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3 Simple Ways to Spruce Up Your Website

3 Simple Ways to Spruce Up Your Website

I’m currently in the process of redesigning my site… and have been for most of this year. It’s a time-consuming process, and as any designer or freelancer will tell you: our own sites often come last on the work totem pole. It seems like this is the case for most business owners I talk to as well – either considering a redesign, in the midst of a long ongoing redesign, or having just finished a redesign. I get it. The web is flux, and it can be hard to keep up with the latest trends or standards.

The good news is that for a lot of businesses, a full site redesign isn’t necessary. Simply making some adjustments to spruce up your website might be all you need. And it’s a lot quicker and easier that redoing your entire site. Here are my 3 tips for giving your site a little face-lift:

1. Consistent fonts and colors

When you create a visual brand identity for your business, the cornerstones of that (along with your logo) are the fonts and colors you use. Using those same fonts and colors everywhere your business has a presence (print, web, social, etc.) helps establish your brand as recognizable and reliable. So we want to make sure you’ve got this in place on your website, too.

There are two places where fonts and colors are set for your website. One is in the main theme you’re using. Whether WordPress or Squarespace or a custom-built site, there’s a CSS file somewhere that has default settings for how things appear on your live site. Think of it as the master control. There may even be an option panel in your admin back-end where you can select the fonts and colors yourself, and it will set the CSS to style your site that way. This is the best way to maintain consistent usage site-wide. If you or your web person have already set this up, just leave it be and you should be good to go on having uniform font and color usage throughout your site. Easy peasy.

The other place you can set fonts and colors is on the edit screen of an individual page or post itself. This is especially true of admin systems with WYSIWYG editors, and that’s where people often run into trouble. See, the WYSIWYG editor runs on the admin back-end, which means the CSS isn’t being called. What you see by default in the WYSIWYG editor is often NOT how things will appear on your site if you type some text and hit publish. Once it’s published, when that page or post is called on the public side of your site, the CSS file is called to style it. So even though it may appear just plain text in some random font in your editor, once it’s on the front-end of the site and the CSS does its thing, it won’t be. But people often see that plain text in the editor, which doesn’t match their site’s fonts or colors, and think they need to add in the styling. Not only that, but there’s also often the temptation to get ‘creative’ just because the options are available in your WYSIWYG editor, even when those don’t match your brand guidelines. Short advice? Don’t do that. It is almost always a better idea to let the CSS of your theme style your posts and pages rather than manually adding styling in.
 

2. Consistent capitalization in page titles

If you’re going for an informal feel with all lowercase, that’s fine. Traditional headline capitalization? Also fine. If you’re using sentence capitalization (where only the first word is capitalized), that’s fine, too. The point is to decide how you are going to treat page/post titles, and then stick to it. Like with other visual cues, if you’re all over the place in your title styling, it sends mixed messages. It’s a small detail, but an important one.

This advice actually carries over into all of the text areas of your site (how will you treat captions? subheadings like in this list? menus?), but page and post titles are the most immediately noticeable.
 

3. Consistent images

If title treatment is an often overlooked consistency detail, this point ranks up there with it. How you use images on your site is a big factor in how professional and put-together your site appears. When all of the images within a page’s content are the same width and alignment, it helps the visual flow and is easier to parse. Not only that, but it makes your job easy, because you never have to wonder what size image to use for a certain feature, as it will always be the same.

For example: the featured images I use for my blog posts. These are all mainly one size, rectangular and filling the width of the content area. The only exception is when I do a quote post, and then the feature image is square for sharing on Instagram as well. They are still the same width (as are all images I use in-post), it’s just the height that differs. I’m able to have this slight variation because I have a system for my images and apply it consistently. The result is that everything works together and nothing jars the viewer out of the visual flow.

Along with the size you use for your images, you should also consider look and feel. Are you using illustrations, or photos? If photos, are you using crisp photos with items isolated on a background or more atmospheric photos with scenery and depth of field? Do you use/show people in your photos? Is there a certain color tone you stick to? All of these options are fair game, but if you have ALL of these going on at the same time, your site is going to look artistically schizophrenic.
 

The moral of the story is: consistency. Instead of just throwing things up on your website haphazardly, take the time to decide your visual system and then use it. This will do so much for the impact and appeal of your website, even if the changes seem small.

Have you applied any of these tips to spruce up your website? How was the result?

