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4 Common Design Mistakes You're Making (and how to fix them in < 1 minute!)

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You have….

  • A new blog post that you’ve spent hours on, and you want to promote it.

  • A sale that you have going on for your products that you want to spread the word about.

  • Just a quote post that you want to share on social media to get your brand some visibility.

And you’re designing the graphic yourself.

You know you've got good taste, but when you compare your design to the ones you see on the Internet or famous brands on the market, yours doesn't look as cool or sophisticated.

Good design is important. It attracts people to your offering (a product, service, blog), and it tells your potential customers what kind of a brand you have.

On the same note, BAD design affects your brand negatively. It doesn’t matter if your actual product is high quality — if your design is not on par, you risk turning away potential customers.

People take one look at the bad design and instantly decide in their minds that this brand is NOT for them. “Nope, that’s not my style.”

Fortunately, you can achieve good design simply by TWEAKING what you already have in front of you.

What I’m sharing in this post are the commonly diagnosed design mistakes that people make and how to fix them easily and quickly. Each mistake will take less than 1 minute to fix (not including snack breaks). 

 

Common Mistake #1: Not enough contrasting colours.

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I LOVE monochromes. Monochromes are different shades of the same colour.

For monochrome design, you pick one colour (like the teal green above) and use its darker and lighter shades as the supporting colours.

But while monochromes are pleasing to the eye, they don't POP. They're essentially the same colour and since there are no other colours, your eyes have nowhere to jump to. The design doesn't grab you by the eyeballs.

And because the design is NOT attention-grabbing, it's so easy for your readers to skip it altogether or not process the text or information accordingly. This is bad. Very bad.

Let's fix this!

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  • Start with your monochrome colour palette that you want to use for your design. In this case, I'm going with the teal green.

  • Based on the content of your design, which is the message that you’re trying to convey, choose the MAIN POINT that you want to highlight to the people reading. This MAIN POINT is the part of the design that has to ‘pop’.

  • For the MAIN POINT, you use a CONTRASTING COLOUR. Everything else is monochrome, but the MAIN POINT has to be in a CONTRASTING COLOUR in order for it to pop.

  • A contrasting colour is basically the opposite of the colour you’re using, based on the colour wheel. Here’s a few contrasting colour pairings for you to use:

    • Red - Green

    • Yellow - Purple

    • Blue - Orange

  • By the way, it doesn’t mean that you need to use those really bright, kindergarten-style primary colours in order to make your design pop. You can use SHADES of the colours. For example, I’m obsessed with dark green - light pink pairings! (Pink is a shade of red)

  • For the design above, I used a coral orange shade as the contrasting colour to highlight ‘Summer Fashion’.

 

Common Mistake #2: Too many contrasting colours!

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It's also possible to overdo the colours. While it's important that your design 'pops', too many things 'popping' can lead to sensory overload for your potential customers.

Other than the sensory overload, too many contrasting colours in one design ruins the brand look. Your potential customers can’t get a sense of your brand personality because everything is mixed together like a bowl of nasi goreng. (No offense to nasi goreng)

Let's fix this! 

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  • If there are multiple points you want to convey using the design, there’s no need to use contrasting colours on all of them. You’ll need to choose the MAIN POINTS (yes, again) and only keep the contrasting colours for that. Stick to monochrome colours for the rest.

  • The TITLE and SUBTITLE are usually the main points for any design. In the design above, ‘Raya Sale’ is the title, and ‘Up to 50% off’ is the subtitle. The dark pink for the subtitle ties in nicely with the pink border-shapes at the side.

  • It’s OK for other points to be less contrasting. The main goal is to catch the customer’s eye and they’ll read the rest.

  • When in doubt, WHITE is a great option. White usually contrasts with many colours (except for pastels) and are neutral, so they’re a safe bet.

 

Common Mistake #3: Too much space between each line of text.

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The space between each line in a paragraph is called the "leading" or simply "line spacing".

Back when we're doing assignments and needed to achieve the minimum page requirement, increasing the line spacing is our go-to trick. Eh? (Don't tell me you didn’t do this. I won’t believe you)

But when there's too much space between them, each line isn't read together. So instead of reading it as "10 Travel Tips for Newly-Weds That No One Tell You", what the reader is saying in their head is "10 Travel Tips. For Newly-Weds. That No One Tells You."

