October 5, 2021No Comments

GIF, JPEG, AI, EPS, SVG, huh? A guide to graphic file formats

Updated 10/2021.

At least once a week I'm sent files that were *gasp* downloaded off the internet, or a tiny, pixelated logo — which, inevitably, looks terrible in print or even on the web. This can result in higher printer fees and more time recreating or digging up the right files. Graphic file formats don't have to be a mystery once you learn the basics, and your printer (and designer) will thank you for it!

For print:
  • .AI (Adobe Illustrator)
  • .EPS (Encapsulated PostScript)
  • .TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)
  • .PDF* (Printer Document Format)
*sometimes true)
For web/digital:
  • .JPEG or .JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
  • .GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)
  • .PNG (Portable Network Graphics)
  • .SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)

Vector vs. bitmap graphics

First, we need to differentiate between vector and bitmap graphics.

Vector graphics, like those created in Adobe Illustrator, are made of shapes created by mathematical equations, and can be enlarged to pretty much any size with no loss of quality.

On the other hand, photos, and graphics usually created in Adobe Photoshop (though this isn't an absolute, as Photoshop can create vector graphics now) are bitmap, or pixel-based. This isn't an absolute, but for our purposes it's a good distinction.

When you zoom in on a bitmap, like below, you can start to see the pixels, and the loss of quality of the original graphic is pretty obvious. The JPEG may look all right on screen, but consider handing out materials with a blurry logo—not ideal.

If you only have a bitmap, it should be at least 150dpi (dots per inch) or, ideally, 300dpi without enlarging it to still look good.

Looking further at AI, EPS, TIF and SVG

Even within these two big distinctions, there are further breakdowns:

Adobe Illustrator files

Adobe Illustrator files are scalable and can also contain multiple layers and effects such as transparency, blending modes, shading, stroke weights and more. Ideally your logos and infographics are created in this format.

EPS files

Similarly, EPS files are generally created with Illustrator and can also include bitmaps. It's an open source format, meaning that it can be ported to other programs without using Adobe Illustrator.

TIF files

TIFs are bitmap graphic files like JPEGs and GIFS, which means they use lossy compression to create smaller graphic files.

Lossy compression is a way to make files smaller by eliminating information from the data.

Keep in mind, if you just re-save a JPEG or other web file as a EPS or other print file, it won't make that artwork go up in quality! If the graphic data isn't there, it's just not there.

What about SVG?

Newer to the game is SVG or Scalable Vector Graphics format. Though this is based in vector, it's meant for web and digital channels.

The advantage of SVG is that it looks clean and crisp no matter how it's displayed, and it can be optimized to a very small size, so you're not using up your server's resources. It's great to reduce the sizes of your logos and infographics without losing quality.

GIFs, JPEGs and PNGs, oh my...

Also, GIFs, JPEGs and PNGS exist for good reason. GIFs often create the smallest file sizes, and can be animated and transparent, whereas JPEGS do not allow transparency. JPGs are lossy and can be smaller in size than PNGs.

PNGs offer a bit more quality than GIFs, can be transparent, and, a crisper look since there's usually more data to give a cleaner transition to transparency.

Make sure you have each of these graphic file formats on hand, of your logo and any other critical brand materials—it'll save time and money!

August 9, 2021Comments are off for this post.

The 6 essential elements of a well designed logo

A well designed logo is a great investment: It can give your company a competitive edge, increase customer loyalty, and create brand awareness. It can be a wordmark (or symbol) or it can be completely typographic, or both! Here, let's discuss the 6 essential factors that can help create a well designed logo for your business.

(Also see my previous article on the 9 most common logo mistakes you should avoid.)

A logo should be simple

Your logo shouldn't be overly complicated. Simplicity can often make logos more memorable and recognizable. McDonald's is well known for their golden arches, while Apple has largely relied on keeping things clean with the bitten apple (in a variety of color variations) since 1977. The simplicity of these logo designs helps them to look iconic no matter where they are displayed or how big they become.

Below, the CitiCorp Plaza logo (I designed this real estate logo at least 2 decades ago!) mirrors the way the buildings "stack" when you are looking at them, and easily identifies who and what they are while keeping the Citibank branding.

