The ever-changing value of Graphic Design

Graphic Design has always had a visual impact. The perceived image has been the most important factor. But over time, the values associated with the images have changed – or perhaps more appropriately – evolved.

Society today has turned from what is best for the masses to what is best for each individual. The advent of social media has allowed people access to information at a quicker, more immediate pace, and through the development of portable devices, such as smart phones and tablets, this information is available in a personalized manner 24/7 if desired. People have more of a need for immediate interaction, and what better way to catch someone’s attention than with a beautiful vibrant photograph, or a stunningly designed graphic.

But along with the growing need for interactivity and personalization comes increased social responsibility, and marketability. Brands have to hit emotions, needs, as well as practicality on a level desired by each consumer. Graphic Design, through its visual impact, has become the bridge between the individual and the brand.

Examples include the growing popularity of visual websites such as Pinterest and Instagram, and changes to social media stalwarts Facebook and Twitter to incorporate more visual elements into timelines and newsfeeds.

Graphic Designers have no choice but to keep up with current trends, or face the consequences of losing business to their competition. Experience and a solid design foundation is important, but a modern eye towards the “latest and greatest” trends and skill-sets is even more important. But the goal is still the same – deliver the message to the customer or consumer so that they are receptive to the message being conveyed.

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The Art of the Fold

Common folds

There is more to graphic design than creating a beautiful layout. One of the most important aspects affecting your final piece is how the document folds. In the world of printing, you will often hear the fold referred to as a “finishing” option.

The type and thickness of paper and the type of fold need to be determined prior to creating the layout. If a thick cover paper is used, the layout will need to be adjusted so that the document folds correctly. For example, the inside panels will have to be adjusted 1/32″ to 1/8″ to accommodate the thickness of the paper and the fold itself. This is called nesting.

Here’s some of the most common folds:

Gate fold (or window fold): In a gatefold, both the left and right edges fold inward with parallel folds and meet in the middle of the sheet of paper without overlapping.

Double gate fold: Using the gate fold as described above, the paper is then folded again down the middle so that the folded edges meet and a fold is created in center.

Accordian fold: An accordion fold is a simple tri-fold, but the two outer panels zig-zag in opposite directions. This is also referred to as a “Z” fold, a zig-zag fold or a concertina fold.

Half-Accordian fold: A variation on the Accordian fold where one panel is half the size of the other two.

Engineering fold: Similar to the half-accordian fold, but in this case one panel is twice the size of the other two.

C-Fold: This is the official name of the typical tri-fold often used on brochures and letters. C-folds have 6 panels with two parallel folds. Common names used for this fold are letter-fold, tri-fold, and a brochure fold.

Spiral fold: Similar to a C-fold, but instead creating more than 6-panels. The panels fold into themselves forming a spiral. This is often referred to as a barrel fold, a wrap fold or a roll fold.

Double Parallel fold: In this fold, the paper is folded in half, and then in half a second time. The second fold is parallel to the first. This is also called a double fold.

Cross fold: Cross folds have two folds going in different directions, forming 8 even panels. Often used in bookmaking, this type of fold is cut to form signatures. This is referred to as a French fold, quarter fold, or a right-angle fold.

Half fold: The simplest of all folds – basically folding a sheet of paper in half forming four panels. This is often called a single fold.

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What is practical graphic design sense?

There are a number of ways that a person sets out to become a graphic designer.  Many take the traditional go-to-college/schooling route.  Others learn while doing. Some have that built-in talent and native creative ability – and can just “do-it.”  I have always felt that a good graphic designer has a combination of the above, and also exudes a sense of what is practical and necessary on a per-job basis.

But I’ve frequently found in my experience that many design novices either have never been taught the structure of design, have never been in a situation to experience or learn practical structure, or choose to ignore it.  Without a good underlying practical structure – even the best creative design jobs are asking for failure.

Every design project is different.  Flourishes of color and artistic renderings may be fun, but often the latest design job is a boring old black and white form.  In actuality, the same concepts and structures are required to produce both scenarios successfully.

There are a series of questions the graphic designer must ask themselves when starting a project.  These are the basics and basis of practical graphic design.

— What is the finished size? For example, is it 8.5 x 11, 2 x 3.5, or 24 x 36?  Or is the finished size in pixels instead of inches?

— Is the finished piece flat or folded?  What type of fold will be used?  Are there multiple folds?  Does the fold include a score or perforation?

— How will the finished piece be produced?  Will it be process printed, copied, screen printed, embroidered, stamp printed, used on a website, or visible in a video production?

— What are the margins needed on the page – or does the image bleed off the edge?

— Will there be text present in the design?  If yes, what typefaces will be used?