The sentence doesn't flow smoothly and it reads as if there are three different titles in there. The design also doesn’t look as neat or put-together.

Let's fix this!

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  • If the content of your design is made up of one sentence, the lines of text have to be grouped together.

  • Simply reduce the line spacing gradually until there's a healthy amount of space between each line, i.e. words in the top and bottom line aren't touching each other. While you don’t want the lines to be too far apart, you don’t want them to overlap either. Give ‘em some healthy breathing space like you would in any healthy relationship.

 

Common Mistake #4: Using too many fonts in one design.

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I get it, there’s so many beautiful fonts out there. I wish I could use ‘em all too.

But your design is the LAST place where you should use all those fonts on. (Suddenly I’m reminded about how excited 11 year-old me was to test all those fonts on Microsoft Word)

Too many fonts in one design makes it look messy and childish. Imagine those fonts like different types of VOICES. Too many voices saying the same thing will be too distracting for the customer.

LET’S FIX IT!

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  • Like the contrasting colours in Common Mistake #1, pick two fonts that contrast each other. One font is considered your ‘base font’ and the other is the ‘contrast font’. More than two fonts will be too many.

  • There are 3 basic types of fonts that you can choose from:

    • Sans serif (like ‘My Best’ and ‘Tips & Tricks’ in the design above)

    • Serif (like your good old friend Times New Roman)

    • Script (like the ‘Photography’ in the design above)

  • So if your base font is sans serif, your contrast font can be either serif or script. (Or any other pairing you like)

  • Use the contrast font for the MAIN POINT in your design. The MAIN POINT doesn’t always have to be a phrase or a sentence. Sometimes you may just want to highlight a single word, like “Photography” in the design above.

  • If you feel like two fonts aren’t enough, explore different weights of the fonts. There are sometimes semi-bold, bold and black options of the fonts you’re using, which you can use as contrast. But because it’s still technically the same font, it won’t look messy.

 

Infusing good design into your brand.

The main thing that people seem to overlook about good design is CONSISTENCY.

It’s not always about pushing the boundaries or being creative. If you’re designing for fun or one-off projects, yes, go crazy!

But creating good design for your brand means making consistent choices in terms of colour, fonts and other aspects. This makes your brand MEMORABLE and RECOGNIZABLE.

 Can you spot the consistent choices I make for my brand?

Can you spot the consistent choices I make for my brand?

I have a few more blog posts on design and branding that you can continue reading:

Tell me, what’s your biggest design pet peeve?

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Leveraging Your Skill To Create A Dream Business or Career

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I only drink lattes. I both like the taste AND like the hipster feeling that accompanies coffee-drinking.

When I'm broke, it's my instant coffee mix (if you're wondering which one, it's the Nescafe Oh So Creamy White Coffee with milk), but when I'm feeling a little luxurious, I go to the café in my office building.

Anyway, since payday is only a few days away from today, I thought I'd swing by the café and grab a hot macadamia latte to accompany today's writing session.

As I was waiting for my order, I noticed how quick the barista was in making it. And it was good, just as it always has been.

It's not easy to make good lattes. It's not just a "pour water, pour milk" kind of thing. I've tried making my own from scratch and it's hard to CONSISTENTLY get right.

I've lost count of how many times I went to a café / restaurant / the local Starbucks and thought, "The coffee was good last week, but today it sucks. I'm disappointed."

It takes SKILL and EXPERIENCE to be able to do things perfectly -- consistently. Good equipment does help, but NOT all the way.

Back to the barista.

As I was gratefully sipping my latte, I thought about how awesome it is if the barista could use her coffee-making skill to build her own career or business.

  1. CLIENT-ORIENTED CAREER/BUSINESS: A barista for hire

    What if the barista could freelance and provide coffee-making services at events? (I've seen this at weddings)

  2. TEACHING-ORIENTED CAREER/BUSINESS: A barista guru

    What if the barista could train the employees of new cafes and coffeehouses on making good coffee?