CitiCorp Plaza well designed logo

Distinctive logos are memorable

A striking design can help your brand stand out from others. Nike has its swoosh and Starbucks is recognized by their green siren; both examples are easily distinguishable from other companies because they each offer something unique. One way of achieving this might be by using uncommon colors or shapes in your design so it doesn't get lost among other brands on marketing materials.

Consider too, do you want a logo mark or just a typographical logo? A mark can add distinction and further identify what your organization is all about.

Below, I designed these logos for an interior design firm, and the accompanying furniture recovering service. Though their design marks and artwork are a bit intricate, they still convey the owner's design sensibilities and a sophisticated, stylish taste.

Crown Design Group interior design & furniture co logo designs

Well designed logos are timeless

Your logo should be timeless in the sense that it has no references to current trends and popular culture (so you can use it well into the future). This matters, because logos are often used on everything from business cards to clothing.

A good way of thinking about this concept might be if someone saw your brand’s shirt at an event 20 years later; would they recognize it? If not, then maybe you need something simpler which will stand out rather than blend in over time.

This makes me think of Nirvana, whose melting smiley face is still recognizable decades later (and on many shirts from Target!).

Nirvana logo

Logos should have relevance

The other factor is that your logo has to be relevant to what you do as well as the target audience and customers. Nike's swoosh was designed with runners in mind, while DC Comics' Batman symbol (which isn't actually written out) is well known by comic book fans.

You want customers to feel a connection with your logo and remember it when they see it again, rather than feeling like the company doesn't represent them (or you!) in any way.

The Tour through a Lens logo is for a local Chicago photography tourism business, so it felt natural for me to design it with a bit of the Chicago skyline (I am loathe to use the whole skyline on anything!), emanating from the hint of a lens, all coming from the business name.

tourism guide logo

A well-designed logo is adaptive

Another important aspect of well-designed logos is that they're adaptive. This means the logo can be used across a variety of mediums and still have an impactful design, feel recognizable, and stand out from others.

How will your logo design look at 1" tall, or 10' tall? It should be created as a vector and from that, you can create size-appropriate versions for the web, print and other applications.

Whenever possible, creating images or icons to accompany and represent your brand, product or service will help to build more recognition. Think Mailchimp's 2018 rebrand, with its fun and fluid illustrations. Logos with great illustrations or handwriting (but not Comic Sans!) show personality and are memorable, and are quite popular lately.

And sometimes, you break the rules

Look at ways your logo may have different interpretations depending on how it's used in different colours or sizes and use that to great effect. The best example of this is the FedEx logo, which looks great in a variety of colors, for their different services:

A well-designed logo should be simple, distinctive, timeless yet relevant to your audience, and adaptive. As you can see from these guidelines in addition to some well-known (and lesser-known!) logo examples, there are many factors that go into a great design. Let me help you create your own well-designed logo by following some of these key principles for success!

August 2, 2021Comments are off for this post.

The 9 most common logo mistakes you should avoid

As an artist, graphic designer, and a business owner who specializes in logo design, I've seen my fair share of bad logos. I won't say it can make or break you, but it definitely speaks volumes about your business. It'll be on your business cards, your website, your marketing collateral and across social media. Shouldn't your logo be the best representation of who you are? Let's take a look at the 9 most common logo mistakes that people make when designing their company's mark.

The logo is unclear in intention

Make sure people know what purpose your logo serves at first glance by making it clear for them through color usage, shape placement/size/orientation etc.

With the JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs) logo, I wanted to convey diversity and change, and the many different causes they represent. It's also much more dynamic than their past logo and reflects where they are going.

Jewish Council on Urban Affairs logo

For the Thrive Medical Spa logo, I wanted to convey sophistication but also movement and sophistication. It looks great on marketing collateral and even better when fabricated in metal, on their wall!

Medical spa logo

By being clear on your logo's intention you can make sure people know who/what the logo is for at first glance.

It's just like every other logo in your industry

I brought this issue up when I spoke at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, to groups of aspiring acupuncturists. You may think you're being original by using a lotus flower and the Papyrus font for your acupuncture business, but a quick Google image search shows that everyone else thought they were original too:

Acupuncture logos

The color scheme clashes

When picking colors for your logo, make sure they complement each other. If your logo has a lot of colors, then pick one as your primary color and use the others to accent it (and those should also be complementary).

