Client Case Study | StudyChur.ch Part One

study_church1Tanner Moushey hired me earlier this year to do some design work on a web app that he has been thinking about building called StudyChur.ch. Having never attended Bible study myself, I had to get up to speed pretty quickly! Tanner envisioned an app for people in their 20s and 30s that would be similar to more traditional Wednesday night Bible study groups. The idea is that users can form a group and then assign a Bible study to that group. Each Bible study would have particular assignments on any given day and the app users have the ability to write Bible studies themselves, too.

sc_new _study_wireframe23Tanner and I worked together to build wireframes from the information that he had given me as well as so mockups that he had done before he decided to hire me. The wireframing stage for this project was more important than any other stage, by far. Since the app has to do many things, we needed to use the wireframes to not only block out the design but make every step simple for the user to follow, and make sure that we didn’t miss any small function that could mean a lot to the users.

We talked about how much we both like an application to walk us through a process without distraction, a concept which I employed to the portion of the app used to create a study. We talked a lot about the process of creating a study and how a study should be broken down: by day, chapter, section, questions, week etc.

The result is a clean, easy-to-use interface that can adapt as StudyChur.ch has more users and grows. To go along with the web app, I created a clean brand, in keeping with the interface. More on that next week!

DIY Logo

Brand DIYYour logo is probably the most important part of your brand. If you have any budget at all, spend it on this. However, a lot of people just don’t have the money when they are first figuring out their business. If you absolutely must do a DIY option (ahem, until you’ve saved up enough to hire a pro to do this for you), here are some pointers:

  • Keep it simple. A nice sans-serif typeface, in black or one single colour, with clean lettering and maybe a second font weight? Always a classic choice.
  • Stay away from cutesy fonts. You know, the Papyrus-es and the Comic Sans-es of the world. Nothing will say “I’m not a professional” faster than a cutesy font.
  • Pick one or two colours and make sure they actually look good together. Use a resource like DesignSeeds, to find colours that are complementary and sophisticated looking.
  • Stick with a wordmark. A wordmark is your name or your company’s name written in a particular font (think: my wordmark, see the top of this page). A logo is more of an image-based representation of your name or company (think: the Nike swoosh). You don’t want to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out how to make an image that represents your company, because you won’t be able to. That’s when you call in the professionals.
  • Look at logos you like. Look at the companies’ whose branding you like. Like Apple’s brand? Use a sleek font and a minimal colour palette. If you can find a common thread amongst all of the logos you like, use that.

If you follow the few points above, you can get away without a “proper” logo for a little while. That said, I highly recommend that you hire a professional do make you a logo as soon as your business picks up steam. A professional logo will make you look like a professional, yourself! It will represent your business, should be timeless and will establish you as an expert in your field.

For more on DIY branding, read this post on How to Create Your Visual Identity.

The Best Design Feedback Tip

Best Design Feedback Tip | Kate Moore HermesSeveral weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled How to Give Great Design Feedback. I still think that post covered some gems: making sure that you don’t fire off your first impression, have adequate time to go through the site, write it all in one email and check all the links, but it the best thing that you can do to help your designer help you! That one thing is: explain why you want that change you’re asking for.

Why Do You Want That Change?

When you hire a designer or developer, you’re not hiring them to push the mouse around and use the keyboard in ways you don’t know about, right? You’ve hired them to solve a problem for you. So if you don’t like a colour choice, let your designer know why you don’t like that colour choice. For example, say you just hate the green that your designer picked for you. Your high school, which was not your favourite time of life, had weird mint green hallway tiles — not that I’m speaking from experience or anything … go Lords! — whatever it is.

You write your designer and say, “Love the design, but can we see what the site would look like with pink where all of the green bits are?” I know. You’re trying to be helpful and point the designer in the direction of a colour that you actually like. The problem is, the designer you hired probably picked the green for a reason. And chances are that reason is probably not one that you would consider, because you’re not a designer, right? Again, that’s why you hired one. Maybe the designer picked the green because you have a juice company. (I have juice on the mind. Vancouver just re-elected the juiceman as our mayor, but I digress.) Even though your new site is going to look way more unique than all the other juice companies out there, and you think the pink will help it stand out even more, your designer picked the green so that visitors to the site will have an immediate visual cue that they’ve arrived at a juice company’s website.

Notice how, in the example, there is no mention of what you actually like? That’s because the website isn’t being designed or developed for you. It’s being designed to help you make a living, to get you a return on the money you’ve invested in the designer and developer and to get your business more attention and customers.

