Posts Tagged ‘design tools’

Tools of the Trade: What’s on My Desk

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Mix Creative owner, Katrina Hase, in her office (photo by Rod Wilson,

Ever since I was a little girl, I could walk into an art store and my feel my heart flutter: the smells of paints and wax crayons, the rows of markers, pencils and erasers of all shapes and sizes, and the stacks of empty sketch pads and canvases just waiting for someone to fill them with their ideas.

Today, as a designer, I’m lucky enough to be  surrounded by art supplies: the tools of my trade. (Not that I wouldn’t mind a few more!) Here’s a sample of some of the items on my desk and why they’re there:

  • Prismacolor markers. The gold standard of marker rendering, these markers have the ability to blend and shade, bringing sketches to life. And while I really don’t do a lot of marker rendering any more (I scan my sketches and color them in Photoshop), it’s still fun to pick them up once in a while and add a punch of color to a drawing.
  • Blank Journals in Mix Colors. Any time I see a blank journal with Mix’s teal and red combo, I snap one up. Sure, regular notebooks would provide the same function, but there’s something about taking notes in a journal that makes note-taking seem like an event.
  • Pantone Plus Series chip books. My newest purchase, these are really valuable in communicating colors to clients to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples, so to speak. Why? Colors shift from monitor to monitor and printer to printer. The chips provide a point of reference in our color discussions. My Christmas wishlist? Make the darn things easier to search for color numbers!
  • Swingline stapler in slate blue. Sigh. Just love the retro design—it reminds me of visiting my dad’s office when I was little.
  • Spyder 3 monitor color calibration tool. This little three sided electronic doo-hickey suction cups to my screen and takes measurements, then sends the information to the accompanying software to make sure I’m seeing colors as they’re meant to appear on screen.
  • Dictionary and thesaurus. In the marketing world, finding just the right word can give you an edge over your competitors. These tools are simple yet effective for punching up ad copy.
  • E scale. This clever little design tool has the capital letter E typed on a clear background in sizes ranging from 6pt to 84pt. It’s a great reference to tell me how small is too small, and it can help me reverse engineer type sizes from a previous campaign if a client is wanting me to recreate a look.
  • Pantone Color Bridge color fan. Like the Pantone chips, this color palette tool provides a color reference. But unlike the chips, this tool shows how a true PMS formula will look when printed with CMYK inks. It’s helpful to know when selecting a color whether a color will shift a lot when it prints digitally from the color you specified from a Pantone chip.
  • 14″ x 17″ marker paper and Sharpie Markers. A formidable duo when sketching layouts or concepting for logos.

Setting yourself up with the tools of the trade makes work flow easier and more accurate, and even provides a boost of creativity. What’s in your office and why? I’d love to hear from you…leave a comment below!

This book by. . .your company!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Think your company writes the book on its specialty area? Well, now you can show it—literally—by creating custom, hard cover books and have them printed in quantities from one to hundreds.

Folksy books.
I first discovered the “self-publishing” trend when I met Karen Bradley, who creates and sells books for clients through the company Heritage Makers. Karen makes some really touching and compelling books for her clients, documenting family histories, sharing stories and pictures that children create, and capturing wedding memories. When I visited the Heritage Makers website, I learned that their business is built on network marketing, which can be a turn off to many. That said, there’s the option of purchasing directly from the site or through vendors like Karen, which makes the company more attractive to people who simply want to have a book made. I was impressed with the quality of the books, which come in nearly a dozen different sizes, are available with slipcovers or self-cover hard books, and have hundreds of design templates from which you may select (Note: most of the designs seemed pretty folksy and scrapbook-y, making them better suited for family stories, in my opinion).

My investigation into Heritage Makers started my brain churning about how books could be used as a marketing tool for businesses. It seemed like a great way to showcase a portfolio, for example. I mentioned it to Rod Wilson, a photographer I work with.

Photographer’s Books and Albums.
“Oh yeah—books are great!” He told me. “I make books for my wedding clients.” He pointed me to another online resource, ZookBinders. Their products, the ZookBook and the PhotoBook, are beautiful, professional-quality albums that are bound as books. The PhotoBook is more similar to what I saw at Heritage Makers, featuring a hardcover book with bound pages and a printed, wraparound cover. They come in square, vertical, and horizontal formats and have templates to assist you with the design. Frustratingly, I wasn’t able to view the prices online without making a call to their sales department. Overall, the books seemed great for photographers, but limited in their use for other applications.

Finally, Business Books!
And then I stumbled upon Blurb books. I actually found the site while checking out the latest Webby Award winners (their site received an award for 2008). Like the others, they offer a variety of sizes/formats, templates for ease of design, and several cover options. But unlike the other sites, the prices are listed up front (with no pressure to become a distributor), and they offer both hard and soft cover options. Best of all, they’re affordable! A 7″ square, hardcover book runs just $22.95, depending on the number of pages (page numbers can range from 20 to 440).

Publishing Your Work=Good For Business.


I visited Blurb’s “Book Ideas” link on their site and finally found what I was seeking:  examples of commercial applications for this super-cool self-publishing tool. Architects, contractors and interior designers show off their work with images and text! Ad agencies trumpet their work! Retail companies explain the philosophy behind their product choices!

Imagine making that next presentation to a potential client and handing them a book—a bound, hardcover book—with their name and logo on the cover. It’s possible now! How cool is this?

My mind is still spinning around the potential uses for self-published hardcover books, and I get excited each time I think of another application. But I think there are some general criteria you may consider when thinking about whether a printed book is a good idea for your company:

  1. Is there a visual presentation you give over and over? Maybe it would be better demonstrated with an oversized book that you can walk through with your prospects. I’m thinking it’s great for home or commercial contractors (window installers, remodelers, interior designers, floor and window treatment companies, architects, etc). I can see the potential for artists as well: photographers and photography brokers, fine artists, gallery owners, graphic artists, ad agencies, and more. For large clients with big budgets, consider printing a personalized copy to leave behind.
  2. Have you achieved a business milestone? A book may be a good way to commemorate a business milestone, or to thank a long-term employee or retiree for their work with the company. If it’s the former, you could print the book and share it with your key clients as a thank you and a self-promotion.
  3. Do you want an edge in presenting a business proposal? A book may be just the thing to give you an edge over your competition.
  4. Education. Does your company have a strong philosophical or educational perspective that would be beneficial to share? Publishing a book would be a great way to gain visibility and define your business as an authority in its market. You already know so much about what you do—put it down for others to see!
  5. Thank you books. What better way to reward customers than to publish photos of their completed project for them? Think about it. They’re happy because you took the time and expense to create the book for them, they share the book with others, and you get more referrals!
  6. Fun! Show off your company culture with a book. Create illustrations, fun stories, word finds, crossword puzzles, find-the-mistakes pictures, and any number of activities in a book with your company as the theme.

Books are a cultural icon. They don’t get tossed out. They’re substantial. They’re pleasant to touch and hold!

As always, don’t let the lure of a new graphic tool let you slip from your branding! No matter the subject of your book, make sure the fonts, layout, colors, and graphic elements mesh with your company’s existing brand. Let your designer tinker with the book publisher’s templates—that’s their job!

Want more ideas for how books can be used to promote your company? Mix Creative can help you think it through, from conception to design and production. Give us a call at 612 226-5717 or email us to request a quote.

Other resources for self-publishing:, iphoto books, snapfish, and myPublisher. Know other self-publishing resources? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!