Consider extending your palette beyond the initial 1-4 colors too, as you'll need to extend your brand into a website and possibly business cards, marketing collateral, etc. A well thought out palette simplifies things for employees or anyone else working with your brand.

Below, a sample extended palette (and fonts) for the Evidence Video website.

And, your logo will likely be black and white at some point, so how will it look in a flat black and white, with no color?

It's too busy

Keep logo designs simple and straightforward. When there's too much going on in the logo, it's difficult to get any meaning from the logo design itself. Keep it simple by focusing on one main visual element or line of thought. You can use logo design to tell a story, but make sure that the logo is readable at smaller sizes as well.

It needs more depth

Use an additional color(s), transparency, shadows or highlights, if you want your logo design to have dimension. Gradients have been popular in recent years as well. Think of the Instagram or Firefox logos:

Instagram

Copying another design

You don't want to imitate someone else's style, you want your own unique voice! If people see that it reminds them of another company, they could assume you are trying to imitate them. This makes your logo (and by extension, your company) seem amateurish and unoriginal.

This is an issue I've often heard about on those cheap logo sites: You bought the logo, but they also sold the same design to a dozen others, and now you have copyright issues.

Too trendy

Stay away from designs that are very popular at the moment because they will quickly become dated. Stick with classic styles which never go out of style.

Poor font choice

Choose a logo font that is attractive and differentiates you from your competitors. It's easy to fall into the trap of fanciful fonts like Papyrus (or even Comic Sans? Perish the thought!) but a logo can quickly look amateurish with them.

The logo is too simple or cliche

You want people to remember your logo, not confuse it with another company's logo. Avoid fonts and color schemes that have been used over and over again in other logos (like Helvetica, though I'd still rather use that over a trendy font).

It can be tempting to rush into logo design without thinking about these things, but you'll want your logo to last and grow with your company. It should clearly represent your brand's message as well as its personality. You want to stand out from the crowd and be noticed!

Next I'll share what makes a well-designed logo and how to end up with a great design.

July 12, 2021Comments are off for this post.

6 hot web design trends you should know

When you think web design trends, what comes to mind? Flat design? (Super dated.) Animation? (Did you say 3D?) Whatever the case, it's important that your site stay current. In this blog post, we'll discuss 6 hot web design trends that have been seeing a lot of success lately and why they're so popular.

To be fair, most of these have been around for a while, but I think it shows they have staying power beyond the first flush of a trend.

Hero Typography

Big typography is characterized by using larger and more expressive fonts, which can be used to help express the mood or message of a site. It's usually found in headers, with large bold letters instead of a tired hero image.

I could use the site below for the next example too: Expressive illustration that complements your brand!

big typography

Hand-drawn illustrations

Hand-drawn illustrations can bring life to your project. They are great for adding personality or character to designs and they don't take up too many resources either—perfect if your site needs more interesting visuals without compromising the user experience.

Neumorphism

Neumorphism is kind of a weird web design trend, but it can be very effective if done right. Basically, neumorphism gives an artificial 3D appearance. This doesn't mean you need to add any polygons or anything like that—just using gradients and shadows in the right way.

neumorphism example

Glassmorphism

Wait, neumorphism is dead? Glassmorphism or glass web design is also a popular web design trend. Unlike neumorphism, this draws on' the use of polygons and glass-like materials to give your site an immersive feel. Glassmorphic web sites are great for product showcases or galleries since they make it easy for visitors to see all the details.

Glassmorphism

Parallax animation

Parallax animation is a fun trend that create a more interactive and engaging experience for web users. It's a trick of the eye that gives web pages depth and makes them feel more natural to interact with. These days, it has been transformed into an animation technique and is used on websites all over the place as a way to create an interactive experience. Web design art history is a great example of this.

Parallax animation

Dark mode

Dark mode can be a good way to make websites more eye-catching. When you think "dark web design," this doesn't necessarily mean that everything on the website needs to be black—it could just refer to having darker colors in order to create contrast with lighter ones. Plenty of apps and platforms are already giving you this option—it really makes content, especially photography, pop.

dark mode website

Trends come and go, so consider using them with a light hand. I find classic design speaks clearly to your audience and lasts longer than the typical trend, and can be brought in to emails and social to freshen your brand.

