How To Cheat At Design And Get Away With It

Handyman Flyer.png

In a crowded and complex fundraising environment, one of the best ways to make sure your message is noticed and received is to work with a professional designer. But doing so isn’t always practical, especially for many nonprofits.

Just because you don’t have the time or budget to work with a pro doesn’t mean you have to settle for something that looks like the average handyman flyer posted on a telephone pole.

Case in point: Recently, one of our clients was tasked with producing a poster to promote a local event. She had little time, zero budget, and no formal design experience. Fortunately she’s one of those people who, despite the challenges, puts her head down and does her best to figure it out.

The poster she produced had the right message and imagery, but it lacked the general design quality that lends credibility, attracts attention, and wins the interest of prospective attendees.

When I offered a few suggestions and recommended she take another pass, her initial response was that she couldn’t do much to improve it because she lacked formal Photoshop training.

This response illustrates the classic mistake many make of confusing the use of graphics editing programs like Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator with having the ability to create effective design (a subject that I'll save for a future post).

While graphics editing skills might be beneficial to her in the long run, what she needed in this case was inspiration for a simple design and the confidence she could do so without the aid of a dedicated graphics editing program.

I encouraged her to conduct an Internet image search for poster samples and templates, and to select examples that appealed to her visually and had a style consistent with that of her organization. We identified a number of elements that we liked from various samples, and that exercise inspired our own ideas for color scheme, general style, typography, and layout. We then discussed the importance of not copying the examples, but creating our own design using the ideas we had generated. 

Since others on her team, who have varying degrees of skill working with Photoshop, were unavailable to help out, I introduced her to a handy hack that I’ve used for years—Microsoft PowerPoint. Unlike Photoshop and the closely related, equally powerful and often confused product, Illustrator, PowerPoint is approachable for nearly everyone and generally available on every computer in every office.

This is not an attempt to position PowerPoint as superior to the other options, but in a pinch, it’s capable of quite a lot with a toolset that has evolved far beyond simple shapes and lines. For a basic poster design, and for many other simple collateral items, PowerPoint is more than capable of doing the job.

With a little practice using shapes, layers, gradients, curves, and various other Toolbox elements, my client produced a professional-looking poster on time and on budget.

The event was a raging success (partially as a result of the poster, which we tracked relative to other collateral), and my client even received several compliments on her beautifully produced piece.

This method isn’t ideal for every situation, and I can’t stress enough the value of a truly talented designer for the right project, but there are many times when this approach more than does the job.

Here are a few sources of inspiration to consider for your next simple design project:


Image credit: Orin Zebest

Hack, MarketingLance Leasure