— Will there be columns needed to facilitate the design?  What about headers or footers on the page?  Is a gutter needed?

— What are the primary and secondary colors used in the design?  Are the colors RGB, Pantone, Spot Colors, CMYK, etc.?

— What outside elements are used in the design?  Are there graphics, clip art, photos, videos, audio, etc. that need to be imported?

— Does the design involve pre-written copy? (Body Copy, Headlines/Titles, Sub-Heads, Captions, etc.)  Has the copy been proof-read and error-checked?  Is proper attribution present?

— Is there a specific focal point to the project?  This could be a graphical or photo element, a spotlighted quotation, a headline/title, etc.)

— How does the printer/programmer/etc. want the finished piece presented to them?  For example, do they want an X-1a PDF file of a “four-up flip with a reverse with a .125 bleed and a creeping gutter of 1% with color bars included” or the raw AI, PSD or INDD files?  This question should be answered prior to beginning the project as it could save a lot of headaches and do-overs down the road.

Once the structure of your project is formulated, and all the elements are in hand, then unleash the creative juices! The key to being a successful graphic designer is to possess practical design sense first, then add the creative elements, taking the project to new and effective heights.

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Adobe InDesign – The evolution in my design world and a few tips and tricks

Back in the day, the software of choice was PageMaker (I started with version 1.0).  Pagemaker was a wonderful program, and through the years evolved into something spectacular for most any type of graphics, typesetting and design work.  Years passed, and PageMaker was morphed into what we know today as InDesign.  It was a tough blow at first to make the transition from software that was so loved, but in time, bitterness passed and InDesign was accepted into the family so to speak.

I’ve never been a love of QuarkXpress.  Quark was the clunky cousin is some respects of PageMaker, then InDesign.  I do think it all comes down to what ever software package you start with on your career journey, that is what you ultimately stick with and fall back to.  To put it bluntly – I can use Quark, but I’m not a Quark user.  Never will be.

InDesign has continued to improve and evolve over the years.  It’s not perfect – and there are still some old PageMaker features I wish they would incorporate.  But it is now my software of choice for all things design and typesetting today.

Here’s a few quick InDesign tips and tricks that not every user may know about.

Paragraph Returns:  Have you ever imported a Word File or other doc that contains paragraph returns?  Frustrating when you don’t want them.  Here’s a quick fix:  check Show Import Options when importing your file and you will find an option to remove them.

Snap-To Tip:  Tired of switching the Snap-To guides feature on and off throughout your layout process?  Give this a try.  While dragging your object(s) into place that you do NOT want to Snap-To the guides, hold down the control key.

A Perfect Circle (or Square):  Trying to draw a perfect circle or square, and your mouse is getting away from you?  Hold down the shift key while dragging/drawing and poof!  Perfect every time.

Placeholder Text:  You just finished a great layout, but your customer has not written the text yet.  What to do?  Use Placeholder text.  Draw your frame, and place your cursor inside.  Then go to the Type menu. Select “Fill with Placeholder Text” and the text box will fill with dummy text.   If you ave the Caps Lock on, you will get a different version of the text.

Three ways to place a guide:  There are three ways to place guides in your document.  1.)  Double-click your ruler at the point you want the guide to appear.  2.)  Drag the guide from the ruler and drop it in the layout.  3.)  Go to the Layout menu, select Create Guides.

Selection in a stacked layout:  You have a complicated layout, with frames on top of frames.  Then of course, you have to select the frame at the bottom of the pile.  What to do?  Hold down the command key and click.  Starting from the top down, each click will cycle through the elements until you reach the one you need.

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The importance of website navigation

When looking at websites – what draws you as a viewer in and catches your attention?  For most viewers, it’s a combination of relevant information, looks and functionality.

When a website is not easy to navigate, most viewers quickly lose interest and move on to another website – which may be your competition.

Studies have shown that viewers attention spans have lessened as the age of computers has grown.  Back in the 1970’s when television was king, the average attention span of a television viewer was 90 seconds, so television commercials were averaging 60 seconds each.

Today, the average website viewer will spend less than 30 seconds when introduced to a website. If the visitor does not see the content they are looking for, if the design of the page does not appeal, and especially if the visitor can’t easily navigate through the website, that visitor is lost in practically the blink of an eye.  With millions of websites at our fingertips – the competition for visitors is in the forefront.

A well designed website that is easy to navigate makes all the difference.  If finding a particular page on your website can be compared to a treasure hunt, the visitor will leave.  It sends out the diagonal that your company is not trustworthy to do business with, or at the very least, not professional.

When planning out website navigation, start with a basic outline – a list of all the most important information for the site, and be sure to include sub-divisions of secondary information.  This outline will become your basic page and navigation structure.

