl of popcorn. So figure out your hierarchy and make sure that you present the information in a way that your audience will understand it. Use imagery, color and copy to draw the reader through the material or focus on a single message you want them to remember most. 

“Less is more” was Mies van der Rohe's mantra that defined the modernist aesthetic and it can define your presentations too. Avoid being tempted to use all of the effects the creative software offers because it’s fun. Choose one effect that you think adds to the communication and stick with it throughout the document as part of your hierarchy. Consistency is key to a good looking and user-friendly communication piece.
I’ll address common graphic mishaps and how best to use imagery and graphics for a consistent, branded look throughout your documents in a future article.

4. We love alignment. Set your margins and stick to them. Start your copy at the same point on the page from the top and left edges. Maintain the styles of  your headlines, subheads, and body copy (size and leading, aka line spacing) throughout. Don’t change the sizes to fit content, rather edit the content to fit the space. If it doesn’t slim down enough, then add a page.

Avoid flush-right and justified text as it is less natural to read and can often create awkward white spaces (called rivers) flowing through the copy. I’ll discuss flush left and centered type options, plus how to draw the eye through bullet points and positioning of elements, plus header and footer options in a future article.

5. Present one idea at a time. Pick the most important take away that you want your audience to remember and make it the most clear and prominent item on the page or post. If you’re presenting a deck, you really just need a couple of top-level bullets as an overview, not a full sentence that they are reading as you speak it. Place the minimum amount of content you need to get your idea across on the first slide. Then use a page to further explain each item individually. People will listen to you more and understand better if the page is minimal.

Choose imagery to further communicate your ideas, not just fill space. Also, give yourself and your audience a place to rest their eyes between large blocks of information. They will appreciate the visual break and let the information they just absorbed sink in. I’ll provide insights into how to use photography and other imagery to maximize comprehension in a future article.

One last pro tip, never, ever use Comic Sans unless you’re creating a comic book.* Designers everywhere will thank you. 
— Helen C Young, owner & creative director, EnZed Design, LLC

*Curious why? Search “Why do designers hate Comic Sans?”

August 12, 2021 - No Comments!

There is an “i” in collaboration — and teams depend on it.

With the Olympics in Tokyo having concluded, I can’t help but think about the role of the individual and the team. We saw individual sports, like shot put, dressage, and golf...obvious team sports, such as rugby, soccer, and sculling...mini-team action in tennis doubles and beach volleyball...and the “tweener” sports — the hybrid of individual/ team competitions including gymnastics and track events. What comes through clearly when these athletes tell their stories, though, is that solo performances are best when team support is strong. Great results are collaborative.

Over the arc of my career, my work approach has been similar to an athlete training within a team or with a team behind them. While clients who refer me to colleagues say, “Call Helen” (thank you!), I purposely named my company EnZed Design to umbrella the many creatives who make the project happen. There’s usually a writer, often a web designer, sometimes a photographer, illustrator, or other talent whom I creative direct and/or collaborate with. Then there’s the client and their team, who inform the process and bring their own creativity and ideas to the table. And once things are rolling, the supportive vendors — printers, signage and service providers — come into play. It takes all to make the deliverable actually deliver. 

The trick to making a project successful is developing the strategy with the end goal in mind, placing the right players together, and working closely in real time to make it happen. Most often adjustments are required along the way — like an athlete adapts their game to wind, sun, heat or injury. Generally the margins are not as tight (0.5 inch vs 0.001 second) and there is not always a clear winner or loser; finishing and engagement are the measures of success. 

The most satisfying thing for me about collaboration is at the end of the project, there’s proof of accomplishment with lines blurred as to whose idea was whose. Like the top contenders at the Olympics, we have something to hold up and show the world we did it — a printed piece, a website, a campaign, a logo behind the reception desk. A brand launch is a glory moment and we celebrate it together. The creative process and the people I work with is what makes me want to do it again and again. 

Special congratulations to the USA and New Zealand for record-breaking medal counts in Tokyo. Go teams!

May 17, 2021 - No Comments!

Branding and the Power of Pattern

The most memorable brands do not live by logos, alone. Instead, they leverage their well-designed mark in every possible manner. The conscious, consistent use of fonts, colors, tone and positioning adds dimension. Some even encompass scent and sound to elevate distinction.

One of the simplest ways to mark territory is through the development of a custom brand pattern. Possible applications range from a subtle background for an engaging website to a star-powered position on a best-selling product. 

We create custom patterns for clients by using elements of their logo in proprietary designs. The objective is to add texture and depth across multiple media for optimal visibility. Branding demands reinforcement, and this is one more way to achieve it.

