Posts Tagged ‘graphic design’

Pioneer Press: Oh No You DIDN’T!

June 15, 2010

Poor Pioneer Press. I mean, they’ve been through some major shake-ups in the past years. They’re a tiny, home town paper. They have less popular comics than their competitor. And they made the mistake of trying to woo us, die-hard Star Tribune readers, by sending us a free copy of their newspaper.

So it was that one Sunday morning I got up exceptionally early and realized that while my Star Tribune carrier was still happily slumbering, my dutiful free Pioneer Press carrier had already delivered the goods. And so this morning, I opened the Press and started reading.

The article about White Bear Lake’s waxing and waning lake levels caught my eye. Following the breadcrumbs from the cover of the local section to page 3B to finish my article, I was greeted with a graphic designer’s nightmare! Surrounding what otherwise was quite an attractive and well-designed advertisement for Pella Windows, were…CROPMARKS! PAGE INFORMATION! GASP!

Ok, for those of you who are not design geeks like myself, here’s a little background info. Crop marks are little lines, placed at each corner of printed artwork, that tell the printer how to position, print, and trim the artwork. They are not intended to be seen in the final product. Page information tells the printer the name of the digital file, as well as the date and time the information was printed. Also not intended to be printed in the final piece.

I frequently include crop marks when submitting art to publications, so they know how to place the art within their design. These are particularly helpful if you’re submitting an advertisement intended to have a white border around the edge.

Ok, so here’s the mess itself:

Printed crop marks!

See the crop marks and page information? (circled)

Lest you think I’m a terrible nasty person for pointing this out, I’d like to point out that we all make mistakes from time to time (see my previous article about apologizing!), and in the world of newspaper publication—when turnaround times are quick—a mistake here and there is bound to happen.

And, little mistakes like these make great gems for educating design students about the print process. So thanks for that.

On the flip side, I’d hope that the Pioneer Press made concessions to the advertiser for their error, which clearly had a negative reflection on the advertisers’ brand. And, unfortunately, their mistake cast a poor light on their publication to me—their potential subscriber—when it mattered most.

The lesson here? Well, never skip the step of careful editing and proof reading when you are publishing something to be seen by your potential audiences. It’s that expression your mom loves to use: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Designing for the Times: Changing Design Formats

May 18, 2010

This morning I’m thinking back on projects I’ve completed in the last few years, and it’s made me realize that part of being a graphic designer is constantly learning and adapting to accommodate the huge variety of media available for presenting our clients’ brands.

It wasn’t too long ago that a designer went to school and studied print, with maybe some schooling in television or animation. Then came this new-fangled category of new media, which largely meant websites and interactive CD-ROMS (remember those) and later, DVD interface design.

Today’s designer must understand the ins and outs of designing for ever-evolving printing presses, digital billboards, competing browsers, and do-it-yourself-ers, just to name a few. Some designers select to work within a single medium, while others—like Mix Creative—keep adding to their skillset. Here’s a sampling of the variety of projects we’ve worked on in the last couple of years:


  • Offset and Digitally-printed business cards
  • Direct mail (including personalized pieces)
  • Booklets, catalogs, and magazines
  • Bookmarks
  • Magnets
  • Bag stuffers
  • In-store and exterior signage
  • Print billboards
  • Brochures (offset and digital)
  • POP
  • Pocket folders and media kits
  • Print ads
  • Microsoft Word stationery, flier templates, forms, labels, etc.
  • Printed address labels
  • Envelopes
  • Package design
  • Tradeshow graphics
  • Notecards
  • Buttons

Social media avatars

Social media avatars created for a client

An html e-blast template

A custom Twitter Background

A custom Twitter background


  • Desktop icons
  • Avatars
  • Email signatures
  • Custom Facebook pages
  • Custom Twitter backgrounds
  • Digital billboards
  • Profile images
  • Browser window icons
  • Websites
  • Custom blogs
  • Email stationery
  • Email newsletters
  • Fliers printed to pdf only
  • Email fliers
  • Email ads
  • Powerpoint presentations
  • Video graphics
  • Animated gifs

I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but hopefully you’re getting the idea: today’s designers are VERSATILE!

