Archive for the ‘Design Tricks and Tips’ Category

A Refreshing Tale of a Brand Refresh

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

High-end, small-run business card printer,, has been publishing some pretty cool stuff on its blog. For example, this recent post about 500px’s brand refresh.

I’ve written about brand refreshes in the past (When is it time for a brand refresh?) and have shown some of our examples (Announcing Our Newest Site Design & Build, Recent Work: GNO Refresh)but what makes the MOO article so rich is that it presents the specific challenges the brand was facing, then documents the process with photos and interviews—so you get a bit of a behind-the-scenes look.

Like Mix Creative, the firm selected for the brand refresh started with a discovery process, including a business and competitive audit, before beginning the design phase. Starting from this point, the goals of the project are clear, enabling the designer to define what a successful brand will convey and give focus to the creative process. Of course, simply having goals doesn’t always simplify the task at hand, as demonstrated by this quote from the article:

 “The mark had to ‘read 500px, connote the URL, focus on photography, and clearly evoke technology AND photography — and make the connection obvious.’”

As simple as that!

In this case, the creative concepting phase by the team lasted eight weeks and resulted in over 50 concepts. Here at Mix, we typically don’t have the luxury of such a lengthy timeline, but certainly this enables the group to fully explore and refine their ideas.

Example of completed brand refresh.

The selected logo and abbreviated mark work in tandem to convey the 500px brand. Image courtesy of 500px via Design by Focus Lab.

In the end, the client selected designs for a full-name logo and an abbreviated mark that could be used together to convey the brand. What do you think of the results?

More Design Profession Q & A

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013


Here’s another interview I recently completed for a student at the Art Institute International MN. Enjoy!

1.  Tell me about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?

I went to Winona State University and graduated with a major in Psychology. I went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota to work toward a PhD in Neuroscience, but left after two years (and straight As!) to take a job at the Science Museum of Minnesota as an exhibit developer. I led the development of new exhibits, working with copywriters, builders, programmers, designers and marketing professionals.

In the process, I fell in love with the design aspect of my work. I enrolled in the Graphic Design and Visual Communication program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College to pursue an AAS in graphic design while still working my full-time job at SMM.

I graduated in 2005, and worked for a year as a freelance graphic designer for a number of Twin Cities design firms. I later landed a job as an Art DIrector at a St. Paul-based advertising agency. It was a dream at first—great digs, fun clients and challenging work. But later, I realized the owner was over billing, encouraging us to cut corners on the design to make a quick buck, and not providing the type of service our clients deserved.

So in 2007, I left that job and founded Mix Creative, with a commitment  to provide clear, effective and consistent brand communication across media, while delivering top-of-the-line service with integrity.

2.  What is your job like? What challenges do you face as a designer?

My job is rewarding and demanding. I love getting to know my clients and their businesses and feel a great reward in being a part of their success. On the down side, when you’re good at what you’re do, you become in demand. It’s difficult to manage my time and projects to keep everyone happy at once.


Design Profession Q & A

Monday, July 8th, 2013

I was approached today by a design student, asking me if I could answer three questions about being a graphic designer. I thought it might be helpful to other aspiring designers out there if I published my answers here.

Q. Could you describe one of your typical workdays?

A. A typical workday for me breaks down into four types of tasks:

  • 20%…Communication: reading and responding to emails from clients, answering the phone and returning calls
  • 5%…Marketing: Posting to my blog or Facebook page to stay in front of my current audiences
  • 60%…Design: Working on projects —by sketching; researching (studying clients’ target audiences, looking at trends, finding stock photos); designing comps using Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign; editing websites using Dreamweaver or WordPress; posting social media updates for clients
  • 15%…Project management: keeping track of projects in progress, adding new projects, billing completed projects

