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Our Top Design Tips

Here at Purple Robot, we love helping businesses look their best. Design is a very important part of marketing your business. It can be the difference between somebody keeping your business card or simply putting it in the bin. It can be the deciding factor as to whether they stay on your website, or swiftly move on to your competitors. Every morning, the majority of us will get up and look in the mirror – and then try to make ourselves look as presentable as possible. It should be the same for our businesses as well. Take some care over your design and you’ll soon be attracting more customers. Below are five tips to get you started ahead of your company’s next design project…


Keep a swipe file and create mood boards

Have you ever had to put together a design brief but not known where to start? Perhaps you’re starting work on a new campaign but you’re not quite sure what style/look/feel to go for. At the start of a new project, it can be tricky to know which creative path to go down. This is where a swipe file comes in handy. If you’ve never heard of a swipe file before, let me explain. It’s quite simply a collection of marketing literature, sales letters and advertising examples that you like. It could contain adverts you’ve ripped out of magazines, leaflets you’ve picked up when on holiday, pieces of direct mail (that you didn’t want to put straight into the recycling bin) or sales letters that got their message across in a memorable and engaging way.

I have a swipe file that sits on my desk. When I start a new project, and looking for a little inspiration to get my creative juices flowing, I like to scatter its contents across my desk and see what catches my eye. Sometimes it’ll be the elegance of some typography, an illustration style or even a neat grid layout. Other times, it’s the simplicity of a piece of well-written copy. The contents of your swipe file will contain all the things you like, so it will always deliver when you’re looking for some creative stimulation. If you’re not one for collecting physical samples and prefer to search online for some inspiration, sites like Pinterest can be perfect. Not only can you save all the things you like, but you can put them in some sort of order too. You could have one board full of great colour palette examples, another for illustration styles you love, and an additional one for branding that ticks all your boxes.

Whether you’re picking up leaflets for local attractions or stumble across an amazing photo online, the trick is to keep it, pin it, save it. Just have it so you can go back to it. You never know when it may come in handy. You (and your designer) will be pleased that you did, as you’re a lot more likely to know what you want to include in your design brief and what you want your campaign to look (or sound) like.


Use fonts that match your message

Fonts. There’re a lot to choose from, isn’t there? And we all have our favourites, right? They come in all shapes and sizes. The main ones you’ll see are serifs, sans-serifs and script. Serifs are fonts that include those little flicky bits coming off the end of a letter or symbol (think Times New Roman, Garamond and Caslon). Sans-serif fonts are typefaces that don’t have those flicky bits – for those of you who weren’t great with languages at school, “sans” means “without” in French (think Arial, Futura and every designers favourite, Helvetica). Script typefaces are those that resemble handwriting (examples include Pacifico, Mila Script and Moments). Script fonts can add a great impact to a design but try to limit how often you use them. Paragraphs full of script text will not be easy to read so could well put your audience off.

Fonts are great but must be used wisely. They can portray a message, a feeling or a vibe without its audience having to even read the words written with it. With this in mind, when coming up with a new design, marketing campaign or brand, it’s vital that you use a suitable font. One that’ll enhance your message, not confuse it. If we think about an engineering company, for example, they will want a font that looks strong, bold, safe and perhaps sensible too. So, a serif font is likely to work well for them rather than a delicate, fancy script font. If a hotel is working on a new campaign to promote their wedding packages, they may want something a little different. An elegant script font along with a classic serif font could help portray a romantic and classy feel.

I’ve seen some really poor examples of font use when out and about. As a designer, I’m always looking at design and (I’m sorry to say) judging it. I was out with my family at a local attraction recently and we stopped for a bite to eat at their café. As I went to place our order, I looked at the large menu board that was behind the counter. Each section of the menu used a different font – not a good start (more on that later). As I looked through the menu, I noticed that the Alcohol section (arguably, the premium products on the menu) were displayed in the font, Comic Sans. Now, as a designer, I would always advise against using Comic Sans – it’s what we do – but if you want to use it, make sure it’s not to promote a product that is aimed at over 18s! It simply doesn’t fit the product.
Our computers come with lots of fonts to choose from, but if you’re looking for something a little different, there are websites where you can purchase new ones.

There are also sites where you can find some nice fonts for free. Font Squirrel has a great selection of free fonts and if you have a marketing team that subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud, there are loads of great fonts you can download from their Typekit service.


Limit the number of typefaces you use

As we’ve just discussed, there are lots of fonts out there. And we know that we need to give careful consideration as to which we should use for our projects. My next tip is to limit the amount you use. Keep your designs simple. Using lots of fonts will only confuse your audience. When choosing a typeface, I’d recommend picking one that includes a large family of fonts. Helvetica Neue, is a great example as it includes lots of different weights, from Ultra Light to Black (think very very bold!). It also includes a range of italic styles and condensed options. But because they are all part of the same family, they work so well together.

I’m not saying you must stick to just one typeface. Two or three may be alright, but make sure you use them consistently. Always use one font for headers and then use the additional font for the body copy. Don’t interchange them. As with the example of the wedding venue above, I suggested a script font, which would work well for headers, and a serif font which would look great when used for the body copy. Just make sure you don’t use too many different typefaces because it will only confuse your audience. It’ll be difficult for your audience to understand the hierarchy of your design, where they should start and how to identify what your main message is.


Choose your colours wisely

Similar to fonts (see tip #2), it’s important to carefully consider what colours you use. Every colour has its meaning and will link to different emotions and moods. If we think about the example of an engineering company again, grey’s (sophisticated and professional), navy (reliable and safe) or even fawn (secure and practical) would be good options. They may want to avoid colours like red and yellow (dangerous/warning) or pastel shades which may come across quite wishy-washy.And if we then go back to the example of a hotel promoting themselves as a wedding venue, plum (sophisticated and unique), bronze (warm and traditional) or a dusty pink (romantic, tender and sentimental) may be good choices. Fluorescent yellow or browns, on the other hand, may not capture the right feeling.

Once you have decided on the best colour to use, you may want to look for complementary colours that you could also use. You could always do a quick Google to look for a colour palette that includes your chosen colour, or you could visit an online colour scheme generator like the one at It’s a great little tool – simply enter the HEX code for your chosen colour and press the space bar. It’ll then generate four additional colours that suit your chosen colour. If you’re not keen on its initial selection, press the space bar again and it’ll generate another set of colours. Just keep going until you find a pallet that is right for you.


Keep it simple, and don’t be scared of white space

When we work on a new piece of marketing, it’s for one reason. To get a message across to our target audience. This is something we must remember.

When your designer presents you with a design they’ve been working on for you and you spot a blank area, don’t ask them to fill it straight away. You may see it and think you could find a use for that space. If you are drawn into the idea of adding extra content, ask yourself “Is it necessary?”. Sometimes, the worst thing you can do is fill that space with an additional element. Why? Because it may distract from your main message. Why would you want to divert your audience from your main message? Of course, if you have something that will help support your message then that’s fine, but if you find you’re tempted to add something just for the sake of it, then don’t do it.

Your designer may have included the white space intentionally. It may be to improve the readability of your text or emphasise a particular element such as a photograph or a diagram. People prefer simple design. It’s similar to your desk space. Would you prefer a cluttered desk where you’re not quite sure where anything is or a nice tidy one where everything has its place? So, if you see some white space, don’t be scared of it. It may help get your message across.

We love design because it helps our clients get great results and with our Limitless Design Plan, you’ll see that great graphic design doesn’t have to cost the earth. Hopefully, some of these tips may help you when you start your next design project. But if you feel you’d like a little more advice, feel free to get in touch with us. We’re always happy to talk about design.