    What if the barista could train those employees on the tips and tricks to efficiently make good coffee when there's a loooong line of customers? (Without messing up all the different orders!)

    What if the barista could create an online educational course on making good coffee for caffeine-heads at home? (Basically, people who don't have the fancy equipment)

    What if the barista could teach a specific coffee-related skill, like how to make beautiful foam art?

  3. CONSULTATION-ORIENTED CAREER/BUSINESS: A barista expert

    What if the barista could provide consultation to café owners on what kind of equipment works best and how to structure the processes (from taking the order to preparing the coffee to the presentation)?

It's so exciting to think about the paths that the barista could choose if she decides to leverage her skill.

Leveraging your skill means you get to maximize your money-making potential by utilizing your skill. In short, make money from something you’re good at AND you like doing.

With any new venture, it takes time to really bear fruit. Even if that barista is ready to quit her job tomorrow and start teaching employees of new cafes and coffeehouses, the clients won’t be lining up to hire her right away. That’s a given, right?

But if she leverages her skill AND brands herself AND starts to market herself as THE PROFESSIONAL BARISTA — who’s to say that her dream career or business is out of reach?

Here's a little challenge for you: Think about the people you meet in your life. People who work retail jobs, your relatives, your colleagues, that person you follow on Instagram.

Brainstorm 3 different ways that person can use that ONE skill that he/she has to build his/her own career or business.

I know it sounds like you're just daydreaming on behalf of that person. But it's a great exercise for you in adopting the mindset of CAN DO, WILL DO.

Even if you're doing this for someone else, it’s great to step outside the beaten path.

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What I Learned from Japan About Branding: Japanese People & Wrapping Paper.

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I was in Tokyo for 9 days for a holiday with my family. It was GLORIOUS. But when I got back to the office, I had 41 missed calls. ( Well, that’s not too bad, considering.)

Anyway, my observation from shopping around Tokyo? Japanese people really, REALLY like wrapping paper.

When I bought knick knacks and souvenirs from several stores, the store assistants would always insist on wrapping each thing INDIVIDUALLY with wrapping paper. Refer to photo below for a sample:

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When my mum bought cute pouches for her sisters, the shop owner asked, “Present?” And then proceeded to putting each pouch in a plastic sleeve, put ribbons and ‘Made in Japan’ stickers on each of them.

Sounds pretty excessive and wasteful in a way, doesn’t it? It’s like the Japanese are using MORE plastic, MORE paper for the packaging than what is absolutely necessary.

Also, when they were wrapping my stuff, I was like “Ummm are you done?” I wanted to leave but it took a while for them to finish. But then I thought: Maybe it’s not excessive.

Maybe they’re on to something here.

Here are my thoughts:

 

1) Some products deserve that special treatment.

I was buying things like pretty handkerchiefs, keychains and stuff, not groceries. So it kinda makes sense for them to be wrapped. They’re not "every day" products.

It’s like, some things deserve to be wrapped, some are fine in plastic bags. Yaknow?

Since souvenirs have that extra sentimental value + cost relatively more, it makes sense that the shops would take an extra step to make them look more special.

This would definitely work for you if you’re selling something that’s also ‘special’. Like a handmade item, something that’s made with love or something that you want to make more premium.

I think it's a great investment to make for your brand. Anyway, if you go with wrapping paper like the Japanese, you’ll do fine with:

  1. Thin paper in your brand colours / patterns. Choose something like tissue paper rather than anything thicker. Makes it easier to wrap around your product.
  2. A small sticker / tape to secure the wrapping. It can also be in your brand colours / patterns.
 

2) How you present your product reflects on your brand.

Wrapping paper is not just wrapping paper. The packaging is not pointless ruffles.

When the shop assistants wrapped my stuff, the act of wrapping itself represented the values of ‘Made in Japan’. Craftsmanship, quality and pride.

It’s as if Japanese people have this nation-wide conspiracy to make people fall completely in love with Japanese brands, and not just the products. And it worked! (I bought a lot of knick knacks.)

It’s like when my grandma takes out her nice cups and plates when we have guests over. She would NEVER serve guests with our everyday plates, even if logically her cooking will taste the same.

