I was reminiscing about GCSE Graphics, the last time I formally studied graphic design, the other day and I decided to redo a piece I did all those years ago, using the skills I have now. So, this the updated version of the 12 Elements of Graphic Design poster I did when I was 16, now as a set of shareable graphics.

LINE

Use lines to divide spaces, direct the eye, suggest movement, or create emphasis.

COLOUR

Using distinct colour palettes consistently brings continuity to your work.

SHAPE

You should think about shape not just when drawing but when composing your piece to create an underlying structure.

NEGATIVE SPACE

The space between elements can be just as important as the elements themselves. Use negative space to order and balance the objects in your design, or to create an image of their own.

TEXTURE

Texture can give tactility and depth to designs, but use it sparingly.

TYPOGRAPHY

The typeface you choose can affect the how people interpret your text, and the overall tone of your piece: sans serif fonts are easier to read online, and serif fonts work better in large blocks of print. When you’re varying font-types, try to pick ones with similar proportions.

SCALE

Vairy scale to give weight to certain elements and add interest to a page.

HIERARCHY

Creating a hierarchy in your piece, especially when it’s informational helps viewers navigate your design by signalling importance or narrative.

EMPHASIS

Emphasise elements by varying colour, shape, texture, scale or framing them, but don’t overdo it. If you have too many focal points on a page, it will end up doing the opposite of the desired effect.

HARMONY

Create harmony in a piece by co-ordinating the proximity, similarity, or continuation of elements, or by using repetition.

BALANCE

While asymmetry can sometimes create emphasis or an unsettling composition, most designs aim for balance by using varying levels of symmetry (it doesn’t have to look like a butterfly) and structured composition styles such as a radial composition.

CONTRAST

Create contrast to bring dynamics to your work through the use of light and dark, complimentary colours, or varying line or textures.

I put all of these images into a little poster which you can see here too!

Starting a new project, or business is a super exciting time, and it’s easy to get swept up and want to get started with the creative work as soon as possible. But it’s really important to sit down and work out what it is you want from your project and put it into a fully formed creative brief that will not only help you clarify your vision but also help your creative team deliver something that does what you want.

A creative brief is a kind of roadmap for your project. It lays out the background of your company, your aims and your audience and then paves the way for where you want to be going in the future. A good creative brief will outline a project’s aims, audience and expected deliverables.

These are my tips as someone who receives creative briefs as a designer, and also as someone who has had to write them in my day job working in marketing and communications.

WHERE SHOULD YOU START?

So, you have a great idea, right? Have you tested it? Do other people think it’s a great idea, and more importantly is it something people want or need? Before you even start writing your brief make sure you’ve done your research. Knowing the market and your idea is going to help you so much when you get down to writing your brief.

Then spend some time evaluating what it is you want from this project. If there are other people working in your team, sit down with them and see what they think and come to a conclusion together so you’re at least all starting from the same point.

Before you start a creative brief you need to know what other people think of your idea, and more importantly what you think about it.

SO, YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, WHAT SHOULD YOU INCLUDE IN THE BRIEF?

  • A quick bit of background to your company
  • A paragraph about your project’s objectives
  • A short paragraph about who your audience are, include any demographic information you have and any insights about what their wants and needs are.
  • Your core message a few points about why it benefits to your audience
  • The themes or images you imagine the creative work including and how important/literal that inclusion needs to be.
  • The primary call-to-action or takeaway message you want to be included in the campaign
  • Any examples of projects you’ve done in the past which have been successful or you’ve liked, and any projects you’ve seen and want the creative team to be inspired by.
  • Brand and copy style guidelines (the master doc of fonts, colours, logos, copy tone, grammar guides and other elements that your brand uses). You don’t need to type all of this out in the brief, you can either attach alongside the brief, or give clear instructions on where to find it.
  • Links or access to any background research and assets (e.g. photos of your products) the creatives might need or find useful.
  • The specifications for the final product: file types, sizes, formats, etc. as well as where they need to be sent.
  • All of your contact information, including your preferred means of contact, and an alternative contact in case you are away.
  • The full list of things you need making. If it’s a long list, put them in priority order.
  • Clear information about both launch dates and due dates for drafts (if these can be flexible let your team know), as well as information on how long you will take in getting draft approval back. This helps your creative team plan, and allows them to come up with ideas that will fit the timescale you have.
  • You might also want to include what you’re hoping to achieve in terms of a return for the campaign, and whether that’s revenue, or views, or awareness etc.
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This might seem like quite a long list, but it’s best to be explicit about your expectations – there’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a project and someone saying “oh but I had imagined it would include ducks, it really needs to have a duck in there somewhere” and nowhere in the brief is there a mention of a mallard.

