Designers have the awesome opportunity to explore a variety of projects ranging in size, format and execution. But what happens when you need to design something that centers around one core design? How do you ensure that your designs are unique to the format, but consistent across different sizes?
When I first started out as a designer, I worked for a nonprofit as their marketing director. I created everything from brochures and posters to postcards and print ads and everything needed a consistent marketing design throughout. Today, I'm working on similar campaigns for a variety of clients, but what I learned at the beginning still holds true throughout my projects.
In this tutorial, I'm sharing my top three tips that will not only help you plan out your print designs, but show you how to maintain a consistent design across your entire project.
After the tutorial, be sure to check out my complete course on Print Marketing Design and see how to apply these tips to real print marketing projects.
Before we dive into the tips, let's first explore what exactly a cohesive design is. At the core, a cohesive design means that you have matching design elements throughout. These design elements can be anything including colors, fonts and images. It doesn't matter what size each design is or that every piece of content in the design is identical. What does matter is that these items are seen throughout and develop a strong unified visual relationship. For example, let's say you are designing a postcard, poster, flyer and brochure for a charity event. Maintaining a cohesive design means that you will see the same colors, images and font styles across all four items.
The beauty of this concept is that it can apply to virtually any design project either in print or online. So once you are comfortable with building cohesive designs, you can apply this concept throughout your projects.
Hierarchy is one of my most favorite and prominent steps to building a cohesive design. It not only separates the most important visual information from the rest, it creates a road-map for the eye as it scans your design. If you want to take your designs to the next level, consider implementing hierarchy.
The best way to first explore hierarchy is through font sizes and colors. As you get more familiar you can expand this into other design elements like images. In the below example, you can see a brochure before and after hierarchy techniques have been applied to the text.
On the left, all of the core text is the same size and color. It's also not really easy to scan. Hierarchy to the rescue! In the right example, you can see that larger headlines have been added to break up the long blocks of text and a new color is introduced to further separate the headlines. The trick here is to choose a dominant color that you will use throughout your designs. In this case, a dark purple is used as the headline text. Therefore, we can use that same dark purple throughout our design in text and design elements such as shapes and backgrounds. This alone will create an awesome unified design across our brochures, postcards, posters, print ads, etc.
2. Font Types and Size Proportions
You just saw how to use hierarchy in fonts, but there is another trick that you can apply to your font choices that will further solidify a cohesive design. I'm talking font types and proportions with sizing.
You should ideally limit font types to just three in your designs and use those same fonts throughout. To simplify the choices, I choose a dominate font that will be used primarily throughout all core text. This could be for you main paragraph text if you have lots of content, or just the main text areas like in the example below.
Next, I'll choose a complimentary font. If you are working with mostly san serif fonts, you can use two that work well together. In the example below, you'll see a dominant san serif font for the logo, event and website while a complimentary san serif font is used for the rest of the text.
Finally, I'll choose a highlight font that greatly varies from my other two choices. This could be a serif font or even a script font that is used sparingly throughout your design. The highlight font creates visual interest in certain areas of your design and breaks up the monotony of using only a san serif font.
You can punch up your fonts by using the same fonts from your logo, alternate sizes, font weights and colors to emphasize important text. Once you settle on specific sizes for your text, make sure to use that same setup throughout all of your designs. You may have to actually shrink the text to fit a smaller format, but the actual proportions would remain similar. That helps create a cohesive design regardless of size.
3. Image Size and Placement
Images are a great way to create a cohesive design. They are the core part of your design that is most likely to attract someone to it. You will want to work with a few select images and just like with fonts, vary the sizes and placement according to the print item. Also, decide which images should be featured on all print materials. There are some you'll need to forgo due to size restrictions.
For example, below you can see a print ad on the left and the front of a tri-fold brochure on the right. Together, the font and color choices have created a unified design. The 3 core images are also carried across, but sized and placed differently to accommodate the size differences of the print ad and brochure. The logo is also represented a little different with the ball of stars in the green bar versus stacked above the text at the top of the brochure.
These size differences allow for flexibility in your design workflow and won't break a cohesive design. You actually want a little variety to keep things interesting. The fact that you use the same images throughout your design creates that unified look.
Bringing it All Together
Maintaining a hierarchy in your font and image sizes as well as bringing most of them across all of your designs creates a cohesive design. It really doesn't matter which item you start with. Look at your content and design plan at the beginning and determine which items are key to your design's core. That will help you decide which items need to appear on all of your print materials and will definitely create a solid visual experience for your audience. Don't be afraid to mix it up by varying your sizes and placement. As long as you maintain a relatively similar proportion across your items, you'll sustain a unified design.
Remember, it's not about creating an identical design. It's about creating one that is flexible across multiple formats but retains some sort of visual similarity. When you look at all your pieces together, they should clearly belong.
Now it's time to apply these tips! Be sure to check out my complete course on Print Marketing Design. You'll learn the basics to get you started thinking about a cohesive marketing design, apply it to five design projects and prep everything through the printing process.
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