The whole principle behind it is that how you present your creation (or product) reflects on your brand itself. If you present it beautifully, people can appreciate the product AND the brand.

But if you ignore the presentation aspect, people may appreciate the quality of the product, but they may not fall in love with the brand.

It really depends on how you want people to perceive your brand. What kind of values do you want to present? See if you can infuse those values into the whole buying process from A to Z.

 

3) The experience doesn’t end when the customer hands over the money.

Logically, wrapping the products or putting them in nice packaging AFTER the customer has bought them isn’t necessary. The customer has already paid. Put the stuff in a plastic bag and say bye-bye. The customer will enjoy the product any way.

And if you asked me: Hey, do you want wrapping? It’ll add an extra 50 sen and 3 minutes. I’ll be like nah, it’s fine. Not necessary.

Most customers won’t say yes to something that adds cost and time to their purchase. We always want a good deal. We don’t want to spend more on things that we don’t think is necessary.

But when I got back home, it honestly felt so nice to unwrap the souvenirs. It felt special, AGAIN. I already know what’s inside the wrapping paper, but it felt special all the same.

There’s nothing wrong with a plastic bag of course. I’m not even someone who cares if her presents are wrapped or not. But unwrapping my things made me happy!

My point is: you may need to make that nice unwrapping experience ‘obligatory’ for your customers. Make the act of unwrapping or opening the packaging of your product a great experience. As if they’re opening a present for themselves.

This isn’t an excuse to charge high prices just because of nice packaging. But if your ‘unwrapping’ or opening the packaging will create a legit experience that customers will enjoy, go ahead!

Here’s some ideas for your wrapping/packaging:

  • Scented tissue paper wrapping.
  • Nice solid box.
  • A note for the customer.
  • A cute sticker.

These are just my ideas, so feel free to brainstorm according to your brand’s personality!

Over time, your customers will begin to think that your brand and products = special. It’s like when you go to a really fancy restaurant. The food may be really good, but it’s the decor, ambience and the way waiters treat you that make the meal extra special. And whenever you want to feel special again, you go to that fancy restaurant.

 

At first, I thought that my things were wrapped and packed so nicely because I was clearly a tourist buying souvenirs. But I saw that other Japanese customers also got the same treatment. So I guess it’s their culture.

I don’t think that as Malaysian brands are doing anything wrong. But there’s something to learn from Japanese people and their wrapping paper, for sure. 😊

Do you think wrapping products is a worthy investment for a brand? Let me know by commenting!

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A Simple Diagram to Help You Place Your Brand in the Market

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Hey! I know I haven't been around much in May, and now it's June. I'll tell you about it in my next post, but TODAY...

I have a very neat thing to show you.

I've told you that I work in the financial services sector right? To be more specific, I work in business financing. And one of my jobs is to prepare contracts for entrepreneurs whose applications for financing have been approved.

Along the way, I've read a lot of cool business proposals. Different industries. Different kinds of businesses. I've always made a point to read through all the proposals to see what business-related stuff I can learn.

And one day, I saw this diagram that immediately lit a huge lightbulb over my head:

  What's the actual name of this kind of graph...thingy?

What's the actual name of this kind of graph...thingy?

It's a great way of looking at the kind of brands that are ALREADY in the market and how your brand fits into it.

You can also picture it as a map. Where is your brand right now?

I'm not an expert on handbags, but I sure do know that it's fricking impossible for us mere mortals to get a Hermes Birkin bag. I've read somewhere that you've got to know people -- JUST TO GET ON A LIST.

Super duper exclusive, right? And the price matches that level of exclusitivity.

On the other hand, Longchamps! They're not considered cheap, but I guess I wouldn't call them a luxury handbag either. And though I always see people carrying Longchamps everywhere, they're not exactly available at your local boutique or mall.

The biggest lesson I got from this diagram is that your brand can't be everything. It can't be accessible, affordable, exclusive and expensive all at the same time. You've got to find your PLACE in the market.

Basically, you need to choose what you want your brand to be.

The diagram up there is about handbags, but you can definitely do it with any other industry or product. Food, skincare and even notebooks (ahem, Moleskine).

Anyway, comment below and let me know which industry/product you most like to analyze!