June 7, 2021Comments are off for this post.

The value of design: Why hire a professional graphic designer?

First published February 2005, updated June 2021.

Two truths: Good design is a powerful tool to communicate your business' objectives. And, good design is not cheap.

However true these statements are, it's difficult for many to realize the value of graphic design in the marketing mix. Sometimes it's not quantifiable—the return on your investment isn't there immediately, or you're not sure what you really get out of a logo, new business card or direct mail piece.

Why hire a graphic designer? Put simply, it’s about communication.

One of the most important things to realize in design is that it is meant to look good—but it is not good design if it does not communicate your objectives.

Anyone who tells you differently is not interested in the results of the piece, just how it will look in their portfolio.

Realize, though, that there is a surplus of visual information coming at us every day, making competition strong. Your clients can just as easily go to someone who is flashier, more sophisticated or deemed more trustworthy in the market.

What gives you the edge are unique, well-presented ideas that distinguish your company and what it does. A designer is best-suited to help you realize this—especially as you realize that marketing your company can become confused by conflicting messages and bogged down by your other responsibilities.

Build a consistent, professional look.

Everyone knows the Nike swoosh, but if it weren't used consistently throughout advertising, products and other materials, it never would have become synonymous with Nike, and vice versa.

The same follows for your logo, website and marketing materials:

Establishing a look sets you apart in the marketplace, but also show you to be professional and dedicated—not just someone with Word template and a printer.

I'll put it to you this way: Is it better to meet a potential client in pajamas, or in a suit? The way you present your business to the world is just as important!

So, what sets you apart?

I'm not only speaking for myself here but all designers: There is a difference in using a designer, as opposed to "doing it yourself" or a friend who's dabbled in Photoshop.

Most of us have gone to school for it [in my case, I have BAs in both art and journalism] and have worked to understand the processes and psychology of buying. We've worked on accounts in the Fortune 100 and small as one-man shops. We know the best way to get a job on press inexpensively, or how to build an e-commerce site customers can easily navigate.

Because we've done this for so long, we can do it quickly, using the latest tools. Those tools cost us not only money, but time in learning, getting up to speed and knowing where to best apply them for you.

Just as you're the expert in your field, we've established ourselves as experts here, and you can use our knowledge to move your business ahead.

March 2, 2020Comments are off for this post.

How to plan your website: Questions to guide you

wireframes

You know you need a website. Or you want to redesign your current one. Where do you begin? What's most important? There are several factors to ponder as you build—or rebuild—your company's internet presence. These questions and issues will help plan your website.

Who are your audiences? 

Whether you're a non-profit and need to speak to volunteers, donors and board members, or a spa that needs to address current customers, those who haven't found you yet, get even more specific:

Are your volunteers in a particular community or demographic?

Are your mortgage customers looking for a mortgage calculator?

Are your spa customers typically women in the Gold Coast over age 40, and do you want to attract a younger demographic for your services?

It does pay to talk to your current clientele to learn how they view your brand, and what attracted them.

From these investigations you can tell if your audience mostly visits your site on their desktop, or perhaps only on mobile (and so your site should be mobile first).

Think of functionalities users may expect, and what could enliven and keep them interested, and convert to customers.

What are your website’s goals?

Is it to draw customers by establishing yourself as an expert in your field, the company with the best product selection and ordering system, or simply to give your contact information?

The first two are great—they set you apart from your competition with value-added services.

The last, however, stops far short of a strategic goal for your site.

Once someone comes to your site, they want to know what you have to offer—and your address and a phone number simply aren't enough to effectively draw in a customer, and keep them coming back.

Focus on navigation, then content, then design. 

Navigation is key to allowing your site visitors to find your information easily. The best content in the world, plus the best design, won't fix unwieldy or unintelligible navigation.

Key stakeholders should write down what pages they feel are important, thinking of how your various audiences will look for the information they need in order to confidently purchase from you. This may require multiple navigations, which is not overkill but simply good practice with multiple audiences that all search differently. For instance, a donor will approach your site differently than a volunteer simply looking to help out; and a potential customer may not be sure what to look for, whereas a seasoned one will want to access their information quickly.

Testing various information-gathering and ordering scenarios with people unfamiliar with your business [your own focus groups] will better structure the site and likely provide hidden feedback.