For example:

1.)  Home Page

2.)  Services Page

  • 2a)  Service 1 Details
  • 2b)  Service 2 Details
  • 2c)  Service 3 Details

3.)  About Us Page

  • 3a)  History Page
  • 3b)  Meet the Staff Bios Page

4.)  Articles/Blog Page

  • 4a)  Spotlight Article Landing Page
  • 4b)  Article Archives Page

5.)  Contact Us Page

  • 5a)  Hours / Directions Page
  • 5b)  Mailing List Sign-up Page

The next step is to make a list of pages that need to be included, but may not be part of the actual “navigation” menu.  These pages may appear as a result of form completion, or may be small links off of the website header or footer.

For example:

  • Privacy Policy Page
  • Terms and Conditions Page
  • Additional Links Page
  • Thank You Page for Mailing List Sign-Up

There are many ways to present your navigation – from cascading menus, to drop-down menus and more.  The style of navigation should complement the design of the website so they work together and create a cohesive package to the visitor.  The navigation should also be consistent from page to page – so that the visitor can intuitively find their way through the website.  DOn’t be afraid to make the navigation obvious and clearly defined to the visitor.

With a little pre-planning and organizing, your website navigation will be the backbone of your site.

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Choosing the right color for your project


Color Wheel


How difficult is it to select “just the right color” when planning your project?  Color, and the combination of colors, all convey different meanings and messages when used in design. The process to select the perfect color for your project can be daunting. If the wrong color is selected, the project can fail, or even worse, be seen as inappropriate or an insult.

Here’s a few tips to follow when selecting colors.

1.)  Know your audience.  Who is viewing the final product?  Are they male or female? What is the age group of the audience – Young children, teens, young adults, adults, baby-boomers or seniors?  What is the area of designation – purely informational, business, medical, artistic, technical, entertainment, or just for fun?  Certain colors apply to certain demographics.  For example, teens are influenced by vibrant colors, while corporate tones of dark blues and browns are reserved for more subtle applications.

2.)  Inspiration.  Are there elements that inspire the project?  What colors encompass these elements? If the project is inspired by nature, then greens, browns and blues are appropriate.  If the project is inspired by a photograph or a piece of art, use the key colors in the image as the color base in the project.  When the project is inspired by a particular country or culture, use the colors appropriate, such as red, white and green for Italian inspirations, or blues and tans for English inspirations.

3.)  Logos.  Does the project include a pre-existing logo?  This will often dictate the colors of the project.  The company logo should be recognizable and not masked or hidden due to other objects on the page.  Colors should complement the logo, not fight with it.

4.)  Your message – Too few vs. too many colors.  There are instances when one or two colors are too few and do not convey the message of the project. But there are also times when a project that has 10 colors involved looks like chaos and a mess on the page.  Color should reflect the message the project is trying to convey.  For example, if the project is serious in tone, a rainbow color palette of seven colors would not be appropriate.  If the project is for a funeral home, do you want bright pinks, hot orange and neon greens?  If the message is fun and festive, would black or brown be appropriate?  Know the message your project is trying to convey, and choose colors appropriate to that message.

5.)  Perception — Know the meanings of each color.  Each color has specific symbols and meanings that represent traditional, cultural, religious and personal reactive concepts.  It is important to keep this in mind when choosing your color palette. Here’s a few examples —

Black– Often considered the color of mourning or rebellion, yet can convey elegance, sophistication and even a touch of mystery. Black can make other colors appear brighter, or can look visually slimming.

White — Purity, cleanliness, innocence, softness, brightness and brilliance are all perceptions of White. White symbolizes weddings, and is prominent in medical fields. Winter and angels are depicted with white. White is considered a neutral color, and can make other colors stand out when used in combination.

Red — Vibrance, hot, passion, love, violence, war, blood, anger are all aspects of the color Red.  Red is a powerful color, and considered important (ie: Red Carpet at awards shows). Red also notes emergencies, and danger looming and is used to get your attention in these instances – this is why it is the color used for firetrucks and stop signs. In Eastern cultures, Red denotes happiness, prosperity and purity, and even is noted for good luck.

Purple — Royal, warm yet cool, noble, spiritual, satisfaction, creativity, intrigue.  Purple is derived from mixing the hotness of reds and the coolness of blues, and is noted for prominence at both ends of the emotional spectrum.  It is the color of mourning in Thailand, yet is associated with royalty in many countries.

Green —  Nature, life, renewal, environment, abundance, envy, jealousy.  All are associated with the color green.  Green can be a restful color as it has tones of blues, or it can be strong and bold, such as the shade used as the national color of Ireland.  It’s reminiscent of all seasons – based on its shade. Spring – bright green, Summer – warm green, Fall – deep forest green, Winter – holiday greens (pine, evergreen shades).  With its intricate shadings, Green can denote balance, harmony freshness and stability.

