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Here’s a little story about how a small nonprofit got lots of free design work, just by being receptive to it.

I had been watching social media for a local nonprofit called Befrienders, which pairs isolated seniors with volunteers who commit to visiting them for an hour a week.

I could see that whoever was running Befrienders was making an effort with their Facebook posts. I sent a few encouraging messages (and a bit of unsolicited advice) for which they graciously thanked me. After donating a few bucks to one of their fundraisers I got acquainted with director, Jessica Stillman, via email, and offered to help her with graphic design if she needed it.

Jessica took me up on the offer. She sent me a copy of a newsletter/annual report that she (sole, part-time employee) had made herself (see slideshow below). I could tell that she worked hard to make it look nice, though I’d have done a few things differently to make the same product look even better. A lot of it comes down to simple tricks like

  • consistent text styles
  • margin size and alignment
  • image sizing/cropping

 

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Anyway, these initial interactions gave me the impression that I’d enjoy working with Jessica. 1. She is gracious to strangers offering helpful advice. 2. She thanks her donors. 3. She follows up. 4. I saw the humility, energy and perseverance in her communications with me, her Facebook posts and her annual report, so I inferred that she applied this same dedication to the rest of her job, which includes screening and interviewing volunteers and senior applicants for the program, among many other things.

Done. I’m all yours. What do you need?

Jessica and the Befrienders Board of Directors were working on a “Sponsor a Match” campaign to help bring in funds so that Jessica can further spread the word about the need for volunteers, and continue screening them at a high level in order to provide the best results for the senior applicants that the nonprofit serves.

She didn’t really have any copy written. So I just dug in her website for the info to make a general brochure. It was already well written, and I liked their logo, so it was easy make a brochure.

Befrienders-Samples-1

I suggested to Jessica that instead of making a whole brochure for her Sponsor a Match program, to make a 3.5×8.5″ insert which could also be the mail-in piece. That way she doesn’t have to print a full brochure for each special audience. Every penny counts.

We created a modest match sponsor appreciation packet, which includes a thank you card, a small framed display certificate, and a window decal.

Befrienders-Samples-3

Since we now had a pretty new general brochure, I suggested making other targeted inserts that could contain compelling information for potential volunteers and senior applicants. Next, I discovered that this year is the Befrienders’ 25th Anniversary, so I suggested making some promotional items focusing solely on the anniversary.

Befrienders-Samples-2

I was able to get the entire print package printed for under $500 (not counting the anniversary balloons, pins and stickers, which aren’t yet in production).

It was a wonderful experience working with Jessica and I hope that this new suite of materials will help their program serve even more local seniors. To learn more about Befrienders of Bozeman, or to donate to this worthy cause, visit: http://www.befriendersbozeman.org/

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lang-arch-HZSometimes when you do something really fast, it works out.

A couple weeks ago, I got a message from Bozeman Actors Theatre asking if I could do a poster for them. Sure, I said, but I was just about to leave town, so I’d do it when I got back.

Assuring the company that they would need to check on permission requirements before using the cool Darren Booth illustration they’d found on the web (here), I left for a two-week vacation, planning to do the layout when I returned this Monday.

Unfortunately, the theatre company didn’t see my email, so when I got back, there was no illustration, and little time to get one. I offered to draw something similar to but different from the image they liked. Not a knock-off, just something in a similarly handmade style that features a profile of a man and woman.

I had three days to go from zero to completed tickets, posters, social promos and ads, so there would be no time for dilly dallying.

The play, by Julia Cho is set in an archive of languages where the main character is a linguist (hence the archaic, but quirky, cassette tape image). It revolves around issues of difficulty communicating. (Or that was my take-away from a brief conversation with BAT.)

I used a texture from one of my oil paintings as a background and drew naive style figures on my Cintiq, filling them with more oil painting texture. I downloaded a cassette tape shape as an eps from clipart.com and filled it with textures from the same painting. Then, I drew a squiggly heart using a chisel pen in photoshop, filling it with oil painting texture and connecting it to the cassette. The style of the cassette doesn’t really match the rest of the art, but I liked the idea that it would make a viewer wonder. Plus, frankly, I didn’t have much time to mess with it.

I feel okay about how it came out, and better yet, the company accepted it with no revisions! It has kind of an awkward “Punch and Judy meets Balinese shadow puppets” feel, and I think the scripty letter tongues will be eye-catching on bulletin boards.

james4HcampYouth organization “needles” stakeholders with a non-traditional outreach campaign

When this youth development organization approached me about an outreach campaign to educate friends about their statewide youth camp, it was important to take a personal approach that stood out from other communications, yet cost very little. Rather than a mass-mailing, they wanted to connect with a limited number of stakeholders, face to face.