So, for all of you designers out there: what’s the most unusual product you’ve created in the last two years?

Lands’ End: Pros at marketing to women

May 5, 2010
Lands End Catalog

Lands' End proves it understands how to market to women.

Paging through a Lands’ End catalog, it’s clear that the folks at Lands’ End understand how to market to women. Products and descriptions reach three demographics of women, (for example: “Fit 1: Modern”, “Fit 2: Original”, and “Fit 3: Traditional”), and leave it to their readers to self-select a category. The different fit categories are clearly labeled and illustrated throughout the catalog, and are accompanied by images of women with different body shapes and ages.

The copy is helpful and non-condescending. It anticipates issues women are likely to have about their clothing, and addresses them directly. For example:

“Straps stay securely in place.”
“Wide waistband lies smoothly over sides — won’t dig in.”

The copy also understands what aesthetic qualities women are searching for:

“Adorable details make these modern tops as cute as they are comfortable.”

Graphics and typefaces are contemporary and readable and colors are fresh and allow the products to take center stage.

Overall, well done! Good job, Lands’ End!

Motives of a design firm/ad agency

March 16, 2010

Recently, I read an article about an established Twin Cities advertising firm who spelled out their company’s culture in three simple rules:

  1. Have fun
  2. Make money
  3. Make money for our clients

This struck me as ridiculous. Really? Making money and having fun came before making their clients happy? And where was the goal of doing good work?

It seems like ages ago now that I worked at an ad agency with nearly identical goals. Only, it wasn’t fun. We didn’t do great work, and it felt like we were doing our clients a disservice. When I pushed for better quality in the work we do, the agency pushed back—if our clients were happy with our work the way it was, why would we waste time and money trying to improve it?

So I started my own design firm, placing quality at the center. My credo:

  • Do quality work for good people

Following this motto, I anticipated that:

  1. Quality work would bring loyal clients and good referrals,
  2. That I would have career satisfaction knowing that I produced a good product
  3. Money would follow

And indeed, this has been the case.

For me, the importance of benevolent motives fueling the work of a design firm cannot be understated. My clients place their business in my hands, trusting me to understand their company and convey that appropriately to their audiences. They trust me to approach each project with a problem-solving nature, never recycling work from other clients or applying a cookie-cutter approach to their unique business. They trust me to not sell them something they don’t need, and they trust me to not charge them for something I didn’t do. They trust me to be current in my understanding in the technical aspects of design and to be knowledgeable about the cultural climate of design.

In brief, they trust me to have integrity.

Designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy wrote in his book How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, a passage about integrity that rings true:

We have to show integrity to the three “audiences” for which design is mostly done: our clients, our intended audience and ourselves. Designers will differ on the order of importance in which they place this trinity: in my view, the demands and responsibilities of all three have to be equally balanced.

It should be said that the agency mentioned in the article is fiscally  successful, and has sustained its growth in a poor economy. And, to their credit, the article states that their clients enjoy working with them. But for me, the question is, at what cost is success?

I’d LOVE your feedback on this article. Let me know your thoughts on the motivations of design and ad agencies. What are your “top 3” rules for running your agency?

Announcing the Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame!

October 5, 2009

Mix Creative, a St. Paul, MN multi-disciplinary graphic design firm, announces the launch of the Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame web site, created to recognize Minnesota writers, past and present.

A project of the Minnesota Book Awards, coordinated by the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, Mix Creative was selected as agency of record.  The site was established to recognize writers whose work distills the essence of the state; the people, the land and the spirit of Minnesota.

Katrina Hase, Creative Director of Mix Creative, sought to convey the spirit of the state through color; “Colors of the site represent sky, water and wheat; colors represented not only by the lakes and prairies throughout the state, but also in the palette of buildings standing tall in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame Website

Minnesota Writers Hall of Fame Website

Mix Creative researched dozens of hall of fame sites, writers’ resources and even the nominees’ works for inspiration. The firm also designed the site’s logo, a mix of elegant san serif and serif type, punctuated with a writer’s quill.