Here are examples of logos we designed and their custom companion patterns. 

The Power of Process

When I create a custom pattern for a brand, I start by looking at the elements and shapes in the logo. Whether it is a new logo designed by my firm or an established mark, we address it the same way — identify the most significant visuals and build on them. We also consider how to create a seamless repeat with these elements. 

Repeats can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, block or offset (partial drop or brick). Certain shapes and scales lend themselves to different repeat styles. For example, round shapes half-drop well in an offset repeat because the shapes fit into each other snuggly. Asymmetrical core shapes require additional elements around them to create a block repeat. It takes some experimenting to eliminate striping or gaps for a clean, seamless repeat, especially in designs that need to “read” in all directions (not just up and down, as on wallpaper).

Brand patterns must apply well on myriad surfaces — electronic media; printed small or large on paper, fabric and other substrates; and often rendered flat or dimensionally (e.g. routed into metal). Because these factors can influence the motif’s complexity and color palette, it’s best to know where the pattern will be used before beginning design. Once these specifications are set, it’s exciting to see the variations that emerge. Often, more than one design hits the mark, resulting in a suite of brand patterns that can serve as a library for the client over time.

The POW! of Results

Here are some examples of designs we’ve created that make it easy to see how the patterns relate to their brands. 

  • Denny’s to-go boxes — Their signature French diamond was overlapped and rotated to create a geometric pattern that also looks like a box motif. 
  • Blackbird General Store tissue paper — The illustration of the bird and branch in the logo was reworked as a toile pattern, a custom take on traditional fabric that reinforced the nature of the brand.
  • What’s the Scoop? cups — The spoon from the “O” is repeated in a simple linear pattern that feels like sprinkles on ice cream. 
  • FCCS conference folders — The conference logo shape repeats in a fine-lined geometric micro-pattern, acting as a texture (further enhanced with gloss and dull varnishes).
  • LiveWell Colorado branding — The colorful burst created the perfect any-direction pattern for branding a variety of communications.
  • Children’s Circle of Care event — The heart of the logo combines with icons from the host hospital to create a pattern to brand the event through a custom tie (fabric), invitations (paper), water bottle (plastic) and more.

Enrich your brand with a custom pattern that creates instant recognition wherever it goes. 

And it can go virtually everywhere.
Contact Helen to get started.

June 13, 2018 - No Comments!

Patterns in Culture: Japan

My love for travel started before I was two years old, when my parents flew me from New Zealand to Chicago, the beginning of what became their 30 year adventure in the United States. Each summer, we traveled. My brother and I made a nest in the back of the station wagon and we’d motor around the vast countryside of America or we’d hop on a plane to vacation overseas, taking advantage of my father’s light summer workload to see the world. Even as a child, I took in new cultures through small details and remembered each state or country by their textures, textiles, buildings and gelato flavors.

Today I see patterns everywhere I go, whether at home in Denver or in foreign curiosities. I've learned that each country reveals itself through the people’s expression of art, pattern and design. What is rendered are revered items of daily life or spiritual aspiration. Through my adventures, I’ve discovered that culture is not contained in a museum, but open to all and constantly evolving — simply walk, wander and take it in.

Patterned Roof in Kyoto Japan EnZed Design Helen Young

Japan

On my recent trips to Tokyo and Kyoto, I found objects rich in color and variety of pattern. The Japanese attention to detail is highly symbolic of their respect for others and their surroundings. Their connection to the Earth and its energy is part of their spirituality and expressed via the vermilion, gold and colorful patterns on their Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. There’s a rhythm to their spaces, creating visual patterns in three dimensions. Most of the printed patterns you find on papers and fabrics are representations of nature — flora, fauna, water and sky. Many are symbols associated with spirituality, luck, abundance and good fortune. This Kiriko clothing company article shows the most prevalent patterns, explaining their names, symbolism and origin.

Azaleas and Gates in Tokyo Japan EnZed Design Helen Young

The Japanese mix patterns and color expertly, which is especially notable in the multiple fabrics layered in their kimonos. You also see this in their fine art. They combine patterned papers as borders or mattes on hanging paintings and within hinges and borders on painted screens. Patterns are inlaid on boxes and painted on ceramics. Their combinations of pattern scale and object shapes within them is deft and often unexpected. Most of us are familiar with origami paper collections that fan out a gorgeous mix of patterns. The variety of these origami packs in Japan is dizzying. When I visited the iconic stationery shop Itoya in Ginza, Tokyo, I spent nearly 2 hours combing through 12 floors of paper, washi tape, journals, cards, bookmarks, pens, and shaped sticky notes. My Pinterest board on Japanese Design has an array of eyecandy featuring items with innovative simplicity or intricate decoration — all with a deliberately delicate touch.