The last thing we wanted to do was splurge on a glitzy print campaign, so we worked together to create a simple memento that money can’t buy: a breath of air straight from the camp attached to a frugally printed card that reads “The sweet smell of success is in the air.” The back of the card ties in with the message, “Allow us to needle you for your support.”

Interns and volunteers pitched in to help package a whiff of fresh air from the outdoor haven of friendship and hands-on learning that the camp offers to Arizona kids. They gathered fragrant pine and cedar needles from the 55-acre camp’s forests and filled small muslin bags, hand-decorated with rubber stamps.

The “Sweet Smell of Success” outreach effort was all about the importance of the life experiences that the camp offers. It’s a place where kids can learn responsibility, leadership and teamwork in a beautiful outdoor setting. Focusing on the intrinsic worth of those experiences seemed more appropriate than printing up a sheaf of paper that’s likely to go straight to the recycling bin.

 

2014 card (front)

2014 card (front)

2014 card (mailing side)

2014 card (mailing side)

 

I just completed the Verge Theater 2014-15 season postcard. My goal was to make the layout as useful as possible while promoting the theater’s new name and brand.

Things I did to improve legibility and usability:

Increased size of card — By increasing postcard size from 5.5×8.5″ to 6×11″ I was able to take advantage of the same non-profit mailing rate, but have additional real estate for information. By sourcing a Montana printer that could do the work for less than half of the cost of previous (smaller) cards, I was able to offer the non-profit savings while increasing the size of their info-packed card.

Organized information in tables — Since the postcard is a go-to reference for users, I wanted to make it easy to locate info. Tables are great for that.

Made headings bigger — It’s easier for readers to access info on demand when the headings make a clear break between blocks of body text. (It goes without saying that I used consistent styles for headings and body text.)

Changed color scheme — I selected warm background colors that contrasted well with text colors.

Gave photos their space — It’s never ideal to use several small photos instead of a large one, but Verge wanted very much to convey the breadth of their offerings. To help give the photos impact, I clumped the small photos into one visual element and let them occupy a prominent area of the layout. (Screening images under text detracts from both, so I try never to do it!)

Cropped photos judiciously — Although this year’s photos are not larger than last year’s photos, they appear bigger because I didn’t try to include a whole scene in a small photo.

Minimized decoration — With so much information to convey in such a small space, I took out decorations that weren’t integral to the Verge brand. (The Verge logo is the star of the layout. Colors, photo selection and brand-appropriate fonts help to convey personality without adding clutter.)

Things I did to promote the Verge logo and brand:

Accentuated the logo — Since the logo is new, I made it large and prominent. To help focus attention on the logo, I mirrored its sloped shape in the placement of the photos and main headings.

Used branded wording — In a branding discussion, Verge identified “edgy, intimate, lively, humorous, inventive, fresh and quirky” as pillars. I included phrases like “dive in” and “the little black box on the edge” to tie in with brand vocabulary.

Mentioned non-profit status — One thing that non-profits often forget is to ASK their supporters for support. By including “A great way to support a great non-profit” after the season ticket copy, I made it clear that buying a season ticket is not just a way to save money, but a way to support a worthy non-profit.

Here’s a quick before and after comparison of last year’s and this year’s cards:

 

Actors Theatre of Montana's August: Osage County poster, before and after triage

Actors Theatre of Montana’s August: Osage County poster, before and after triage

My notoriety as an unpaid graphic design triage nurse must be spreading! I got a call from the Actors’ Theatre of Montana on Sunday morning. “We have our poster started, but it needs help, and we need to put up the posters this week…”

The poster they had underway was a valiant effort. The problem was that the photograph had backed the designer into a corner, and the result was a little bit too jumbled.

Sometimes I liken graphic design to gardening: Good gardeners aren’t afraid to dig up a few plants! It’s hard when you’re told that you have to use a certain photo, or that this text all has to go on there, but in order to make a piece that does its job, sometimes you have to do some slashing and burning.

And thus began my little makeover project: My goals were to make the title text as large as possible and make the dates more prominent. I wanted to retain the list of actors, because this cast is a huge list of Montana’s best talent. (It’s gonna be a great show!) I also wanted to accentuate the Ellen Theatre logo, because the Ellen is a beautiful old theater that has a great reputation for quality productions (not to mention a cool logo).

One of my missions in life is to convince clients that ticket info can be pretty small. FIRST catch the viewer’s attention. THEN make them fall in love with the event. Once they’re in love, they will get out a magnifying glass to read the rest, if necessary.

Orange Photographie had provided a variety of nice shots, so the first thing I did was select a photo that I felt would be easier to work with. Following is a simplified step by step of the process of getting from point A to point B, using PhotoShop to manipulate the photo and InDesign to set the text and arrange the layout. (Click on the first circle to arrow through the steps.)

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