 


Creative Wavelength: Instagram Edition

If, like me, part of your summer relaxation routine includes scrolling through Instagram, this post is for you. Every once in awhile I like to round up some of my favorite artist accounts that I follow and share them with you. Because they are each making awesome, unique work and that deserves a shout-out. Prepare to have your Instagram feed art-ified. Check them out:

Full disclosure: these are not all straight screenshots of these accounts, I hand-picked what ‘grams to show based on what I’m most a fan of.
 

kerbyrosanes

The level of detail that Kerby Rosanes achieves in his illustrations is nothing short of mind-blowing.


 

livingpattern

These botanical watercolor prints by Living Pattern artist Jenny are 😍❤️. I want all of them.


 

ilanamgreenberg

Ilana Greenberg’s bold, abstract pieces are showstoppers. If you’re looking for feature art, look no further.


 

mfanwy

M’fanwy Dean combines wood carvings, ink drawings and gold leaf in intricate and amazing ways.


 

colorcrushcreative

Kellee of Color Crush Creative has perfectly captured soft, pretty color palette curation. I just want to sink into her feed.


 

fran6

Francis Chouquet’s type drawings are the things that sketchbook dreams are made of. I have #sketchbookenvy.


 

⇒ And of course, you can also find me over on Instagram, at studioguerassio.

What are your favorite creative accounts and artsy people to follow on Instagram?

 


The 7 Biggest Mistakes in DIY Design

The 7 Biggest Mistakes in DIY Design

There’s a meme out there that reads Practice Safe Design: Use a Concept.

I’ll pause while you chuckle at that. Or at least while *I* chuckle at that.

I’d take it one step further and say Practice Good Design: Use a Professional. It’s less funny, but still the best advice I can give someone who asks me how they can make their design pieces look good or better.

Why?

Because it’s blindingly obvious when you DIY design.

I don’t just mean to the design community, or people who do visual arts for a living. I’m talking about everyday people, the very people you are likely trying to attract with your business and turn into clients or customers. Like it or not, that first impression that you make on them is probably with design: your logo, your website, your storefront. And if something is off or really not done well, it will turn people away.

Working with a professional designer will help nail that first impression. But if you’re set on DIY design, here are 7 key missteps to avoid:
 

  1. Basing design off of personal preferences instead of your target audience/market.
    This is by far the #1 mistake I see business owners make when they DIY design. I wrote a whole post about this, but the short of it is that you as the business owner are likely not your ideal customer or target, so what you personally like shouldn’t be the guiding star of your design. You’re not trying to appeal to yourself.
  2. Going crazy with Photoshop effects.
    Yes, Photoshop can do amazing things, and yes, the Effects panel is part of that. 9th grade me sympathizes with you. But it’s one of those cases where you really shouldn’t touch it until you have some training. And even then, it should be used sparingly. I promise your design doesn’t really need a ton of drop shadows, glows, and gradients.
  3. Not understanding resolution and file setup.
    Newsflash: files need to be set up differently depending on whether you’ll be using the piece on the web or in print. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people use something of low resolution that’s meant for web in a print piece, because there wasn’t a designer there to tell them how pixelated and awful it would end up looking. Don’t let this be you.
  4. Too many fonts / novelty fonts / lack of type hierarchy.
    In other words: not knowing how to properly use fonts and treat type. If you’re set on DIY design, keep your font selections simple and few, and break your text into clear sections. There’s a reason Helvetica is a design pillar, and a reason the headline-subtitle-text tier is the standard.
  5. Lack of attention to white space.
    Nothing will out you faster as an amateur in design than things that don’t align properly or crowd the edges of your piece. Particularly in print, but also on the web (though there is some leeway on the web because of different browsers, screen sizes, user settings, etc.). All of the parts of your design should have room to breathe, and have a consistent alignment system.
  6. Copying / using something already out there.
    Technically this isn’t DIY design; this is plagiarism. And if I really need to go into why this is bad and wrong, maybe you shouldn’t be running a business? There are plenty of sites that offer both photos and vectors that are free for commercial use. You don’t need to steal something that is still under copyright.
  7. Not adhering to brand standards after a designer hands it over.
    If you actually hired a designer to get your basic design needs set up before switching to DIY design, you’re a step ahead of most business owners. Now don’t go ruining it by throwing that work you paid for out the window! If the work the designer did for you included a brand manual or brand standard- use that! It lays out all of the visual guidelines for your new brand; it’s very existence is meant to make it easier for you to manage your brand going forward. Why on earth would you ignore it and lose brand consistency?

 

I’m guessing that at least some of these weren’t a surprise to you, because it is apparent when a professional designer wasn’t used. Maybe you saw a piece of design out in the world and thought it looked not quite right, but couldn’t put your finger on it. Or maybe you just saw something that looked terrible. The culprit is likely one (or many) of the above.