WHAT DO YOU DO AFTER YOU’VE WRITTEN IT?

First, you need to edit it down to around 2 sides if possible. However, amazing it might be, no one wants to read a 50 page document (sorry). Just make sure you’re not cutting out something you really want to be included in the creative work.

Then put it down for a day, or longer, and come back to it. Ask yourself is this what I really want to achieve? Is there anything I’ve missed off? Is there anything that isn’t important in the long run?

Once you’re 100% happy with it. Send it over to your creatives and have a conversation about it. That conversation is absolutely key. It will give you chance to make sure everyone is on the same page, and understands the brief in the same way, and it gives your creative team chance to ask questions and challenge the brief. Clear communication is central to a successful project that everyone is happy with in the end.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER

Writing a good brief takes time but putting the effort into nailing your project vision early in the process will save you time in the long run, and lead to a much more successful creative outcome. Use your brief to guide you, but don’t be afraid to re-evaluate it as you go if something changes, just make sure you’re communicating with everyone involved.

It’s a new year and everyone’s really keen to start taking on more projects and make a fresh start with some fresh work. But before you just dive in, take a step back and really put some consideration in when you’re writing your contracts. I’ll be honest and say that when I stated out and I was mainly just working for friends I didn’t have contracts, which wasn’t too bad. I still didn’t have them when I started working outside of that group. After a while I ended up coming across so many pain points that could have been mitigated by writing a good contract, which I’d put some thought and some conversation into. That’s why I wanted to share this checklist with you guys.

I really like resources like Bonsai for putting together professional, legally binding, contracts, without the anxiety and legal degree. But before I even look at one of those resources I make sure I know what I want to go into that contract using these 10 questions.

 

1. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN YOUR ESTIMATE OF COSTS?

You need to be clear about exactly what you are going to do for the cost you are charging. Work out if you’re including the costs of materials, fonts, conference call costs etc. This is also where you should put the number of redrafts or iterations you are prepared to do as part of the project. You also need to know, and let you client know, any additional fees such as rush orders or any discounts you’re giving them.

2. WHAT IS THE TIMELINE FOR THE PROJECT?

Every project needs a timeline, or at least a fixed endpoint. Your client needs to know when you’re going to deliver, and how long they can expect things to take.

3. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE CLIENT?

Sometimes you need your client to do some homework, either to work out exactly what they need or to find certain resources. Make these things clear in your contract so they know exactly what they need to do for you to be able to do your job, that way if there is a hold up because you’re waiting on something you know where the responsibility lies.

4. WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CLIENT?

In legal terms it’s important to spell out that you’re a freelance contractor rather than an employee. In personal terms it’s essential to make clear the relationship you’re planning on having, if you don’t take calls on weekends or after hours, or if you’re only going to work from home you need to make sure there’s no expectation you’re in office.

5. WHAT WILL BE THE PROCESS FOR FEEDBACK AND APPROVAL?

Feedback and approval is one of the main things that can slow a project down, where possible in a contract you need to highlight how long each feedback session is expected to take. Some clients require hard copies and signature to mark approval others are fine with an email chain, you need to know which your client prefers and have it in writing in your contract.

6. WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?

As a freelancer having the work you’ve done in your portfolio is super important, when you’re writing your contract you need to specify that the rights of the thing you’ve produced allow that. If your client is unhappy with this, it’s best to know at the start.

