Orange background branded image featuring a picture of Libby Langley and Mark Coster on the left with a Libby Langley logo in the bottom left corner. On the right, the grey text reads 'Graphic design mistakes you don't want to make!'

Libby: Joining me is Mark Coster. Thanks for joining me today. You are Mark Coster from Pixooma and you’re a graphic designer with many years’ experience and you did my logo. So yay, pretty good and highly recommended.

Mark: Thank you.

Libby:  I wanted to get you on today to just have a bit of a chat about, I suppose, graphic design in its simplest form. I’m a huge advocate of needing to use graphic designers when graphic designers are required such as for web design and brochures, leaflets, logos, all that kind of kind of proper stuff. But when it comes to social media, there’s a lot that people can do themselves using tools such as Canva and again, enormous advocate – I’ve been using it since it launched in 2013 and have recommended it to many millions of people over the years.

There’s a big difference between outsourcing stuff to someone like you who knows what they’re doing and trying to do it yourself, trying to replicate something like that yourself. What I’m hoping you’ve got is some kind of juicy but simple top tips on what people should and shouldn’t do. What they should look out for, what they should run a mile from and what they should outsource to someone who knows what they’re doing.

Mark: You know, I think it’s all about the fact that Canva, like anything else it’s a tool. Just because you have the tools, the software or whatever, and you know how it functions that doesn’t mean necessarily you’re going to get the best results out of it. That’s the same with a person some people are very good at it, some people less so. I think graphic design for me generally comes down to a word that you mentioned, a few times which is keep it simple.

I think that’s the thing. Overcomplicating something generally doesn’t pay any dividends. Keep it simple. Keep it consistent. That’s true with all your marketing. But that doesn’t mean it has to be absolutely regimented exactly the same every time. It should be the stuff that you do on social media should be recognisable as you, or as your company.

Libby: By that, you mean that the stuff that you’re sharing on social media should have the same colour palette of your website and perhaps your logo and fonts should be similar. You shouldn’t go off on some crazy tangent on your social media just because you’ve been let loose on Canva.

Mark: No and that’s the thing. It’s very easy to get carried away. You know, I’m re-doing my website and there’s lots of little effects and things you can put into it. I know it’s early days of doing it. I was looking at it and thinking oh what I can do, I can do that. Then the answer is why? Does it add anything to do that? Probably not. And if not, don’t because if it’s done just purely because it looks a bit flashy. I suppose if it comes down to it and you think it could be defined as a bit of a gimmick, then probably don’t bother.

So again, it’s the consistency of fonts. Have a font or fonts. Doesn’t have to be one, but a couple you use for different things. You might have one for your brochures and things that you’re using as a body font or as a main font. But perhaps for social media, you want to do something a bit different. If you use a different font that needs to be either in keeping with everything you’re doing or at least not change every time – use it consistently again.

Libby: I think that’s the thing, isn’t it? You see so many social media posts where one day it’s comic sounds and the next day it’s times New Roman – there’s no correlation between those two fonts, whereas you could have three, four fonts within a sort of suite.

Mark: It’s a family normally is what you would refer to it. A family of fonts. Yeah, that the that’s the way we do it. The same with the colours – it doesn’t mean you have to have one colour for everything. I happen to use cyan for pretty much everything – it’s a nice clean colour. I know that every printer can print cyan and it doesn’t vary much between print different stocks. It might on screen give a slightly different version but I tend to use that. I use also an accent colour in orange for stuff on the website to highlight things. Just again, don’t go absolutely mad and have a huge rainbow of colours, then keep changing all the time. You can have again a palette of ten different colours but just be clear what you using for.

Libby: Some would be for bullet points or something, and you’ll need your main colours.

Mark: Certain things you might say, “OK, well this colour is used for our environmental posts” or this colour is used for something that’s less corporate, for fun if you’re doing something not wacky, but sort of throwing something in every so often, just as a bit of a bit of a bit of fun that might have a different colour associated. But somewhere in there you’ve got to have a base of something that says this is our corporate colour. They’re normally only one, two or three really.