Are there more than these seven things that could be on this list? Absolutely. But, to me, these are the biggest ones, and the dead giveaways for when someone without design experience was in charge of a piece. If you can avoid them, you’ll be in decent shape. (This may help, too).
 

Ok, fess up non-designers: have you committed any of these DIY design crimes?

 


Recent Work Out in the World!

Recent Work Out in the World!

While most of the design world seems to be geeking out over UI/UX, I still get excited about good ol’ print design.

Especially when the project was fun, and super especially once I get to see the actual, physical, finished piece out in the world. I’ve seen a few Studio Guerassio pieces make it from digital to real world lately, and wanted to share. Plus, for those folks who get these blog posts via email, you may not have seen some of this cool stuff in my portfolio yet if you haven’t stopped by the site in awhile. So yay! Double win all around.

Take a look at these recent projects:
 

save the date

Save the Dates. This couple is having a casual spring brunch wedding. They a) didn’t want to be too fancy, b) wanted to evoke spring without going floral, and c) wanted something that would capture their love of color and bold personalies. Et voilà! This is one of those times where a single concept was a clear winner right from the get-go, and had very few changes. Aka my favorite. 😀 This is so recent, it’s not even in my portfolio yet. I did their entire wedding suite, but only the save the dates have gone out so far, so stay tuned to see the whole set!


 


I have been waiting for this it seems like forever. Do you guys have any idea how long it takes alcohol licensing and label approval to go through all of the bureaucratic checkpoints? Hint: a LONG ASS TIME. So while my part of the design process for the labels on Austonian Spirits‘ first whiskey finished mostly up last year, it only just hit shelves at the beginning of this summer. And it does make for some very fine Instagram photos, as witnessed above! If you want to pick up a bottle of this sustainably matured whiskey yourself, check out their site for current locations it’s available (a growing list!).
Hover/zoom for captions with links to the photographers, or see @drinkingaustin / @bigwrldsmallgrl / @austinfoodstagram
 

Austin Cuisine 2017

And finally, we have the latest edition of Austin Cuisine (vol. 9, 2017), which also hit shelves at the beginning of this summer. I’ve been working with this magazine since 2010, and I have to say this cover is one of my favorites. I would nom that in a heartbeat. You can pick up a copy at Book People, Whole Foods, and certain locations of Central Market and Sprouts.


 

Other than these fun print pieces, I’ve been working on this, and also a brand refresh for Studio Guerassio itself. Even though that will be mostly digital, a big makeover reveal is another thing that gets me excited as a designer. Really, I’m easy to please. 😀
 

Fellow creatives or business owners, are you with me? Do you get excited, too, when you see your work come to fruition in a tangible way?

 


repetition

On Repetition and Boredom

“The thing that’s most to be feared
is doing the same thing over and over again.”
Paula Scher

Some of the most common advice I get as a freelance business owner is to niche down.

Become known for one thing, they say. Only do logos for bakeries, or only do book covers for non-fiction books about logic, or only do wedding invitations for themed weddings. Get as specific as you can, and dominate that niche.

I get where this comes from. If I want to be top-of-mind as the designer to hire, that’s easier to achieve if I have one clear thing that I offer. I’ll stand out for that one thing. It’s solid business and marketing advice.

But there’s a fatal flaw in this idea, at least for me:

I don’t want to do just one thing.

Yes, I love doing logos, and book covers, and invitations. But if one of those was the only kind of thing I was working on, day in and day out? I’d soon get sick of it. Part of what I love about being a designer is the variety. I can dive deep into a custom logo design one day, and the next day be working out the nitty-gritty of a 100-page magazine layout. Different types of projects utilize and push my creativity and skills in different ways, and I like that. If variety is the spice of life, then repetition is surely the opposite (the white bread of life? Help me out with an appropriate opposite metaphor here, people…).

In choosing a direction for Studio Guerassio, I took this into consideration. I’m well aware of my aversion to repetition; I don’t even like having to repeat what I’ve said. That’s why I narrowed the niche of who I serve, rather than the type of project I handle. Focusing solely on lifestyle and creative businesses gives me a clear target audience, while still leaving me enough range in clientele and project type to keep me happy.

Could I niche that audience down further? Sure. But the same problem would crop up. I’ll take a slight hit to marketing ease in exchange for career happiness, any day.

Do you share my boredom with repetition? What have you done in your business to sidestep this?

 


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Amanda Guerassio

From freelance designer to studio owner, I've been a self-employed, independent graphic designer for over a decade. I love helping people find the right visual voice for their businesses and projects. Let's talk!