P.S. Salam Ramadhan!

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Rebranding 101: Freshen Up Your Brand Look

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I'm back this week with another aspect of rebranding -- visual rebranding. I'm jumping straight to this because this is THE process that people think about when they hear 'rebranding'.

(Read the previous posts on rebranding: the overview of rebranding and how to rebrand your offerings)

Visual rebranding is about changing how people's eyeballs SEE your brand and changing what they THINK about your brand.

The usual goals of visual rebranding are...

  1. to make sure your brand is the same on the outside and on the inside. (E.g. My brand is fun, but it doesn't look fun.)
  2. to make your brand more attractive to the people you're targeting. (E.g. I'm targeting tweens, so the colours must be colours tweens like. Like purple and pink.)

For me, when I rebranded early last year, it was No. 1. I wanted to make Narrativity more fun but also more modern.

Here's a snapshot of what Narrativity looked like BEFORE rebranding.

My basic brand elements were OK, but they didn't quite reflect what I had in mind.

So instead of doing an overhaul (major rebrand), what I did was I TWEAKED (minor rebrand) my brand elements.

This is the current Narrativity AFTER rebranding:

The differences are subtle, but I managed to get the *vibe* that I was looking for.

You don't need to start from scratch when you want to rebrand. In fact, I advise you NOT to start from scratch. There's always a few things from the existing brand that you can use for your rebranded brand.

Not only does it save time, there's also no risk of turning OFF your current audience / customers. They'll see that it's still you, but just an updated version.

So I have one special but simple tweak that you can do for your own brand without having to know graphic design. You can apply it to your blog or social media or even your product packaging.

BUT...

Before you start, you need to know what you want to achieve with the rebranding. Think along the lines of this sentence:

"I want my brand to be more......."

More what? More feminine? More gender neutral? More fun? More serious? More adult? More childlike?

And when you know what kind of more you want, you'll know which aspect you should change from your existing brand.

OK, on to my #1 tip that I recommend to EVERYONE.

 

My #1 Rebrand Tip: Change up the colour combo in your colour palette.

If you ask me, colours are the BEST part about branding. I love my neutrals as much as any other person, but there's nothing like some colours to really GRAB people's eyeballs. You know what I mean?

I've explained about colour combos in this blog post, but basically all brands use a COMBINATION of colours, rather than just one colour.

For example, Red & Yellow for McDonald's. White & Blue for Samsung.

So if you feel like your current colour combo is boring / lifeless, try introducing a NEW colour into your colour combo.

This new colour should help make your brand more [keyword].

For example, I want something more cool!

I want something more feminine!

I want something more vibrant!

There's so many different vibes you can achieve just by adding a new colour to your current colour combo. Explore more combos using this nifty colour palette generator.

 

Bonus Rebrand Tip: Rebrand for a limited scope.

Sometimes, you may want to do something a little out of the ordinary, but you don't want to make it permanent. It's like the concept of temporary tattoos.

You like how your brand looks right now, but you want it to look different for a bit.

It's always possible to rebrand for a limited scope while allowing your brand to remain unchanged. For example, your brand looks the same, but your product looks different.

Or, your blog looks the same, but your blog post looks different.

This is what make up brands do when they're releasing a new range of products with a particular theme or in collaboration with somebody. 

The brand itself looks the same. Same logo, same colours on the website. But the product packaging will follow whatever theme they want for that new range of products.

This is what I do for my ongoing Whoa, Harsh! series. It's a series of blog posts that are supposed to kick butts. Imagine a really blunt friend giving you her harsh opinion without trying to soften it up.

(Read: One Insulting Thing You Should Stop Doing If You Don't Blog Consistently)

For this particular blog post series, I kept everything else the same but changed the background colour to a darker colour. You know, for that 'darker' vibe. 

So this definitely stands out compared to my usual bright colours for other normal blog posts.

Even if you're not a graphic designer, it is possible to change things up. In fact, I'd say you're the BEST person to start the visual rebranding process. You're the brand owner, so you'd know best what kind of change your brand needs.

Just keep thinking about this sentence: I want my brand to be more [keyword]. You'll do just fine. :)


Read more about rebranding!

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