Q. What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?

A. Skills required for the type of work I do include:

  • Technology: fluent in CS5.5, Microsoft Office, Dreamweaver; proficient in CSS and HTML; Very knowledgeable in using/customizing/best practices for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, email programs (Constant Contact, MailChimp); proficient in using and troubleshooting hardware such as Mac computers, iPhone, external hard drives, printers, scanners, online faxing
  • Personal skills: Need to be able to communicate effectively with clients, which translates to being able to listen and reflect back what you hear, then present potential solutions.
  • Business skills: Need to be comfortable with being your own salesperson—some knowledge of sales techniques is extremely helpful.
  • Organizational skills: Need to be able prioritize your work and organize it well in your calendar and on your computer. Need to be able to coordinate the work of your vendors, as well.
  • Communication: Need to be able to provide progress/status updates to clients and communicate any additional costs before they incur. Also need to be able to communicate needs to vendors.
  • Design skills: Need to have a solid understanding of the principals of design and typography. Should have a very good understanding/background in the principals of marketing as well. Additionally, it’s very helpful to be a good writer and proficient in grammar.

Q. Why do people leave this field or company?

A.  Why people leave this field…

I’ve known other designers to transition from full-time positions to freelancer positions, then back to full-time positions again. It has a lot to do with the balance of earning a steady paycheck vs. creative freedom. Others I know who have transitioned from this field retired to pursue their own fine art or teach design. I don’t know anyone who just left graphic design to do something completely different. Honestly, I think once you’re in it, its hard to imagine not having your fingers in how the world around us is presented. It kind of runs in the blood after a while!

Animated History of Typography

Monday, May 20th, 2013

One of my colleagues shared this animated short about this history of typography and I liked it so much, I thought I’d share it with all of you! It’s important as a designer to understand where type came from so that you understand the underlying historical references you’re making in the selection of a particular typeface.



All is Not Equal

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013


The other day, I came across this sign at the entrance of a Sports Authority:



The two equally sized signs seemed to have conflicting messages: “Welcome/Come In” and “Not an Entrance/Get Lost”. I literally had to study the handles on the doors to determine what I was expected to do. Eventually I figured it out, but I was still left with a rather jarring sense that I wasn’t wanted here.

The problem with these signs is that they failed to communicate a hierarchy. Yes, it’s important that folks not get smacked with customers exiting the door to the right, but it’s MOST important that customers feel welcomed into the store using the appropriate door, right?

Hierarchy is a principal in design in which messages are communicated visually in the order of importance. A design with no hierarchy leaves the observer to their own wits to decipher meaning. A more appropriate visual hierarchy of the above example would look something like this:

Improved-HierarchyThis example clearly welcomes visitors to the left door, while also appropriately discouraging use of the incorrect door. The message is quickly read and deciphered and the visitor feels welcomed.

Make sure you consider hierarchy in the design of everything you present for your company. Know which messages are most important to communicate quickly to your audiences and make sure graphic layouts support those messages!



RECENT WORK: Holiday Ideas

Monday, November 12th, 2012


All Seasons Wild Bird Store customers will receive a holiday gift guide for bird lovers this week. The eight-page direct mail booklet highlights gift ideas for all kinds of bird and nature enthusiasts, from seed and feeders to decorative gifts and nature books. Included on the back are two coupons—one for a free 2lb. bag of Cardinal Mix, and another for savings in-store.

Mix Creative wrote, photographed and designed the holiday guide with an eye towards spotlighting winter birding. “My favorite gift idea in the book is to sneak out on Christmas morning and fill your friend or family member’s bird feeders,” art director Katrina Hase mentioned. “Knowing how cold it can get when you go out to fill  feeders, I think that would be nice to wake up to!”

All Seasons Wild Bird Store Holiday Gift GuideGift guides are a great way for customers to visualize your products in a new way and generate enthusiasm for shopping your store over the holidays. Besides Christmas, you might consider preparing a gift guide for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s or Father’s Day, or even the typical wedding months of June and July.

Top 3 Items (Besides a Logo) Every Brand Must Have

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012


Note: this article is reprinted from our monthly e-digest, >the mixer. Click here to be added to our email list.

All about us


For companies that are serious about defining their brand and audiences, a creative brief is the essential first step. Here at Mix, our work with a new client starts with an in-depth question and answer session with our clients that gets to the heart of their business. From there, we prepare a written creative brief that guides the work we do together. What’s in the guide? For starters: the company’s objectives, audiences, competitors, personality, unique selling points and much more. The brief paints a picture of the company from past to present and into the future, and informs all of the visual choices we make about the brand throughout the design process.