Shoes in Kyoto Japan EnZed Design Helen Young Patterns

What’s particularly interesting to me about Japanese pattern is the motifs are ancient yet very contemporary. This mix is evident everywhere in their culture and takes many forms. In modern Tokyo, it’s subway riders with heads bowed absorbed in their phones balanced by their custom of bowing in greeting. In Kyoto, it’s a hunger for shopping high-fashion brands balanced by young people renting kimonos and queuing for tea ceremonies. (Side note: The shoe selections in Japanese department stores are on a scale I’ve not encountered before. Wowza.)

Kimonos Kyoto Manhole Cover Tokyo Japan EnZed Design Helen Young

Harmony and beauty come from this knack for balance. A quality I love about the Japanese people is their utmost respect for one another and their surroundings. You’d be hard pressed to encounter brash personalities or see careless littering. At the end of a rainy day, Tokyo’s subway train floor was shiny and spotless. The city’s manhole covers are famously shared on Instagram. Consumerism is high and space is precious, yet patience and civility underpin the culture. As the world capital of cute, with a love of animal ears on everything and hats on cats, I surmise that people strive to find small joys in many places or moments, especially in Tokyo, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. I’ll have to explore the country more to test that theory. Until then, enjoy these 20 photos + 20 haikus expressing my impressions of Japan (3 minute video). Arigato.

October 23, 2012 - 1 comment.

New and Improved: C3 Magazine

Over the years, EnZed has been asked to redesign a wide range of publications. Some simply have been tired—dated in appearance. Others have looked for a new face to improve readership by communicating more clearly.

C3 Magazine is a strong case of the second.

In its original format, C3 Magazine—The University of Colorado Cancer Center’s donor publication—felt a little heavy. There were many colored backgrounds and solid copy columns dominated. The Cancer Center clearly had  great stories to share, but  they needed to work harder if they were to captivate additional donors.

When analyzing the existing design, we began by first focused on how to improve the way readers navigated the information. One of the parameters set was to keep the current amount of content within the same page count and size. So we became the “What Not To Wear” style experts—hiding bulges and enhancing best attributes. Let the make over begin!

 

C3 Magazine EnZed Design Denver Colorado

 

OUR STATED OBJECTIVES:

1. Increase reader interest

  • Capture the SKIMMER. Short subheads and easy-to-read sidebars communicate more messages than headlines alone, enticing them in.
  • Convert the SELECTIVE READER. The speed reader will have time to read more articles if they are “blocked” into chunks that are quickly absorbed.
  • Activate the ABSORBER. Your biggest fan, the Absorber, is rewarded with visual cues that indicate sections more clearly, so they can go to their favorite areas first. They love links too. Perhaps a primary link plus two or three related topic links for bigger articles would give the absorber more to share with colleagues.

C3 Magazine EnZed Design Denver Colorado

 

2. Lighten the load

  • Reduce the appearance of copy by 20%. This might mean reducing word count. It can also be done by arranging content to be easily “blocked” into sidebars. Keeping subheads short and replacing line breaks with indents for new paragraphs can make room for white space without compromising content.
  • Increase white space with small layout changes. Icons or type-cons help with navigation and differentiate sections to add visual interest within a small space. A “bouncing bottom” can reduce a wall-to-wall copy appearance and is very effective at creating white space within a three column grid.

3. Expand the brand

  • Add variety to visuals. Rectangular photos of people are currently the main visual. While this can make the document feel friendly, it can also become repetitive. Add variety by changing sizes more, adding icons, type-cons, softer shapes, gradating color blocks, and stock illustration for broader concepts. Uniquely cropped head shots add variety too.
  • Use color to help guide the reader and differentiate sections. A primary color palette plus the addition of a color that is dedicated to a feature or regular section can create a unified appearance while keeping things interesting.
  • Headlines don’t have to be at the top. They can be in the middle of the page if there’s a strong introduction and a clear design to guide the reader’s eye. Chunk smaller stories together on a page with varying column spans.

C3 Magazine Redesign EnZed Design Denver Colorado

 

The results were immediate. Right after C3 hit mailboxes, positive feedback from readers came streaming in. The CUCC communications team received many compliments on and no disconnect with the new design.

We are currently working on the third issue. The Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 issues can be viewed in their entirety online.