7. WHAT CONFIDENTIALLY SAFEGUARDS DO YOU HAVE/NEED?

Some clients require confidentiality agreements, to protect their projects. It’s always best to be safe than sorry and check what they do and don’t require before you tweet anything that might get you in trouble.

8. WHAT KIND OF GUARANTEE ARE YOU GIVING?

Mistakes happen. If you’ve made a typo or a website breaks,

9. WHAT ARE THE TERMINATION TERMS?

You never want it to happen, but sometimes projects get cancelled and you need to know if you will get some compensation (set it up so that you do) and you need to know who owns the draft product that might have been produced up until that point.

10. WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S A DISPUTE?

Something else you don’t want to happen but need to have the provision for is disputes. This one becomes more important the bigger your projects are as you may need to set aside provision for third party involvement and who would pick up those fees.

January is normally when we try to be our best selves. We set goals. We embark on behaviour changes. We have high expectations. But it doesn’t always go to plan.

For example, this post was going to be about my creative process. But the more I thought about it there was a big gap in that process that I was going to have to try and cover up, if I wanted to describe the process I want to have. So instead this post is going to be about perfectionism and performance anxiety.

I focus on creativity and productivity on this blog, and I try to keep it positive. I’m all about trying to get better. Trying is key there. I don’t think this blog would be honest if I said it was all easy, and I always live the advice I give 100% of the time because I don’t. I’m trying my very best but sometimes I get stuck in rut or lose motivation or get so scared I can’t do anything.

One example of that is my sketch book, or, rather, my lack of sketch book. I haven’t had a real sketch book for about 5 years now, which I know sounds crazy. I try and normally get a few pages through and then I give up because I can’t bring myself to use it. I’m what Tiffany Han described as a reformed (reforming) good student on a recent podcast. At school we were marked on our sketchbooks as well as our final pieces, which meant that every page had to be planned and presentable. Now, as a ‘grown-up’ I’m still in the same mindset. I have a lot of anxiety about making each page good, even though no one needs to see them. I plan on loose pages or I don’t plan at all. I don’t really play with my materials anymore, and that was why I loved art as a kid, just making and getting messy. But I keep letting the fear hold me back. I know it’s irrational. I know I’m missing out on a lot too.

I also know I’m not the only person who’s dealing with it. Even if it’s not to do with sketchbooks, I think everyone who makes, everyone who pursues a creative career has dealt with the fear, I think.

That same fear has held me back from starting a lot of projects. I’m still trying to get going on a project I’ve had in mind for a couple of months now. I know I should just get started, but I’m currently just letting my own good taste get in the way as Ira Glass would say. I’m not sure anything I’ve ever created has been an exact print out of what I had in my brain, yet that’s always what I strive for and fear not achieving. I would love a command+p for your mind, but alas it doesn’t exist and sometimes you get something a bit magic when you try and translate your thoughts with your hands.

I feel the most anxiety with my own work. I guess because I’m the only one responsible for it. Plus, I think everyone is naturally a bit more invested in their own stuff because it represents them. Putting something with your name and identity out into the world is terrifying.

But, when I’m working on something for a client I’m happy to present rough ideas and develop them, because it’s a collaborative process. I actually enjoy the rough ideas stage.

I need to start treating myself like my own client. My own work is a process too and I need to be able to have more fun with it. I’ve just started a rough book, it’s a sketchbook but without the baggage of the label sketchbook and it’s just going to be a place for play.

This is the creative process I’m currently going through. I’m rebuilding and restructuring and relearning. If you’re dealing with the fear, I promise it’s a demon you can fight, and defeat, because I’m doing it now, little by little.

I wanted to put together a series of helpful practical design tips for non-designers, because, as 99 per cent invisible has taught us, everything around us is designed. Today, I’m starting off with tips for designing effective and aesthetically pleasing presentations. I’m going with powerpoints/keynotes/slides/decks/cards first because they’re the thing I see designed at work most frequently, and, quite often, most awfully. Here are some simple tips to improve your presentations and really impress your office.

1. PLAN IT

This might be obvious, but don’t just jump into making your presentation. Sit down decide what you want to make, the story you want to tell and the aesthetic you want to have. If you need some inspiration, slideshare has some really amazing presentations. 

