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A couple of tips for the amateur designer

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We designers often complain that everybody who owns a computer thinks they can do what we do for a living. The truth is they can, but they don’t.

Here’s what I mean: the Apple revolution of 28 years ago (wow) made publishing accessible to the masses. Before the introduction of the Mac, what we did took days, not minutes and it required a level of craftsmanship that today is built into the hardware and software. We ply our trade on machines that are readily available in any mall with an Apple Store and we use software that you can download to your computer with a few clicks on your keyboard and a credit card number.

So you have all your gear… now why doesn’t your flyer/brochure/business card look right? Try a few of these tips and see if your project doesn’t improve a little.

1) Don’t use all the fonts
Your fancy computer came with a boat-load of fonts. You don’t have to use them all at once. Your project starts to look like a ransom note when you do. Pick, at most, two fonts: a good display font for headlines and a serif font for body copy. And remember, script fonts are really hard to read. Use them sparingly. Short headlines only.

2) Not all clip art is created equal
90% of the clip art available online and 100% of what came with your PC is garbage. This is where taste comes into play. Try to think “simple & stylish” and use art that is all in the same style (and preferably from the same illustrator.) Using one cartoon and one silhouette and one brush stroke drawing will just make your piece look like it was designed by three different people in three different rooms.

3) Use the right program for the job.
Don’t design a logo in Photoshop. You won’t be able to scale it or simplify it later. Use Illustrator. Don’t lay out a brochure in Illustrator. You won’t have the control you can get with InDesign. Don’t use Word to design anything. I don’t care what Microsoft says… Word is good for typing copy and that’s it.

4) Google images is not a source for photography
You don’t own those photos. Plus, there is a very good chance that the awesome cat photo you found online will be WAY to small to use in a print job. The web is designed in 72 dots per inch, or dpi. Print work is best done at 300 dpi. So when you use that 72dpi image in your print job, those dots increase more than 3-fold when you print. That’s why your finished job looks “all pixely.” There are plenty of REALLY cheap stock photo sources online where you can get a professionally shot image for less than $20. Use them. And if you insist on stealing photos from Google images, set your search filter to only show large format images.

5) Periods don’t require a double space. Ever.
I know what my typing teacher said, but she is long-retired at this point. Double spaces were necessary for typewriters, but modern word processors have space built into most fonts that allow for a little breathing room after a period. One space is plenty.

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