The same applies for the fonts. Have one font that you use as a base for things. But perhaps a couple you use as an accent around that. If you use one font, you find something that works very nicely on screen for you or social media posts – OK, stick to that.

It might not be the one you’re using elsewhere, but people will get to recognise it. I’d say if you’re putting your logo or icons or something recognisable that you’re using, try to use that consistently. It won’t be necessarily every time, but try and use it most of the time and try and use it the same way. That doesn’t mean putting it in exactly the same place. If you’ve got a grid of space that you use from all sides, as long as it’s bottom right, top right, the same thing, then that that can work because it looks consistent. It doesn’t want to be in the middle for me and then it’s over the top corner because it’s just uniformity of branding, isn’t it? If you look at any big brands, you will always see that the logos and even if it is in a magazine that they produced, you will always see the logo in a certain place.

Libby: You’re right. What you’re saying, about colours, was really interesting because when you designed my logo, there was a certain sort of palette of colours that I said I wanted, including – the pink, purple, orange sort of circular spectrum but actually what I’ve done, which has surprised me more than anyone, is I’ve picked up the orange and that’s what I use throughout my social media. People who know that, can recognised that I use the orange a lot and it’s on my website the same.

There’s lots of orange all over, even though the logo itself has multiple colours in it. I think that’s quite interesting because, originally, I was intending on using the orange, the purple and the pink as it’s spread throughout, but actually I found it almost too jarring to pull them all out. What you’ve said actually has been really has been really interesting. I think it’s really useful for people that you have your main one, possibly two accent colours, but then more muted supplementary colours, I suppose. For me I use a cream or grey, which I like. It tones down or pops out the orange.

Mark: There’s something we used to say – where I used to work years ago we worked with the marketing team and the people there were talking about. We were doing MailChimp stuff at the time, amongst other things. But on the MailChimp they might say, OK, we’ve got this header image, can we make that heading stand out a bit more than another person? So now that doesn’t stand out and you go round. If everything is trying to attract more attention, then absolutely nothing does. I kept saying you can’t make everything stand out. You’ve got to pick the thing that’s most important. If you’ve got another thing that’s most important the one you picked first isn’t and you’ve got to try use the accents, then they pop out from the background. You can’t use that colour all the time. You couldn’t use the orange text all the time or it’ll do your head and it wouldn’t be very readable.

You’ve got to use those colours, sparingly. That’s the other thing, say that orange is your corporate colour, that doesn’t mean everything has to be orange, the background is orange and the images have to have an orange border. It could be that actually most of your stuff is a paler background but where you’ve got a button, where you’ve got a heading, you’ve got some of the emphasis of some kind, that’s where that that colour comes in.

That’s the key thing. It comes down to the white space side of things as well. White space and negative space. I would say a completely misnamed negative space. In logos the space where there’s something missing, but you see something in the background of it. So, like in the FedEx logo, in between the D and E or the E and X, I can’t remember, there’s a white arrow, but it’s not there.

Libby: OK I see within the fonts.

Mark: Yeah, the space left by the other letters. White space doesn’t have to be white – it just has to be mainly not filled with stuff.

Libby: Actually, we are an example of white space here. If anybody watching this doesn’t understand what we’re on about, then I am framed by white space because there’s nothing else but there’s nothing else there so the thing that stands out is the thing in the middle. Whereas with you, and this isn’t a criticism of you in the slightest, but just for demonstrative purposes, you’ve got a banner and stuff behind you. So actually, if we were text, I would stand out far more than you would. It’s quite a good visual representation.

Mark: Absolutely. This office is set up for networking and things normally but there is a wider view. You can see the banner behind me, which isn’t on yours. The blue banner, behind the door you know that’s another example from a roller banner and people have a habit of putting too much stuff on the wall. They think people are going to read the whole thing, they’re not. It’s what I tend to refer to as advanced wallpaper.

That’s all it is. It’s really to grab your attention towards that. That’s why there’s one big statement on one sentence or so on there and that’s it just to grab your attention. That’s just a bit of fun. Then the white space is all that space around it, because I could fill that with all my detail of every service I’ve ever done. I’ve seen one where the top half was their full postal address, which is stupid, because that’s one of the least important things. The most important thing is always the headline.