Color PaletteDetermining a company’s color palette is about more than aesthetics—it’s setting the groundwork for creating readily recognizable designs to represent your business. A brand’s color palette takes into account the logo colors, primary and secondary text colors, colors for links and rollover states, accent colors, seasonal or specific product variations and more. The color palette is crafted to set your brand apart from competitors and express your brand’s personality. Implemented correctly, a brand’s color palette should be as recognizable by audiences as their logo. To prove my point, answer the following: what colors to Target employees wear? What are the colors of the Walmart logo?

Brand Fonts3) BRAND FONTS

Simply put, fonts influence meaning. Imagine you see a billboard for two similar retail shops. Billboard 1 features a sleek, edgy font you’ve never seen before. Billboard 2 features Arial, a font available on any PC. Which retail shop do you assume has a larger marketing budget? Which do you imagine is more successful? It’s incredibly important for a brand to select an appropriate font or set of fonts to use as part of their brand identity and stick to it. Consumers will come to associate the font with your brand, serving as a sort of mental shortcut in conveying your brand message. See our blog post for more on selecting fonts (including a fun mind-bending activity!).

Can You Spot the Typography Errors?

Monday, July 2nd, 2012


Today I was behind this lovely landscaping truck at a stoplight, giving me ample time to observe (and photograph) the typography of its bumper graphics. Unfortunately, a lot of the type could use some tweaks. Can you spot the “no-no”s?

A traveling typography lesson

Can you spot the typography flaws in this design?

  1. Generic font choice. The fonts used for this company’s logo lack imagination. It appears that the designer used a combination of Helvetica and Times, two of the most common fonts available. Selecting such common fonts fails to make the logo memorable and speaks to too large of an audience. A more specialized, lesser-used type face would be more likely to stand out against competitors and set a tone for the company’s brand personality.
  2. Type over a photo.Though it’s quite common to see type set against a photo, in execution it can be quite difficult.
    Type over a photo

    Proper placement of type over a photo. The logo was inverted for better contrast and placed in a region of the photo that was darker with less visual clutter.

    The designer here has chosen to lay the type over a busy part of the photograph, making it difficult to to see the contrast of the type against the background. A better option would have been to select a photo that had a large portion of “type space” in it instead. Examples of type space might include a region of blue sky, a grassy lawn, or a dark area, such as the rocks in the foreground of the photo they selected. If no other photo option were available, it would have been best to create a photo-free dedicated area of the layout for type, or to apply a subtle effect to part of the photo to blur or dull a region of the photo.

  3. Too many type effects.The designer here applied multiple type effects, most likely in attempt to solve the problem of too little
    Typography: too many text effects

    A close-up of the text shows outlined type, 3-dimensional shadows and highlights applied, and an orange glow effect.

    contrast between the type and the photo background. In doing so, however, the type has become more difficult to read! The green outline on the orange type makes the type look blurred from a short distance (as does the dark orange border around the tagline!). Plus, the designer here has applied a three-dimensional effect to the letters that neither enhances readability nor reinforces the brand (are we to surmise from the dimensional letters that they use a lot of rocks in their designs?) When it comes to effects, I’m of the camp that less  is more; a designer should have a good reason—that is, a good branding reason (the effect reinforces an element of the brand’s unique products or services)—for applying an effect to type.

My intent for sharing this example is only to instruct. It’s often by redesigning others’ layouts that we learn more effective solutions than the ones presented. Is this a bad designer who did this? I doubt it. With so many do-it-yourself print sites out there now, and plenty of people who don’t want to spend the time or money on good design, this type of layout is an inevitable result. Just remember, if you don’t invest in your brand, it will be more difficult to get clients to invest in you!

E-newsletter Resources

Friday, June 29th, 2012


Did you know that most email services offer excellent customer education and support? Chances are, if you’re struggling, there’s a video or resource to show you how to do what you want to do. Here’s a sampling of some great tutorial guides and videos from two popular services.

Constant Contact Video Tutorials: (more…)