Blue — Blue is the most popular color – and is a favorite of both men and women.  Shades of blue denote different connotations.  Blue can be calming, strong, old-fashioned, bold and light, easy, fresh and natural. It is often considered the color of peace, and associated with unity, stability and confidence. It is used in many corporate logos, is a prominent color in both the medical and legal fields, and associated with the military.

Yellow — Warmth, nature, sunshine, fruitiness, happiness and cheer yet cowardice and deceit, are all perceptions of Yellow.  Yellow is often used on hazard signs and in other instances that need to “stand out” as it is highly visible and vibrant.  It is a sign of hope when used to welcome soldiers home. Yellow is the color of mourning in Egypt, yet represents courage and peace in Japan.

When choosing the colors for your project, be sure to consult a color wheel first, to determine color relationships.  See what colors are adjacent to each other (harmonizing) and which colors are across from each other (complementing). Colors that clash or are considered contrasting are colors separated by harmonizing or complementing colors on the wheel.  The further apart, the higher the contrast.

There have been books written in extreme detail about colors, their perceptions and meanings.  Hopefully this brief overview helps in how you choose your colors when beginning each project.

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Raster and Vector Images Explained

Raster and Vector are common terms in found in Graphic Design when referring to images – but what do they mean and how do they differ?  This topic often confuses new designers and basic image users.

The simple explanation is that a Raster image is made up of bitmapped pixels, while a Vector image is made up of paths.  Let’s take a closer look at each.

A Raster image, often referred to as a bitmap image, is composed by a series of tiny squares (pixels) formatted on a grid.  Digital cameras, scanners, printers, computer monitors and televisions utilize the same system.  When these squares are looked at together as a whole piece, they form a complete image.

The quality of the Raster image is defined by the size of the total grid versus the number of squares used within that size.  This is called resolution.  The higher the resolution, the clearer the image.  The lower the resolution and the image can be blurry (or pixelated).  Resolution is often referred to as Dots Per Inch (DPI).  Common resolutions are 72 dpi, 300 dpi, 600 dpi, 1200 dpi, etc.  One caveat of Raster images is that a small Raster cannot easily be made larger without losing quality (called interpolation), while a large Raster can be made smaller and retain quality.

Programs like Photoshop, and other paint-oriented programs, are Raster-based.  Raster images have the ability to showcase millions of colors and subtle variations, and thus are perfect for photographers and full color design work.  Raster images can be very large in file size, dependent on the resolution. Common file extensions using Raster images are .bmp, .jpg, .pict, and .tif. The key tip to remember with Raster images is higher quality and bigger is better.

A Vector image is defined by a mathematical equation creating a shape (x and y coordinates) – called a path.  These paths are connected by lines of various shapes and sizes, and then filled with a solid or gradient color.  The more complex the path, the more detailed the shape, and thus the image.  Vector images are natively transparent, and can be easily manipulated, updated or changed.

Vector images have the ability to be scaled – up and down – infinitely.  The same file can be 1/4 inch wide or 40 feet long – and it will hold all of the properties showing clean and precise edges.  Fonts are a good example of a Vector.

Programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Freehand, Corel Draw, and yes, even certain modes in Photoshop, are Vector-based programs.  One of the key disadvantages of Vector images is that it is not universally exchangeable in all software packages.  The most common extensions for Vectors are .ai, .eps, and .FHx, along with certain .PSD files.  PDF files have the ability to hold and retain Vectors, as well as Rasters.  Vectors are generally smaller in file size than Raster images.

The two formats can reside together in documents.  Vector images can also be easily converted to Raster Images.  It’s not so easily to convert a Raster image to a Vector without a lot of time and work in most cases, especially if the image is complex.  Programs such as Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress are made to work with both formats seamlessly.

What is the best use of each?

When designing for an outlet that will be primarily for viewing (such as on monitors or television) Rasters are a prime choice, achieving many desired effects and colors.  The average resolution for a graphic on a website is 72 dpi or 100 dpi.  If the final output is photographic in nature, then Raster is also the preferred format.

If the final product is to be printed, made into a sign, used for embroidery, etching, etc., then a Vector image is the preferred format, thus holding clean and clear scaling at any size.

Logo design is a prime example of Vector use – as the image will be used in a number of ways – such as printed on letterhead and in a brochure, viewed on a website, cut into a sign, and embroidered into company shirts.  Logos need to be flexible and fit each desired media.

Once designers have experience with both types of graphic formats, then they will easily be able to choose what works best for each use and purpose.

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