How NOT to Design Your Own Marketing Materials

If you take a do-it-yourself approach to marketing your small biz, you'll want to avoid these 10 common design disasters.

By John Williams

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Have you ever noticed how many articles there are on creating your own marketing materials? These articles concentrate on things you "should do," offering such sage advice as "Know your audience," "Say it with pictures" or "Write clearly and distinctly." Now I'm not saying any of that is bad advice. But you should also know what not to do. That's what this article is about. Or more specifically, it's about what most do-it-yourselfers are tempted to do--but shouldn't.

Nothing screams "Design Novice" like the following 10 mistakes:

1. Don't enlarge your logo so it's the main focus of the page. Yes, your logo features the name of your company. But it's not the main point. People are interested in what you're selling, not who you are. In fact, the smaller your logo, the more established your company will appear. If you don't believe me, check out ads by pros like Nike or Hewlett-Packard.

2. Don't place your logo in the text of your piece. Of course it's fine to use the name of your company in the text of any of your marketing materials, but inserting your actual logo into a headline or body copy is design suicide.

3. Don't use every font at your disposal. Choose one or two fonts for all your materials to build brand equity. Your font choices should be consistent with your image and your industry. For example, a conservative industry = a conservative font.

4. Don't use color indiscriminately. More color doesn't necessarily make something more appealing. Often it just makes it loud and off-putting. When someone screams at you, do you want to listen or run away? Most, if not all, your text should be the same color, preferably black for readability. For a unique look, try duotone photographs or print in two colors.

5. Don't be redundant. Don't repeat the name of your industry or product in your company name and your tagline and your headline. I once had a client request that the word "pharmaceutical" appear in his logo, his tagline and in the headline of his marketing brochure. This was totally unnecessary and even harmful. Potential customers know your industry. Restating it implies you don't.

6. Don't choose low-quality or low-resolution photography. A photo may look great in an album, but unless it features balanced lighting and good composition, it's not print-worthy. Photos need to be at least 300 dpi. And yes, people can tell the difference.

7. Don't fill up every inch of white space on the page. White space, or negative space, brings focus to what's important and gives the eye a rest. You may have a lot to say, but cramming it all in creates chaos and minimizes impact. Your piece will end up visually overwhelming. Think less, not more.

8. Don't focus on the details of your product or service; instead, focus on how it benefits your audience. Unless your product is extremely technical, make your offering relevant to your audience by emphasizing its benefits, not its features. Otherwise it's like going to a party and talking about yourself all night. That's not exactly the best way to win friends or gain customers.

9. Don't do exactly what your competitors are doing. When you're positioning your product, it's good to know your competition. But don't copy them. Find out what your customers want and are attracted to. Stand out without sticking out.

10. Don't change design styles with every marketing piece you create. Strive for a consistent look and feel, keeping the same fonts and logo placement. If you use photos in one ad, don't use illustrations in another. If you place your logo in the middle of one brochure, don't place in at the top-right corner in another. You get the gist.

Finally, do be clear, clean, compelling and consistent. You'll end up looking--and selling--like a pro.

John Williams

John Williams is the founder and president of, the world's first do-it-yourself logo design website. During John's 25 years in advertising, he's created brand standards for Fortune 100 companies like Mitsubishi and won numerous awards for his design work.

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