It would be more helpful of the above fake client had written: “Hey! I don’t love the green. I feel like the site isn’t standing out enough amongst all of the other juice companies and I suspect the green is the issue. And also, I just don’t like green.” When the designer gets that feedback, they’re more likely to come back at you with a great change that makes the site more unique, such as fresh, amazing typography (in green). The site with the green positions you as a unique, hip, fresh juice company, that is clearly a juice company, instead of a company with pink on their website, and oh, got it, they sell juice! Get what I’m sayin’? It’s a bit of a dramatic example, but I think it illustrates my point.

Why Saying Why You Want That Change Helps Your Business

Great design, branding and web development mostly aren’t about what you like aesthetically, they’re about what will achieve your business goals. That probably sounds a bit weird and perhaps even a wee bit harsh, my bad. All I’m trying to say is that design, branding and web development are tools for your business, a business that is supposed to support you and your family, meaning that those tools should appeal to your ideal client base, which may, or may not, be you.

When I take on a new project, I send my clients questionnaires geared toward their project (branding, web design, web development or a combination of the three … whatever they’ve hired me for). These questionnaires help me drill down on what you really need and want to get out of your investment in working with me. Sometimes it’s brand clarity to create a more professional brand that gets you better clients whom you can charge what you’re worth. Other times it’s a website whose design helps you build a bigger email list and social media following. Whatever your goals are, your work with a designer and developer needs to be geared toward those goals. Telling your designer why you’d like a certain change, is the best thing you can do to help a quality designer get you a great return on your investment in them.

* Image by Miladus Edenensis used under Creative Commons.

How to Create Your Visual Identity

Brand DIYThere are many reasons that I became a graphic designer. One of the ways that I knew that I wanted to be a designer, was that I was obsessed with making all of my correspondence look like it was specific to me. That meant that I’d use the same font, similar note-taking style (hello, colour coded art history notes) and colours in cover letters, resumes, emails, labeling for my assignments, portfolios etc. throughout high school and into university. Some might just call it like it is: obsessive, but I like to think that I was mostly just having my first crack at creating a visual identity for myself.

Creating a look for all of the things that you touch or your company send out, creates dynamic calling card for you and your business. In an ideal world, you’d be able to pay a designer you love enough money to create all of those classic things you need (business cards, logo, letterhead), as well as some things that are custom to your business (product labels, presentation folders, what-have-you). Unfortunately for most of us one-(wo)man-shows or small businesses, we just don’t have the budget for that. So, without further ado, here’s how to create your own visual identity, polish one you have or decide where to spend your branding money.

Logo

Your logo is probably the most important part of your brand. If you have any budget at all, spend it on this. If you need a DIY option (ahem, until you’ve saved up enough to hire a pro to do this for you), here are some pointers:

  • Keep it simple. A nice sans-serif typeface, in black or one single colour, with clean lettering and maybe using a second font weight, is always a good choice.
  • Stay away from cutesy fonts. You know, the Papyrus-es and the Comic Sans-es of the world. Nothing will say “I’m not a professional” faster than a cutesy font.
  • Pick one or two colours and make sure they actually look good together. Use a resource like DesignSeeds, to find colours that are complementary and sophisticated looking.
  • Stick with a wordmark. A wordmark is your name or your company’s name written in a particular font (think: my Kate Moore Hermes logo). A logo is more of an image-based representation of your name or company (think: the Nike swoosh). You don’t want to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out how to make an image that represents your company, because you won’t be able to. That’s when you call in the professionals.

If you follow the few points above, you’ll can get away without a “proper” logo for a little while. But by all means, save up some money to get a pro to do your logo as quickly as you can.

Palette

A branding faux pas that I see again, and again, is not sticking to a colour palette. I see this a lot, even with people who have had professional brands built for them. To make your business look professional and to keep your branding consistent, choose a colour palette and stick to it. A good colour palette should have a great highlight colour (think red or, in the case of my branding, an eggplant purple), a dark colour (for in case you want to use a colour for some of your text) and a light colour (for places where you need a non-imposing solid colour). Again, I suggest you look somewhere online for a predetermined colour palette. Pinterest is a great place to start, but there are many dedicated colour websites out there.

A note on this colour palette though: Just because you can use it for type, don’t. Most people want to read black type on a white background. If you start sending emails with navy type on a cream background, just because its in your colour palette, it’ll be harder for people to read. That harder things are to read, the less likely people are to read them … not what you want.

Use this palette in everything, from your email signature to your Instagram posts, to your Twitter account.

Fonts

This is another case where pick something and stick to it, is important! Select, at maximum, two fonts that you use on a regular basis. Pick classic fonts, whenever possible: Century Gothic, Helvetica, Times. These are recognizable, and easy to read. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to use them in your logo (or wordmark, as it were), but you want to use them in all of your correspondence, including your emails, proposals, invoices, receipts and anything else, whenever possible.