2. COLOUR SCHEME

After you’ve decided on your content, one of the first things you need to think about is a colour scheme. You don’t want to use more than 5 colours in a presentation, I usually just go with 3. Most companies have a set colour scheme so you might just have to use that, and if you’re working on a client presentation I’d suggest integrating some of their company colours. If you’re working on something with no rules, and don’t know where to start, check out Coloors.

3. USE SANS SERIF FONTS

The next basic decision to make is what font(s) you are going to use. Sans serif fonts are easier to read on screens, so stick within the sans family. I’d recommend using a maximum of two fonts, one for headers and one for body text, or just one for everything. If you’re bored of the ones preloaded onto your computer check out Dafont.com’s list of free fonts, or go with an opensource font like Lato.

4. USE MASTER SLIDES

I feel like people are afraid of using master slides but they are such a great resource. The very minimum you need to do is set up your logo and a simple header on every page so it’s always in the same place and the same size. But you can go as far as setting up all of your set slide layouts to create consistency, which I would highly recommend and will save you a lot of time in the long run, especially if you’re making a lot of presentations.

5. ONE IDEA PER SLIDE

You only want to have one idea per slide for maximum engagement and impact.

6. USE SIMPLE LAY OUTS

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel stick to basic layouts half text and half image, single image, single headline stat etc. You don’t want your audience having to spend all of their time working out where to start reading/looking, just stick with what they know.

7. DON’T CLUTTER

The second part of having simple layouts is having simple content. The fewer things you can have on a slide the better. Keep it to 1 idea per slide. Don’t overwhelm your audience with lots of colours, text styles, or different images, the more stripped back your slides are the easier they will be to digest.

8. USE LESS TEXT AND DON’T WRITE IN SENTENCES

Follow the six-by-six rule, have no more than six lines of text of six words. If that’s too tough, I would recommend sticking to just the six lines and not writing in sentences. People are only scanning the text you put up on screen so it doesn’t need to be fully formed text. In no circumstance, ever, should all of your script end up on the slides on the screen, if you do that you may as well send out your presentation as an email. Your slides should just be a visual aid to whatever it is you’re saying.

9.CONSIDER SIZING

Quite simply make the important information bigger. That doesn’t mean make every word a different size, but have one larger size for headers and smaller one for body text (always keep it over 24pt for readability though).

10. ILLUSTRATIONS OR PHOTOGRAPHS

Decide if you want to use illustrations or photographs. While there is no hard and fast rule that you can’t use both, almost all of the best presentations I’ve seen go with one or the other. Whichever you go with, make sure you keep the visuals consistent by using similar styles of illustration or photography. If you’re using photography just use a single image per slide where possible. For slides where you want to use a single image as a background, but it’s a bit too busy, you can use Fotor’s blur function for free to blur sections of your image so you can place text over them and still read it. Also, if you’re looking for icons please please please check out the noun project

11.GO VISUAL

To go along with using less text, try and make as much of the information you have visual as possible. Humans process images much faster than they process text, so making your information as visual as possible means it’s more likely to be digested much more easily. Some things you could do include illustrating percentages, using icons, or simple flow diagrams to show how information is linked.

12. BUT KEEP YOUR GRAPHS SIMPLE

No one has the ability or the time to pour over a really detailed, multi-layered graph during a presentation, especially if you’re speaking at the same time. Simplify your graphs as much as possible, or break them down, so that they’re easy to see and follow. You can always hand it out as an appendix if you needed.

13. CONTRAST

Make sure there is enough contrast between your text and your background, otherwise no one is going to be able to read what you’ve written. Don’t put two clashing colours together though, if you want to use a bright colour somewhere pair it with a neutral, black or white.

14. ALIGN

Where you’ve used icons or blocks of text make sure you align them so everything is neat and follows clean lines. This seems like quite a small, pointless, bit of extra work but it makes so much difference, and can make your presentation look so much more professional.

15. NO TRANSITIONS

Just don’t use transitions, you’re not 7. It’s that simple.