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visual identity

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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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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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5 Branding Basics Your Business Should Have

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Have you ever went somewhere with a new haircut or a new style of hijab, and have people say that they almost didn't recognize you?

It works the same way for brands too. Brands that constantly change their appearance will find that:

  1. People cannot remember them.
  2. They cannot build brand loyalty.
  3. Their products are hard to sell.
  4. They have to compromise on the things they sell and do.

But having your business look the same way won't make you boring. Consistency is actually the magic word when it comes to branding.

The myth is that you have to stick to that colour and that font and that look for EVERYTHING you do. This is not true.

What you're making consistent are only some basics that cover you as a business. You can be as creative as you like with your products. They're two different things because your business will last for a long time, but your products may not. You may move on to other products.

If people only remember your products and not you as a business, how can you sell other products in the future? You don't want your business to have a short life. Through your branding basics, you can ensure it has the ability to make profits 5 years down the road.

So what do you need?

 

1. Brand colours

Colours make the world go round. That's what I believe anyway. In the natural world, colours help animals differentiate between food that are okay to eat and things that are poisonous (brightly coloured poison frogs, anyone?).

In the marketing world, colours catch the customers' eye and help them differentiate between you and your competitors. Let's do a little test.

Can you guess which brand these colours represent?

 

Is it Burger King, KFC or McDonald's?

Since we've been seeing these colours on everything McDonald's sell (and even on their buildings), we can instantly recall what brand they represent.

Some colours are so closely associated with a brand that they become synonymous with it. An example is tiffany blue, which comes from the blue box used by Tiffany & Co.

Know the exact shades

It's not enough to know that your brand colours are red, blue and yellow. You have to know the exact shades so that your brand will look the same on everything.

These colours are still arguably red, yellow, white and black... But do they look like the colours of McDonald's? Nope. 

Choose primary and secondary colours

Even if brands have a lot of colours to play with, they will usually choose to use some colours more often than the others. The ones often used are known as 'primary colours', while the rest are 'secondary colours'.

This makes the customers associate the primary colours more strongly with the brand. When I think of McDonald's, I don't really think of all the colours. It's the red and yellow that comes to mind.

 

2. Typography

Your fonts can really affect how people perceive your brand. A bad font can easily make your brand look like it's not legitimate, which decreases the customer's trust.

Take a look at Apple's font. It's modern and clean, which is exactly what Apple is. Even the products give off that vibe.

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OK, so you obviously don't expect Apple to use a cursive font, but what about a font in the same category? Perhaps another sans serif font.

Doesn't look quite like Apple, does it? That's because Apple has been using the same fonts (and fonts that are very nearly identical) for a long time. The fonts are such an integral part of the branding that it would be weird if Apple decides to change them.

Choose 2 - 3 fonts

Your brand will benefit from a little variety, but three fonts is the maximum. The reason why you need more than one font is for you to contrast between pieces of information. One of the situations where contrast is needed is in a blog post.

The title is in a serif font, while the blog text is in a sans serif font. People will usually use serif and sans serif to create contrast, not serif with another serif.

The effect? When you read the title, you can see that it's not part of the paragraph. The contrast factor is also highly useful in social media graphics like Instagram photos and print graphics like posters.

 

3. Photography style

One of the best things about photography these days is that there are so many photography styles. You can go with muted (or vintage), high contrast, black and white and monochromatic. And those are only the basic categories!

But like everything else, your brand needs to stick to a distinct and consistent style. I'm not saying you have to make everything in a photo exactly the same as the next photo, but the overall effect should be the similar.

Why? Because a photo is not just a photo. It's part of the bigger picture. When people scroll through your Instagram profile, what do they see? It will either be a set of visually appealing and streamlined photos, or a set of messy and wildly different photos.

Use the same presets or conditions for your photos

The way you can achieve a consistent style is by using the same presets or conditions every single time you take your photos. By presets, I mean the way you edit your photos on editing apps or softwares like Adobe Photoshop.

Conditions on the other hand refer to your surroundings. If your style is bright and colourful, taking photos at night when the lighting isn't good is probably not the way to achieve that. When you shoot under the same conditions, it will make it easier for you to sustain the consistency.

 

4. Patterns and textures

Patterns and textures refer to the background of your graphics or brand items like packaging. What happens in the background?

Will everything be crisp and modern or will they be gritty and imperfect?

For example, the texture looks totally natural for Nando's...

But can Samsung pull it off?

Looks kinda weird, doesn't it? If you saw this at a shop you'd probably think that the logo had scratches on it, instead of thinking that it was intentional.

Choose simple patterns and textures

The above is weird because Samsung's personality is modern, but Nando's is a little more casual and laid-back. A 'gritty' texture works well for the latter, but for a modern brand? Not so much.

For the basics, it's better to keep it simple and understated. If in doubt, a simple coloured background is better than putting in too much visual noise like florals that cover the entire photo or item.

 

5. Logo

I saved the most popular basic brand element for last. It's the thing that business owners always get asked about by family and friends.

"Do you have a logo yet?"

While the logo is important, people often end up focusing only on this and neglect other equally or more important basics like colours and typography.

This isn't good for branding because branding is the sum of many parts, not just the logo. When you only rely on your logo, you can't accurately convey your brand personality.

Choose a simple and timeless logo

When you develop the other basics, you won't feel the pressure to make the logo super duper fancy. This is because your brand basics work together to convey the brand personality, instead of putting that burden on the logo alone.

The result will be a simple and timeless logo that is very versatile. Just look at Adidas.

This is one of their latest variations, which is just a simple black and white logo. But does it have to be only black and white all the time?

I'll tell you the answer in advance: Nope.

Even when I used the logo on a Narrativity Consultants' colour, it still looks like Adidas. It's still recognizable.

This is not possible if you have a complex, 3D logo that only works when there are shadows and 5 different colours. That kind of logo will stop your creativity in its tracks, because you'll have to make everything not clash with that logo. That's very counter-productive and decidedly not fun.

 

To have a strong building, you need a strong foundation. Brandings basics are your brand's foundation. Without them, your brand won't look professional and memorable. With online and social media marketing, it's important to grab the customers' attention and make them trust you from the moment they click on your profile. Otherwise, you'd be losing out to other better-branded businesses, no matter how good your products are.

What's the branding basic that you're struggling with the most?

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