Another thing to note, is font size. Make sure that you use fonts that are large enough for people to read, without looking like they belong to the large-print edition of the newspaper. Basic type size rules: if the type is going to be printed it should be between 10 and 12 points but if it is going to be read onscreen, the type should be at least 14px. If your audience is a bit older, err on the side of larger type. (This is especially important in email.)

Use font weights to create hierarchy in your type. I like to use bold (as you can see above) to pull out the points that I think are most important in my emails and blog posts. I think its best to make the most important point you are trying to get across, the most visible. That said, try not use colour or wacky fonts to pull out that one important sentence.

Need a resource for great font pairings? Check out I Font You or this article from Stepto & Son.

Business Cards

I still believe that we should all have business cards, regardless of that fact that so much of our interaction is done online now. You can get business cards printed inexpensively at most office supply stores, or from places like Jukebox Print and Club Card. Most of these places offer a range of paper stock and templates that you can use to ensure that your business cards look “right.” That said, if you want to do your own, stick to what I’ve said above: Use your one or two fonts, and stick to your chosen colour palette. Don’t try to go too crazy making you business card unique. When you have the money, later on, you can hire a designer to create business cards for you.

A good standby for business cards: is to centre all of the text on the card (vertically and horizontally) and make your name a bit larger, bolded and/or in the highlight colour from your palette. You can use the lighter colour from your palette as a background colour on your card, if you like. Alternatively, putting your name on one side of the card in large letters, and your contact info on the other side is always classic. Throw your darker colour in the background on the side with your name, and you’ve got a great looking card.

Social Media

Most business owners are all over social media, these days. Like with all of my branding tips, I like to keep things consistent on social media. I, generally, use the same photo for my headshot across all of my social media platforms. I may eventually mix them up a bit, but I like that if someone is looking for my business on any of these platforms, they can find me pretty easily because the photo is the same, across the board.

I also try to keep the big cover images (Twitter, Facebook and Google+ all have a version of the cover image) similar, and recognizable. In this case, they aren’t necessarily all the same, but they at least have the same feel.

On Twitter, you can also change the colour that your account is shown in to match one of the colours from you preselected palette.

Other

Once you’ve used these tips to get your brand in line, there are a few other things you can do to really make your brand stand out.

Rubber stamps

It’s really quite inexpensive to have a rubber stamp made of your wordmark. I use mine to mark plan old note cards for when I send cheques, thank you notes, packages etc. It’s a nice branded touch, that people really remember you for.

Email Signature

Try to keep your email signature consistent. I change mine up every once in a while, but it looks really professional to have your name and business name typed out clearly and to include links to your website, and any social media accounts that you’d like your readers to check out. Email signatures can usually be styled with colours and fonts, as well. And you guessed it, use your preselected fonts and palette from above.

I hope that these tips help you create a brand or visual identity for your company. If your business already has a professionally designed logo and brand, use this as a reminder to check in with your brand consistency. Are you using your colour palette and fonts in your email, invoices and contracts? Can you make a rubber stamp or amp up your email signature? If you’re looking for a job, apply these thoughts to your resume and cover letter, to help you stand out.

What else can you do to create a strong brand? Let me know if I’ve missed something in the comments!

3 Tips for Hiring a Designer

pick_a_designerHiring a designer to work with can be a daunting task. To make things worse, web designers can have a reputation for being a bit flaky. So how do you know that the designer you’re picking is a gem? Below are a few things to know, when picking a designer (or a developer, for that matter):

  1. They communicate clearly and promptly. Designers and developers can sometimes disappear into their work. Like all creatives, when we really get on a roll, we don’t want to come up for air, but when you’re running a business you just can’t do that! Look for a designer or developer that answers your emails promptly. Maybe not the same hour, promptly, but within a day or two for sure. If they can’t answer your questions in that first email, they should at least let you know when you can expect an answer.
  2. You like the style of their previous work. As much as designers can take on any different look, in my experience, you’ll always see the designers’ thumbprint on whatever they create for you. Most of us have a signature look or feel and that’s why we get hired. If you don’t like the designer’s previous work, they’re probably not the right fit for you. (Seems a bit obvious when I put it that way, doesn’t it?!)
  3. They clearly communicate about money and have a contract for you to sign. Money is one of those things that a lot of  people find hard to talk about. Someone you’re doing business shouldn’t find this hard to talk about. Even if it seems overwhelming to talk about the money side of your project in detail, and capture it all in a contract (which your designer should provide, by the way), it will be so much easier than working out a misunderstanding the night before launch day. A contract shouldn’t be a scary thing, it should just be a way for the two of you to make sure that you’re on the same page and agree on your expectations of each other.

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