Libby: One of my first jobs was selling advertising space for the local paper and I got taught about and the AIDA method, the attention, interest, desire and action. You know, you catch the attention, you get a little bit more interest, then you create the desire and then that the other stuff is if people are reading that far down then you’ve got them, but you’re not going to say buy my stuff at the top because it’s like, well, hold on a minute.

Mark: Absolutely. Banners, I’ve seen really shocking examples of them.

I have to admit, I think it all applies across social media, Instagram, Facebook. It’s the same sort of thing – if you want to grab somebody’s attention. We’re all scrolling and scrolling, scrolling. It’s images that grabs attention generally, so a nice, appropriate image. You can go a bit more irreverent with it. Bit of personality really helps rather than being something dull, but something that’s not completely outside your brand as such. Your personality and having that hierarchy of information. So really over the main image for social media post, it should really just be a title to grab your attention. Maybe a few words at most really, because then the meat of it really is in the post that’s below or the words that go with it. Essentially, you’re just trying to grab the attention again, if you fill that space with everything, then you’re not going to achieve anything. People are going to move on. People have such little attention span.

Libby: Absolutely. You’ve got to grab it, haven’t you? I suppose that would mean that you do everything on a red background because red is attention grabbing. But it doesn’t it doesn’t work like that does it? We’re a bit savvier than that.

You know, it can be. When I started getting the thing about people doing videos on LinkedIn, or other social media platforms, when it’s just them in their car, they’ve just been to a meeting and they’re talking about what has happened. That looked unusual for a little while, and then everyone’s doing it.  Loads of these things float around. If you then switch to the next trend, then you’re not maintaining that consistency.

People have got to have something they recognise and feel comfortable when they scroll past it. But it’s got to grab your interest as well. Whitespace, the proportions or hierarchy it’s all about focussing in on what’s most important and then that order. First thing, is the image striking enough? And is it interesting enough to grab their attention? Have you got a nice, sharp little headline in there well-placed and well located? So it’s easy to read. If it is then they’ve stopped now and they will read the rest of it. Without that, it’s not going to work. Let’s say in the mobile usage, which I’m assuming you’re going to tell me the percentages.

Libby: It’s like 95% for social media.

Mark: Well, yes, because it’s got to be well over 60 percent for web use generally. You’ve got to think about the proportions. You don’t want people pinching and zooming to try and see what the hell you’ve put on there. It’s got to be legible at all those sizes. So, again, another reason not to put text on your image, because by the time it’s converted to a JPG, because you’ll export it as a JPG, I’m assuming from Canva and put it in there, it’s no longer text, it’s just pixels with everything else. It’ll pixilate if it’s too small and won’t even be clear.

Libby: Absolutely. One thing I’ve always said to my students over the years is it might look great on your screen. If you’re designing it, particularly something in Canva. Then see what it’s going to look like, when it is this big? You can see people thinking, oh, yeah, because profile pictures, particularly if they’re using pictures of people, if it’s very personal stuff, it doesn’t matter much. If you’re doing it for your business, whether it’s a picture of you or a logo, you have to think, right, well, perhaps if I’ve got Pixooma as my business name, yours, is that going to work in a tiny circular space like that? Or do I just do the P or an X or something? I think that’s something perhaps people do overlook a little. I think generally everybody’s getting a lot better because we’re getting a lot savvier and I’m talking about over the last kind of 10 years of teaching this stuff. But that really makes a difference.

So graphic design for social media is slightly different than graphic design for other mediums, because you have to microscope it. You have to make it so teensy that people can see it. I think what you’ve said about the use of whitespace, the space around and having fewer words, if you’re just doing text on a background, maybe the background is clear. Making sure everything is readable.

If you squint your eyes and stand at a distance before you download it to your phone and use it, that those things are really actually really good advice for looking at it.

