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3 Common Misconceptions About Graphic Design

3 Common Misconceptions About Graphic Design

I’ve been a graphic designer for over 10 years now. In that time, I’ve had to explain what I do a countless number of times, and gotten a wide range of responses and reactions. Certain misconceptions about design have cropped up again and again. So I’d like to take a moment to address a few of the most common ones here.

1. Design is just ‘making it pretty’

This is the misconception I run across most often. The problem at the heart of this idea is that design doesn’t have to be traditionally ‘pretty’ to be good design or design that works. The specifics of a project – its goals and audience – might call for something completely different. The intent might be to shock, or intrigue, rather than to just be visually pleasing to some arbitrary majority. In other words, design has a purpose that goes beyond surface visuals. I wrote a whole post about this recently, but basically it comes down to this (to paraphrase what Steve Jobs said): design is not just about how it looks, it’s about how it works and what it’s saying.

2. Design is the same as illustration

‘Design’ is a very broad term, and there are lots of sub-fields that fall under it, each with their own specialty. Just like you can’t go to any person with Dr. in front of their name and expect them to specialize in exactly what you need medical help with, the same idea holds true in design. Graphic design is not the same thing as illustration, or calligraphy, or web programming. Someone who designs fonts for a living probably is not the same someone who can build you a mobile app. A web designer may have no clue how to set up files for letterpress printing. An illustrator who does character portraits probably is not the same person who can typeset and lay out your book’s pages for you. These are all different skill sets. It’s not uncommon to have some slight overlap, especially if the sub-fields are related (example: I do both print design and web design, as they each relate to branding). But, depending on what exactly you need, you may need more than one professional to help you out with different parts of your project. At the very least, you need to be aware that ‘design’ is not a one-size-applies-to-all field.

3. Design is easy because designers are ‘creative’

This is probably the misconception that frustrates me the most. Listen. Creativity is not a magic wand. Design work is still hard, time-consuming work. When was the last time you took an idea that only existed in your head and made it a real, visual, finished thing? Now add in coming up with that solid of an idea in the first place. And then add in making sure it actually works for the goals and audience of your client. And add in the budget realities of your client if it’s something that needs production or printing. Does that sound easy? No. And this doesn’t even take into account the technical know-how that takes years to develop, and is constantly being added to. So next time your instinct is to dismiss design as ‘not a real job’ or ‘something anyone with Photoshop can do,’ take a second to recognize how much unseen work goes into that finished design.

Honestly, this post could’ve gone much longer, there are that many misconceptions about what I do for a living. But the above 3 are by far the ones I have to deal with most often.

Have you fallen prey to any of the above? Are there common misconceptions about your job or industry?


Color Theory: Purple

Color Theory: Purple

Purple

Color Wheel Tier: Secondary.
Tonal Value: Cool.
Complementary Color: Yellow.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
— Alice Walker

Purple is a quirky color.

It is the color that occurs least often in nature. And unlike violet (its slightly blue-er counterpart), it exists in culture and art, but not in optics. It does not have its own wavelength of light, and only exists as a combination of the red and blue spectrums. Perhaps because of this, purple is the hardest color for the eye to distinguish.

It has also, historically, been a hard color to reproduce. In ancient times, there was a deep, rich dye made from a snail that became known as Tyrian purple. It had a very involved process that yielded very small amounts, making it the most rare and expensive of colors for clothing. For perspective, when a German chemist tried to recreate this dye in 2008, he needed 12,000 snails to create just 1.4 ounces of dye, only enough to color a handkerchief. !!! Naturally, royals and rulers the world ’round adopted it as their color, as a status symbol. When mankind first ventured into synthetic dyes, purple was the first shade created (mauveine, aka, mauve). It’s never quite lost its ties to luxury and wealth, though. Take a look at any set of poker chips: purple is the color of the highest denomination chip.

Here’s a broader look at this color’s different connotations:

Meanings / Associations

Positive

Wisdom / Meditation / the Subconscious
Courage / Dignity
Balance / Calming Effect
Patience
Creativity / Individualism

 

Neutral

Luxury / Royalty / Rarity
Pride
Spirituality / Supernatural Energy
Ritual & Ceremony / Mysticism
Mystery / Magic
Grapes / Eggplant / Plums
Women’s Suffrage / Feminism
LGBT Community / Sexuality
Perfume (violets, lavender, wisteria)
Amethyst / February

 

Negative

Decadence
Conceit / Vanity
Pomposity
Artificial
Mourning / Death (U.K., Italy, Thailand, Brazil)
Psychedelic Drug Culture

 

Purple also happens to be my favorite color: a nice, deep aubergine, to be exact. But, because that wasn’t a good fit for my business (I don’t specialize in luxury businesses or spirituality, for instance), I reserve it for my personal use and not my studio branding. My phone case is purple. So is my laptop skin. I write in my freelance planner in purple ink. My dog’s collar is a nice plum. I strongly considered buying a car this color, but Hyundai had discontinued the shade I liked. You get the picture. 🙂

If you want to see more examples of the many ways it can be combined and used, check out my color board on Pinterest.