“The site manages to capture the historical aspect while still keeping it fresh and vital,” commented Alayne Hopkins, director of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library.  “We were quite pleased with the design.  Katrina brought so much to the project and brought it alive.”

Programmer Brian Sutherland provided technical expertise, creating a database-driven website supported by cascading style sheets that allows the site owners to update content themselves, with a simple form.

While the first nominees were selected by a committee and the Minnesota Book Awards, future nominees will be determined from nominations from literature lovers. Site users can register and nominate a writer using a simple online form.

The site is supported with funds from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Sesquicentennial Commission.  Visit the site at:

Taste Section Poster Retrospective

October 1, 2009

The Star Tribune’s Taste section celebrates it’s 40th anniversary today with a look back at some of their memorable poster-like section covers. Check them out for yourself:

Tastes First Cover

Taste's First Cover

Package design pointers

September 28, 2009

Little Alice from the comic strip Cul-de-Sac (by Richard Thompson) makes some insightful remarks on package design for children in this comic strip. Enjoy!

Logo file types: what to use where?

May 20, 2009

As a designer, I’m frequently challenged by clients supplying a logo that is too small, too fuzzy, the wrong color, or filled with white in the background. This isn’t to rip on my clients—I love you guys! No, I place the blame squarely on your designer (sorry folks), for failing to communicate the proper use of your logo files.

First and foremost, the preferred format of a logo file for providing to a graphic designer is a VECTOR file. This is typically in the form of an Adobe Illustrator (.ai ) or .pdf file. Vector means that there are precise mathematic equations describing the placement of every line and curve in your logo. Because of this, the art has some unique properties:

  • It’s scalable. No, not as in Mt Everest. As in: we designers can stretch the logo to any size and the cool mathematical equations will redraw the art in real time, making the logo just as crisp at 30′ as it is at .25″.
  • It’s editable. Again, since the art is still “live”, your designer has the freedom to say, change it from a color logo to an all-white logo (for seeing it against a dark background), with just a few clicks.
  • It’s transparent. Nothing’s more frustrating to a designer than placing a logo into a layout and seeing a big ugly white box surrounding it. With a vector logo, all you get is the logo art, not the container that surrounds it.
  • It’s crisp. Because the vector art is the original design file, it has ALL of its information available to print. Saving a logo file as a raster file changes the nice, crisp mathematical lines into dots called pixels. Often, those files are then RE-saved as .jpg, .tif, or .gif files, which progressively loses even more of the original file’s information. The result? Blurry logo.

Of course, the danger of sending your original vector logo file here and there is that the risk of plagiarism or tampering is quite high. Also, when it comes to uploaded a logo file to the web, vector art won’t cut it. It’ll need to be converted to a raster format (typically a .jpg or .gif).

Here’s my advice: when you commission a designer to create a logo for you, make sure you get a vector version of the file for your records, just in case your designer skips town or changes careers on you. You or your designer should use the vector art to save the logo as the right size and resolution on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule: for print, send the .pdf format and for web, send a high-resolution .jpg or .gif format. If you’re not sure: ask your designer—that’s what we’re here for!

Submit a question for designer Q & A

April 14, 2009

Calling all business owners, marketing professionals, graphic designers, web programmers, design students, and more!

Speak up about what confuses you about graphic design. Maybe it’s trying to understand what you’re designer is talking about (What the heck is PMS, and why does my designer keep asking me for mine?), submitting files to a printer (why did my margins get cut off??), updating your website (Why can’t I use my own fonts? or What’s CMS?), or even just trying to decide where to spend your marketing budget (Does anyone even print stationery any more?).

Here’s my invitation: ask us your burning questions about graphic design, and we’ll publish the question with an answer right here in this blog! Please keep the questions clean and graphic design/marketing related. And while questions are always appreciated, please submit questions for this column by April 28, 2009.


Funny post about logo trends

April 14, 2009

This blogger’s post about speech bubble logos had me cracking up, but they make a good point: do your research when you create a logo, lest you create something that everyone’s already seen!