Imagine This: Better Visuals for Better Digital Marketing

Great imagery can bring your digital marketing to life. Clichéd visuals will do the opposite, and may even drive your audience away from otherwise great content. Here’s how to get better visuals.

“Stock photography” is not a four-letter word. (Though “clip art” probably is.) It’s possible to bring your digital marketing and collateral materials to life without spending a fortune — or looking like you’ve spent nothing at all. Here are some tips for better visuals.

Writers Are Not Designers

At least, most writers aren’t. Some writers do have a good visual sense. But even if you’re blessed with a writing team full of museum-level illustrators or photographers, you’re better off having a visual pro on your team, as well. Not only is that person likely to produce better visuals, but a second set of eyes naturally provides a different perspective.

That additional perspective can be valuable. If your designer comes back and says, “I’m not really sure where to go with this, visually,” it’s a good sign that perhaps the content isn’t as clear as it could be. (Which might also point to the need for writing and editing roles to be handled differently.)

Give Designers a Seat at the Table

Taking this one step further, you’ll want to involve designers early and let them shape the finished product. Design will obviously be central to an infographic, a video, or any other inherently visual medium. But even for case studies and other copy-centric content, the design team should be given the opportunity to help shape the finished product. In other words, don’t bring them at the end with instructions to “do the best you can with this.” Let them help you make it better from the start.

Stock Imagery Isn’t Either/Or

When it comes to fine clothing, your choices aren’t just right of the rack vs. full custom. You can also have a ready-made suit tailored to fit you better. The same is true of graphic elements.

Your design team can combine multiple images to get the effect you need. Or even simply process an image to create a cohesive similarity across a series of blog posts, case studies, or brochures.

Stay on the Right Side of the Rules

I hope I’m not pointing out something new by telling you that most stock imagery requires a license. Tools for tracking down unauthorized usage has become much more sophisticated, so don’t think nobody will notice an unlicensed image, just because it’s not font-and-center on your home page.

One often overlooked detail: making sure that the license allows you to use it as you plan to. And if you plan to alter the image, that makes a difference. Not all licenses allow alteration, nor do all licenses permit any kind of usage.

And please don’t even think of doing a basic Google search and using any old image that shows up. That doesn’t mean it is a public domain image. You’re far better off using a tool like the Google Advanced Image Search, which allows you to filter results by usage rights, along with many other useful parameters.


In the end, there’s no substitute for a talented and experienced graphics pro. But if budget or other constraints make adding one to your team unrealistic, consider at least bringing in a designer as a one-time or occasional consultant who can create guidelines that help you avoid cliches, overly literal imagery, and those shiny happy people who all but scream “clip art.”

How to Keep Your Website Designs From Becoming Hot (Visual) Messes

Your CMS should support your website design by allowing content editors the control they need without unfettered access to the site’s look and feel.

Put 10 graphic designers in a room and they’ll have 50 stories about beautiful website designs they launched that looked just awful six months or a year later.

That’s the double-edged sword of modern content management systems. A CMS gives content managers a tremendous amount of control. Used wisely, that control can help make a website even more effective as a marketing tool over time.,

Without forethought and planning, though, marketing effectiveness plummets as brand identity is lost and the site’s message is muddied by design inconsistencies and outright errors. Here are some ideas on ways to short-circuit that decay.

Plan for Distributed Control

It won’t always be you and your development team with tight control of the site and its content. In most organizations, a broader team is going to be invited to participate. And even on smaller teams, staff turnover is nearly always inevitable. New faces can mean new priorities.

To keep those new faces from wreaking havoc, even accidentally, coordinate between the coding team and the design team during discovery to define what content elements should be automatically styled and laid out on the front end.

For example, your team page is likely to see a fair amount of change as team members come and go or are promoted. If you create automatically styled fields for name, title, credentials and bio/personal statement, you won’t find a mish-mash of colors and fonts, as people neglect to refer to your style guide or website user’s guide.

Don’t forget to define parameters for headshots, either. A formal headshot will look out of place on a grid of more casual shots and vice versa. An incorrectly sized photo can wreck the grid layout entirely.

Plan for Exceptions

Narrowing the possibilities for errors due to inattention to lack of knowledge also means introducing some measure of inflexibility. That can create problems, if the site is made too difficult to use and incapable of adapting to changing circumstances.