Content is still king.

I started designing for the web back in 1996, and all these years later, copy still leads your site's findability on search engines, its perceived professionalism and your reputation.

Wireframes, a designless "map" to each page on your site, also makes your site more intuitive [does your contact page need a email newsletter sign-up?] at every step.

When writing, focus on facts about your company's experience, skill base and product or service offering, but consider writing them to appeal to your audiences — it's about them, not you! What can you do for them?

Beyond this, consider writing expert articles on your field with which your customers will find value. Consider linking to partner sites and build reciprocal linking relationships.

In all things, make sure you keep your site up to date and relevant, and error-free.

Focus on credibility—in design. 

According to a 4-year study by Stanford University, almost half of those polled paid more attention to the design and layout of the site than its content.

So what does this mean to you? Work with an experienced web designer to build a well-designed, targeted site.

It's common to want to develop your own website, but it's also a common mistake. You may be able to develop it quickly and cheaply, but does it reflect the sophistication, reliability and responsibility you want your clients to buy into?

The old adage, "you get what you pay for," applies here—you'll see the payoff of a well-done site long before one you did in your spare time. You'll already be a step ahead of the game with a great web presence you'll eagerly want to share with the world.

And, with content management systems [CMS] like WordPress being so commonplace, you can still manage the site on your own and save money for the long-term.

Before you start [or restart] your website, ponder these issues, pick an experienced web designer, and soon you'll have a site worth visiting—again and again.

Updated August 2021.

June 1, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Consider these steps before working with a designer

Updated 6/2019.

I'm taking a break from writing, but want to share a short article from AIGA, a professional design organization. Consider this in how you work with a designer.

We offer the following framework as a way to help designers communicate with clients in order to make design an integral part of their business, and to allow designers to make success an integral part of design.

Design is a profession based on conception: on helping to define an opportunity, then develop a solution that will fulfill it. Subsequently, design includes the identification and management of the team that will bring it to life, whether it is a product, communication, event or place. We offer you the following process as a way to make design an integral part of your business, and to allow designers to make your success an integral part of design. It will make you an even more sagacious client. It is a method for partnering, a guide to the most effective use of teams, and the most potent, efficient, reliable way to get from A to B when you are not quite sure what B is.

12 STEPS TO SUCCESS, AT A GLANCE:

  1. DEFINE THE PROBLEM
  2. SET CLEAR OBJECTIVES AND DEFINE SUCCESS
  3. DEFINE THE APPROACH
  4. ELICIT BUY-IN AND SUPPORT
  5. INFORMATION GATHERING
  6. DEVELOP AND PROTOTYPE IDEAS
  7. ANALYZE THE OPTIONS
  8. MAKE THE IMPORTANT DECISIONS
  9. MOBILIZE THE TEAM
  10. PRESENT TO INTERNAL AUDIENCES
  11. TAKE IT PUBLIC
  12. EVALUATE SUCCESS.

January 29, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Case study: UX redesign of EDCNavigator.org career diversity site

EDCNavigator.org, or the Executive Diversity Career Navigator, is a subsite of ACHE (American College of Healthcare Executives). It had been worked on by a few developers, but it didn't feel like a true diversity site to me. For one thing, where were all the people?!

Read more

June 11, 2012Comments are off for this post.

Remembering that creative spark

Going through old files I ran across my very first self promotion project — one I did to get an internship in college.*

I'll refrain from telling you how long ago that was.

Self promotion pieceI’ve seen this same concept repeated a million times over — there must be a lot of designers in love with fire. But looking at all the time I spent on every precisely laid out line, the copy I agonized over and the paper choice I made, is a great reminder of everything I love about design. The colors. The textures [yes, even online]. Communicating something just so. And sharing a piece that you’re very proud of.

In the grind of everyday work, of making a buck, it’s easy to lose that focus, what with client expectations, busywork or just being overwhelmed with too much everything in every part of one’s life.

But finding this piece reminded me of where I began, and ultimately, where I [still] want to be. And, how I want to keep working toward those goals. Not bad for cleaning out one’s files!

*And yes, this did result in an internship, at the American Marketing Association.

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©2003-2021 Gizmo Creative Factory Inc. All rights reserved. Chicago area freelance designer & WordPress developer. Located in Long Grove.