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The Art of Design #30: No Budget? You need DIY Design 101.

Starting a small business? Launching a website? Then you’ll probably need a logo or some graphics to help create a business card, home page, brochure, letterhead, landing page, email or other promotional material or online presence.

If you don’t have the skills to design a logo, you can either deplete your already undernourished budget to have it done by a professional — or you can take matters into your own hands.

(Now, before all you graphic designers start sending me hate letter and death threats, let me say that you’ll get your turn. Let’s just get this business off the ground and earning some cash to hire you at a later date!)

Here are the basics on how to get a creative project done on no budget:

Simplify and subtract:
A highly-trained, experienced graphic designer can combine a wide range of objects into a stylish design. Chances are you’re not prepared to do this. That’s when it’s time to go minimalist. With words, too. Less is more. Most people overwrite by 20%-33%; cut a fifth to a third of your text.

Apply common sense:
Every element you choose must reinforce your theme:
An old-fashioned font on a technological product or service? Wong.
Pink for a brochure describing your Septic Tank Service? Nope.
Grey for a mailer for a Kids Birthday Party Venue?  Sorry.
If it doesn’t support the theme, it doesn’t belong.

Browse and borrow.
Get one, or maybe two, defining graphic elements from one of the many sites where artists with way more skill than you make their work freely available. Some examples are:

stock.xchg. The kind of stock photos you’d get from a pay site, organized and easy to search.
flickr. Thousands of amateur, but often highly-skilled photographers post here, and many of them are happy to let you use their photos.
Open Clip Art Library. Tons of well-drawn and often with unrestricted usage. NOTE: the site isn’t searchable, but you can download the whole library for free!
everystockphoto and PicFindr, which are sites that search a number of different free photography sites.

Be sure to check the terms and conditions before you use a download from these sites. Become familiar with the assorted licenses and the specific usage they permit, require and prohibit. Stock.xchg has its own terms, and individual contributors sometimes add other requirements such as attribution, linking to them, informing them or even asking permission from them before you use the work. Flickr uses the Creative Commons licenses, and you can search by either on Flickr itself or on flickrCC, which presents the pictures in an easy-to-view format.

Pick the right type.
Use two, or maybe three at most, clean, legible fonts. Be careful that you don’t treat your project like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Too many amateur graphic design pieces look like a tornado in a type foundry.

One font for headings, one for body text, and maybe one more for special elements is a safe guideline to use. Look right on your computer first. There are dozens of fonts already there. If you don’t have the right one, there are plenty of free font sites around.

Two that are easy to use and well-organized are urbanfonts and better fonts.

Let color bring it to life.
Use three, maybe four, coordinated colors:
An excellent site for finding colors that harmonize is EasyRGB. It’s for web designers, but you can use it, too. Pick a main color and then let EasyRGB show you the best matches for it.

Final assembly.
Use Inkscape to bring it all together: Inkscape is free software, and is easy to learn. You can do pretty much anything you need with it for basic graphic design. Align the elements with each other so that the reader’s eye moves through them without interruption.

Or you can Google your way to loads of FREE downloadable templates for just about anything you need: business cards, post cards, letterhead, brochures, booklets, flyers, menus, sell sheets, tickets, greeting cards, posters, and many others.

If and when you can afford it, you’ll want to use a proper graphic designer; they’re worth it. But DIY Design isn’t as hard as you thought, and it may be the only option your budget will allow.

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