For example, on the team page example above, you may have a type of employee who has professional credentials, as well as titles. A checkbox could allow content editors to activate the “Credentials” field when necessary. The positive action required to use the field makes it less likely that it be used inappropriately than if the field is always available.

Make sure the marketing team is part of the planning conversation so they can identify likely exceptions to the rules you’re creating and options can be built in.

Automate Styling

Assumed in the work above is that the fields you create for different pieces of content are styled automatically. Do not give content editors control of WYSIWYG or code-based editors except for long-form content where they will likely need control over bold, italics, bullet points, etc. Otherwise, any edits they make will override the styling you’ve set site-wide and result in that mish-mash we want to avoid.

Make Staying on Message Easy

This isn’t just about fonts and colors. Anyone who has access to your website’s administrative dashboard should also have access to and be familiar with your branding guidelines and the website user guide.

The branding guidelines will help keep everyone on the same track in those areas of the site where more flexibility is needed. Don’t forget to include guidelines on stock image usage. That’s an area that is often not addressed and one where many content editors may lack experience.

The user guide will provide information on how the site is intended to be used and how they can best prepare new content to work within the system you’ve designed.

Plan for Evolving Needs

Understand that the site you build today will not be the site you need tomorrow. That’s not a knock against websites or digital marketing or technology more broadly. That’s just the nature of business (and marketing) in a fast-paced world.

Budget for quarterly reviews of the site and yearly updates. Or, adopt a message-driven approach and budget for incremental updates on an ongoing basis. That can be easier to do from a budget standpoint and can make your marketing even more effective. You’re effectively shortening the cycle between updates.

Most importantly, let people know this matters. Someone will always choose expedience over effort, at some point; but if you make the process easier, your systems will win more often.

And that’s important, because this is not just about skin-deep beauty. It’s about keeping your site’s marketing effectiveness high.

website designs secondary

5 Tips for Choosing and Pairing Fonts

Good font selection can take almost any design and bring it up three levels. Yet to many, this can be daunting. There are so many fonts to choose from! And with the advent of the computer, the number of fonts has exploded.

I’m asked by many of my non-designer friends to look at the flyer or presentation they’ve created and tell them what I think. I soooo hate when this happens. As a designer, I’m pretty fussy about type selection. Are they appropriate? Are they paired well? Is there enough variation to create a good hierarchy? So when I look at my friends’ work, they’ve almost always made poor selections — mostly from lack of knowledge, and some just have bad taste.

Good font selection can take almost any design and bring it up three levels. Yet to many, this can be daunting. There are so many fonts to choose from! And with the advent of the computer, the number of fonts has exploded.

First we need to understand the difference between fonts.

Display fonts are designed, and look best at a larger size. They tend to have strong “personalities” meant to make a statement. They often don’t have many variations in weight, and will typically be the dominant font on your page (even if they are used the least).

Text fonts are designed to look good as body text. They work best at small- to medium-sizes but can be used larger with extra attention paid to their letter spacing. Their personality will not be as bold as a display font, but can still have a lot of character. It just tends to be a little more subtle.

So how does one pair fonts? Here are five approaches that will help you look like a top-notch designer.

1. Limit Your Choices

Without the help of a designer, people often make the mistake of choosing too many fonts. So try limiting your font selection to two to three font families. A font family is font and all its variations (i.e., regular, italic, bold, bold italic, etc.). Use fonts with a large family and you’ll be safe using them, knowing that they’ll complement each other.

Garamond Font FamilyLimiting your choices doesn’t mean only use two to three fonts. It means using the right number of fonts for the project you are designing. With that said, the more fonts you use, the harder it is to balance them together and create harmony that enhances the design. As the examples show, one, two or many fonts can work when designed well.

2. Find the Right Characters

Fonts have personality and therefore you need to find the right personality for your project. If it’s a corporate presentation to bankers, you’ll want to consider fonts that are safer and risk-averse like Helvetica and Times Roman. Or you could add a little play with Gill Sans or Palatino. All are corporate in personality and will not make you look risky.

Fonts with a more corporate feelOn the other hand, if you are creating a flyer for employees about the company picnic, you can use fonts with more fun and bold personalities like Boston Traffic or Geometric. Or a personality that feels more picnic-like such as ITC Kabel or Logger.

Fonts with a more playful feelWhen it comes to character of your fonts be careful, you don’t want to look too cute either. Show your work to colleagues and get their feeling about the fonts. They may have a different opinion.