Mark: It’s legibility, isn’t it? One thing you can do, which I’ve done a number of times where you’ve got text over an image the problem mostly is when there’s a change of contrast. So, if you’ve got an image which is quite dark and you can use lightning colour, like a white or whatever, if it’s quite light you can use one of your corporate colours or a grey or whatever, but you can use a darker colour. When you’ve got something that keeps switching. I’m trying to think of an example like a forest with sunlight behind it. What you can do is a subtle use of, putting drop shadows behind it. Now, drop-shadows can get a bit of a bad name because as soon as anybody’s first, time gets a little bit of software they put drop-shadows all over it. But if you if you put a drop shadow, that’s very subtle, very blurred out and behind the text. Realistically, what you can do is set it to a level where you can’t really notice there is a drop-shadow there, but when you switch off, you notice the text doesn’t jump anymore.

Libby: Yeah. It pushes it out, doesn’t it?

Mark: It just needs to be really subtle. If you can see your drop-shadow as such then you’ve probably made it too dark, but you’ll be able to do it quite subtly. Then if you switch that bit off, I don’t know how it works in Canva, a bit like Photoshop, you can just test and go actually that has improved. It’s subtle and it will help you.

Or you could choose to do something, make it easy on yourself. You can say, okay, well, my text is always going to be with an angle. Whatever it is always going to be in a box of my corporate colour with the text in white or something like that. So, it doesn’t matter what background you put on, your only then question is are you obstructing too much of the image? But again, you’ve got to try and work around it.

That’s thing you can see there’s lots of little things you can do and it’s about flexibility. This is why your logo should be available in multiple formats, as in there should be a white version of it, a black version of it, and it should be available in the bare minimum as a transparent PMG, because if you put your logo on any sort of post and it has to be in a big white box, it looks a bit naff.

Equally, if you put it on the colour version, on the image transparent and you can’t read it, then that doesn’t help either. If you’ve got a white version of it, that can sometimes help and sometimes you might have to mix. The other thing I’d say is probably don’t try and mash together something because you like the elements. If it’s not working together, if the text you’ve got is obscuring the image and it’s not working do a different image, do a different text, or if the image makes it complicated to do something, it doesn’t matter how good the images is, if it’s not working don’t spend ages mashing things together.

Libby: That’s the point, I can spend hours just tweaking one thing, one click to the left kind of thing and it’s all about remembering actually what it’s for, how it will be viewed, what lifespan it has, because things on social media the algorithm might give you a couple of days if you’re extremely lucky, but realistically speaking scroll, scroll, scroll, gone.

It’s got to be relevant. It’s got to be quick for you to create with all the elements that you’ve mentioned in, but also, you know, reflective of what actually it is that you’re that you’re sharing in the medium that you’re using. I think that we can all get a bit bogged down with this.

Mark: Yeah, it’s effort versus reward and don’t get distracted by the fiddling around with it for three hours because it’s not going to gain you anything. We had that many, many years ago. A director who played around with an image for a header of a website for one particular page. Three weeks. I think it was about 40 different photographs. It’s just something that is viewed for seconds. If it’s not wrong and it’s consistent, perfecting it is not going to help you.

You can make those things. If you’ve got it in Canva, you’ve got sort of grid lines set up and you’ve got position where always put your logos in one of those positions is always centred or whatever that helps you make that stuff quicker and that’s more efficient.

Libby: I completely agree. Efficiency is the name of the game, really. What would you say to kind of sum up then, what would be your top tip? Top two tips for somebody who is wanting to create their own social media posts and make them look half decent.

Mark: I’d say it’s not an easy thing to do, but keep it simple. It’s very easy to make things over complicated. Keep it simple, because then it’s easy to deal with more versatile generally. Keep it consistent. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but have a consistency to what you’re doing. Those two things will help you across all of the all of your design materials, whatever you’re creating. And because there will be an obvious family. Take Apple, for instance. You can tell it’s their stuff without their logo, without their words.

Libby: That’s simplicity to the extreme, isn’t it? But so beautiful. Yeah.

Mark: Yeah. Simplicity and consistency, I would say that’s a damn good start point. That’s a good foundation.

Libby: Super, I think that’s excellent. I think that’s absolutely spot on and it’s been really good. It’s really helpful, really useful for people watching. I really appreciate you giving your time as well and sharing your top tips there for us all. If you scroll through and spot any glaring errors, particularly on mine, then do let me know.

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