Part 4 on the Elements of Good Design

No Contrast? No Like-y!

I opened my snail mail and there it was: fodder for a newsletter. I should state up front that I’m a member of this winery, so I periodically receive promotions and news from them (usually by email), and I still love their wine. But this stopped me cold in my tracks. Quel dommage!

Why is it so important for you, the non-designer, to know a bit about the elements of good design? So that bad things don’t happen with your own collateral materials.

I wasn’t going to rehash past material from my ‘Good Design’ series, but this was such an excellent example of what can go wrong, I couldn’t pass up using it for my readers.

The images below aren’t adjusted to look bad. They’ve only been scanned and cropped to protect the innocent…(so to speak). From inside the brochure:

Day 3 - Dark Text on Dark and Detailed Background

Can you read that? Remember my discussion on the importance of contrast? The background is as busy as the text!

Here’s the end of the piece on the back of the brochure below. This is their ‘call to action.’ While I can read the phone numbers below, I haven’t a clue what the sentence below it says about what’s included in the pricing.

Is this the impression you wish to make on your customers?

There’s Always a Solution!

I suspect the client absolutely loved the photograph of the gorgeous ochre stucco wall and didn’t wish to give it up. But as a designer, I would have insisted upon one or more of the following changes to make the contents of this brochure readable:

  1. Add a drop shadow to the text to make it ‘pop.’ Sometimes this solves the problems.
  2. Reverse the text to white and add a black drop shadow. (This may also be hard to read, but you don’t know until you try it.)
  3. Use a different font and/or point size (larger) for legibility of the text.
  4. Add a translucent white box behind the paragraphs of (black) text.
  5. Blur the stucco background that is behind the text so the eye is pulled to the text foreground.
  6. Reduce the contrast and lighten the background so the black text stands out from it.

Your graphic designer should always be able to present solutions to conflicting interests. No collateral piece should ever have to go out to the public with competing design interests still warring away!

How To Get It Right the First Time

While you may keep the above list of solutions in mind for any future project you may have, how can you prevent a printing disaster, like this one, in the first place? Here are some tips to help you with the development of any of your collateral pieces:

  1. Hire the right designer! (Ha! Ha! I just had to put that in there.)
  2. Always proof any printed piece from a printed copy. It NEVER looks the same on screen. Only proof on screen for preliminary drafts.
  3. Do your eyes hurt when you’re proofing your brochure? It could be your eyes physically trying to adjust to competing demands. Your background should never be asking for your attention simultaneously to the content. (P.S. That’s why it’s called ‘background.’)
  4. If you’ve any doubts about how a piece will print, get a printed proof from the printer. I guarantee a professional printer would not knowingly produce poor work. (This particular piece could have been printed via automation with no human eyes reviewing it in the pre-printing process.)
  5. Make appropriate changes and get a second proof! I’ve had to do this myself when surprises have arisen in the print process. Better to extend your deadline than have to throw away your printed piece (or mail a bad piece to prospects)!

My apologies to the unnamed and unwitting victim of my diatribe today. I just wanted to say, “Don’t let this happen to you!” Your business is too valuable. Take good care of your brand’s hard-earned reputation.