10 DIY graphic design tips – how to create marketing collateral on a budget

Previously I have written about how to create a logo and visual identity on a budget using DIY tools and know-how.
It seemed only natural that I follow it up with DIY tips on how to design your own marketing materials.
Ideally every business would have the budget to hire a graphic designer for all marketing collateral, but this can be difficult for small businesses or those just starting out.
It’s possible to design your own materials, but it helps to know a few basics and to practise as much as possible. I would advise that first you try out your skills on simple items that have a short shelf life, such as flyers announcing your latest specials. Then use your marketing budget to hire a designer for high profile and big ticket items such as advertisements and glossy sales brochures.
So here are my top 10 DIY design tips.
1. Know your purpose and audience ­– like any marketing activity, have a clear understanding of what you would like to achieve and who you are trying to connect with. Consider the best marketing tool to reach your target market. For example, would an e-newsletter be better than a letterdrop flyer? Do you want to create a Pinterest image or infographic?
2. Stay true to your visual identity – Hopefully you have created a visual identity guide for your business. If you haven’t, you need to know what visual design elements, colours, fonts and style reflect your brand promise. You need to respect this and bring it through in any design.
3. Choose your weapon – you need to choose the right design platform to prepare your material. The right platform depends on the medium you choose but also your budget and your experience.
If you are planning on creating a lot of design materials on an ongoing basis it is probably worth investing in some design software (though you may like to download a trial or free version if it is available). The Adobe suite of Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign is quite popular. There are some great tutorials available on the internet and you can also do short courses online or in person for these programs.
While these programs have extensive functionality designed for professionals, you should be able to get to know the basics quite quickly.
Photoshop is great for manipulating images and Illustrator is for vector graphics, suited to creating logos. InDesign is for mainly print materials such as a flyer or annual report.
Canva is a great free design platform for designing social media posts and much more.
If you want to create an e-newsletter, you can use free programs such as mailchimp that has fantastic easy-to-use and ready-to-go templates. You can also distribute your enewsletter via mailchimp.
Microsoft Publisher is fine for simple brochures and newsletters and in an absolute pinch you can design basic materials in Microsoft Word and then convert/save them as a pdf file. However Microsoft Word is not meant to be a design tool, so it is extremely limited and fiddly to use for designing.
4. Look for inspiration – if you have never designed marketing materials before, start looking around for inspiration. Find examples of design you like. Look online, in magazines, in stores. You can use them for inspiration and try to replicate some of the components yourself. Just remember though, you must not copy or use someone else’s design without their permission.
5. Prepare your tools – prepare your text and images first and perhaps create up a rough mock-up of your layout with pencil and paper. It’s great to have a plan.
As part of the plan understand your requirements. If you are printing your material you will need higher resolution images and files. If you are using a professional printer asked them for details of their requirements, that is, what file types will they accept and what resolution or ‘dpi’ (dots per inch) do they need. Large format and professional printers may require 300dpi.
If you are creating a material that will be used primarily onscreen, you will want smaller files and smaller image resolution. For these images you may only need 96dpi or 150dpi, depending on how big the design element will be.
If you don’t have any high quality images of your own to use, check out sites such as shutterstock.comistockphoto.com or www.123rf.com. You can buy images from here at quite affordable rates, just check the terms of use. You can also find free images at sites such as Pexels but once again check the terms and conditions carefully and provide attribution when needed. Do not just lift images of the internet and assume they are free to use. You can also create your own images using programs such as canva.com or picmonkey.com.
Other useful sites include the following: stock.xchg, flickr, Open Clip Art Library, deviantART, everystockphoto and PicFindr.
Get to know the terms of usage on each site and whether there are any copyright restrictions on the images you would like to use.
6. Understand colours – you will want to know what colours support your brand (hopefully these are spelled out your visual identity guide) and how those colours work together. You will want to know the exact colour breakdowns to replicate your colours. You may need them in RGB, CMYK or Pantone. I explained a little about colour theory and different colour breakdowns in a previous blogpost as well as the different colour breakdowns. You can also use sites such as EasyRGB to help you match colours.
7. Keep it simple – if you aren’t very experienced with design you want to keep the style as minimalist and simple as possible. This means lots of clean or white space, very little text and nothing too busy. These rules also apply to more experienced designers. Just because you may know how to create a fancy looking fleur de lis with elaborate swirls using Illustrator, doesn’t mean you should.
The less words the better. If you can get away with seven words or less, than you are off to a great start. If you need to say more, limit your headline to seven words, follow-up with a brief sentence or two of supporting text, then include a call-to-action such as a website address.
ALWAYS include a call-to-action.
Try to use only a couple of fonts. Refer to your visual identity guide for your preferred fonts for headlines and body text, but don’t be scared to use another font or two as part of your design elements. Just make sure it doesn’t look too busy and the fonts all complement each other. Choose fonts that reflect the style you want to portray and make sure they are legible.
You can download free fonts at sites such as fontspace.com or Googlefonts. Just check the terms for commercial use, and remember you may need to embed the font or convert your file to a picture or pdf file so your fantastic font doesn’t get lost when opened up on another computer.
8. Look for balance – when you are laying out your design have a good balance of space, text and images. Arrange the text in a way that the eye doesn’t jump all over the place. Try and use a grid (a lot of the programs you use will have the option of placing a grid over the design) to make sure spacing is consistent and placement of text and images is balanced.
9. Triple check everything – before you finalise your design, check and proof all spelling and grammar. Check phone numbers, names and web addresses. Triple check it and get a second pair of eyes to also check it. Also ask for second opinions on your design. Perhaps create a couple of versions and ask your staff, friends or family, which one they prefer and which one they think you customers will prefer.
10. Practise ­– as they say practise makes perfect and the same applies to design. These tips alone will give you a good start when it comes to DIY graphic design but never underestimate the value of engaging a good designer. 
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Kylie Fennell
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