What do you think of purple? Luxurious in the best of ways?

 


Shopping For a Website is Like Shopping For a Table

Shopping For a Website is Like Shopping For a Table

Here’s a question I get a lot:

How much does a website cost?

This is usually from small business owners who are shopping for a website designer, and just want quick price quotes to compare. And I get that. The problem is that their question is too vague to be able to give a definitive answer.

In order to head-off this question, I want you to keep something in mind, all of you small business owners out there: Shopping for a website is like shopping for a table.

I know, that doesn’t seem like an obvious comparison, but bear with me. The things you need to consider when you are picking out a table are the same things you need to consider when shopping for a website for your business. Here’s what I mean:

What do you need it to do?

If you tell a furniture salesperson that you need a table for your living room, that’s not enough detail for them to figure out what you want. Are you looking for a coffee table to hold drinks, remotes, and books? An end table to put a lamp on? A console table as a focal point? Do you need something that doubles as a desk or workspace? What you need the table to do makes a big difference in the kind of table you end up choosing.

Websites work the same way. If you approach a designer and simply say “I need a website for my business,” that’s not enough information. What do you need the website to do? Is it simply informational so you have a web presence? Do you need complex contact forms, or to show off a portfolio? Do you need to showcase other types of files, like video or music? Is it simply a landing page for people to sign up for your newsletter? Is there any e-commerce functionality? Do you need something you can run yourself, with a nice admin interface? Do you need a blog? All of these details can change the scope of work, and so change the project price.

How big do you need it to be?

You pay more for a dining table big enough to fit 20 people than you do for the little end table that goes to the side of your couch and is a foot square. The same goes for websites. A simple 5-page online brochure site is going to cost a lot less than your huge Amazon-equivalent e-commerce site. As it should. I can’t even imagine the teams and teams of people it would take to get a site like Amazon built and running smoothly. And all of those people would need to be paid, aside from the value of the final delivered website. You can bet that project price would be appropriately huge. In contrast, a small business site that just needs to have a few pages of copy and a quick contact form wouldn’t take nearly as much manpower. From a designer’s standpoint, knowing how many pages will need to be set up initially (and whether they need different layouts for different types of content) is a key detail in putting together a quote.

What level of quality and customization are you looking for?

Just like there’s a difference in pricing between an assemble-it-yourself Ikea table, and something hand-carved from 100-year-old oak just for you, the same is true for websites. The quality and effort involved make a BIG difference in the price tag. What level are you looking for on your website? Also, what can you afford? Having champagne tastes on a beer budget is a problem in the design industry, too. Asking for a completely custom-from-the-ground-up site when you can only afford an off-the-shelf template is wasting everyone’s time. Pricing does range quite a bit, but as a general rule, the more custom and high quality you want, the higher the price tag will climb.

Not having a plan can backfire.

Have you ever gone to buy a desk or a side table, and didn’t bother to measure first? And then ended up with something that didn’t fit the space, either jutting out too far or not fitting into the space to begin with because it’s just an inch or 2 too big? Yeah. The same thing can happen with your website. It won’t be a physical problem, clearly, but you can certainly end up with a website that isn’t a good fit for your business. It might not have the features you need it to, it might be annoyingly hard to update, it might just be ineffective as a marketing tool. Maybe you didn’t account for mobile users, and it just doesn’t function on a phone. There are so many details that can go wrong or simply be overlooked if you don’t think about them beforehand. You need to plan for your online space as much as you plan your real-world living space.

Bottom line: you need to have a long, hard brainstorming session about what you need your site to accomplish and how it needs to work for users before you go shopping for a website.

Then, when you ask a designer to provide a quote on building your new website, share that info. They’ll be much better equipped to provide an accurate quote, and you’ll be much more likely to end up with a website that fits your business.

I’m curious: what would the table equivalent be for your business?

I like to think of mine as a mod, arty coffee table.


Creative Wavelenth: Instagram Edition

Creative Wavelength: Instagram Edition

Time for another Creative Wavelength round-up! It’s been awhile since I shared some of my Instagram favorites, and I have a whole new batch for you to check out. These people are all doing wonderful, beautiful, creative things, and documenting the process for our enjoyment. Take a look.

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

willowmarkworks

willowmarkworks: delicate and beautiful watercolors. I’m in awe of her blending skill.


 

rinneallen

rinneallen: found objects and pieces of nature captured in an ethereal way. She also does beautiful cyanotypes.


 

liaselina

liaselina: gorgeous earthy mini scenes. Also an illustrator, but I just love her photo styling.


 

calligraphycult

calligraphycult: her calligraphy is great, too, but I particular like the watercolor and metallic experiments she’s been doing lately.


 

flora.forager

flora.forager: whimsical scenes entirely made from petals and parts of plants.


 

fortythirdplace

fortythirdplace: intricate mosaic woodwork. I love well-done woodwork, and this account documents the process, too, which is cool.


 

linesacross

linesacross: her current 100 Days of Rainbows project can’t help but cheer you up.


 

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

What are your favorite creative accounts to follow on Instagram?


What Makes a Good Book Cover?

What Makes a Good Book Cover?

What makes a good book cover?

This is a question I get a lot, when I tell people what I do. Particularly indie authors. They’re hoping, I think, for some magic design formula: place the type here, use this kind of image. The answer, however, is not so simple, and here’s why:

Book cover design is very subjective – there are few hard-and-fast rules.

Achieving a great book cover design is entirely subject to the circumstances of a specific book. A book’s team (author, designer, publisher) have to weigh all of the considerations, and come up with what works for that particular book. The priorities and emphasis can and will shift with different books, and its specific marketing goals.

That said, the main things you need to keep in mind regarding a book cover (those considerations you need to weigh) are the same each time. It’s just the answers that will change.

I like to break it down into 3 different areas:

The 3 A's of Book Cover Design Venn Diagram

Appropriateness

  • Does it fit the content and tone of the book?
  • Does it need to fit visually within a series?
  • Does it need to fit in with a visual style you’ve already established as an author?
  • If you’re having depictions of characters or events from the book on the cover, do they actually match up to what’s in the book?

If the tone of writing is humorous, the cover should reflect that. If you have a character on the cover that is redheaded in the text, don’t have them appear with black hair. If you go into detail in the text regarding a specific scene’s setting or the general landscape, make sure your cover artist knows those details and sticks to them. If your nonfiction title is ambiguous, make sure the cover reflects the actual content to provide clarity. These seem like common sense, but the fact that I can easily point out instances where these weren’t followed is cause enough to bring them up.

 

Audience

  • Does it appeal to your target readership?
  • Does it fit within what the audience expects of the genre (with some wiggle room)?

The design for a history book aimed at older male readers is going to be much different than the latest YA teen girl read. Yes, there is a certain amount of stereotyping that goes into this. And yes, people outside of a specific audience can still read your book. But we have a saying in the design world: if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. You have to pick a marketing focus, and run with that, or you’ll just be awash in conflicting and ineffective messaging. There are exceptions to every standard as far as audience and genre, but the successful ones started from a place of knowing both of those well, and cut a different path from there. They didn’t just ignore them. You can’t push the boundaries of what your audience will tolerate unless you know who that audience is.

 

Artistry

  • Is it unique to your book? (not a copy of or too similar to something already out there)
  • Is it beautiful or artistic in its own right, in whatever style? (VERY subjective)

There’s something to be said for just the pure pleasure of a book as an aesthetic object. The artistry of a book is not limited to cover design alone- if it’s a physical book, artistry can also be expressed through specialty inks, edge effects, layered covers. These are all more expensive, true, but do help a book stand out.

Also: please, please, please don’t just take what another successful author has done and copy it. A) everyone will know you copied. B) That’s really a disservice to your book. You put a lot of hard work into your writing, it deserves a cover tailored specifically to it.

If you miss Appropriateness, you’re misleading readers. This is the worst offense, it will confuse or anger buyers.

If you miss Audience, you’re losing sales and readers. Understandably not good for you in the long run.

If you miss Artistry, you don’t stand out, and you’re missing out on the social shares beautiful covers can generate. Also you’ll make designers sad. 😉

But keep these three A’s in mind, and try to hit all of them, and you should end up in the sweet spot: the perfect cover for your book.

Want more questions to spark new ideas for your book cover design?
Check out my free download of 50 Questions From Your Novel’s Cover Designer:

What do you think makes a great book cover? Was it covered by one of these A’s?

 


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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!