About the Author
Sarah is co-director of Malvolio. She brings her creative skills to the business, and loves concept development in commercial projects, illustration, and working on various self-initiated paper craft projects in her spare time.
Forms come in all kinds of formats and sizes. It’s one of those things we all take for granted – we don’t really pay attention to a form until it doesn’t work. If it’s difficult to understand or complete, it becomes bothersome.
The technology available to use for forms is improving in leaps and bounds. While we used to be tied to paper forms, a lot can be done via computer now. We are regularly converting forms from paper to interactive PDF or online.
The “in-between” option from paper to online is PDF format. This gives people the flexibility of printing out the form, or completing it on their computer. In PDFs (when set up correctly), form fields can be made interactive, where they can be typed into on-screen. Buttons can even be placed in the PDF to save, print or email the completed form.
The downside to interactive PDF forms is that not all programs that open PDFs support the interactive fields. At this stage, they seem to work best in Adobe Acrobat. Opening PDFs in browsers is possible, but completing the form fields is not always an available option (such as in Microsoft Edge). We’re hoping that the support of interactive PDFs will become more common.
I personally think the biggest reason for the demand in converting to online is that payment can be completed within the form. There’s no need for someone to post a form and attach a cheque, or hope their direct deposit arrives some time after their form. Payments and form entries are easier to reconcile when they are completed together.
Online forms can use a feature called conditional logic, which is really handy for complex forms. Instead of having a paper form that tells you to skip pages depending on your circumstances, the online form does the “skipping” for the user. They won’t see all of the extra fields they didn’t need to complete – they are only shown the fields relevant to them. So what looks like a daunting form on paper can feel very straightforward when using conditional logic.
The forms can include the option to upload files, which would normally need to be sent separately.
Online forms are also easy to export data from. The details can be placed into a spreadsheet, making it easy to import the data into other programs. And no need to manually type out each entry.
I think that online forms will eventually be the only type of forms we will use in everyday life, but we’re not quite there…not just yet.
We have clients across a broad range of industries, and each industry uses graphic design in different ways. Design can be much more than just your logo and business stationery.
An example I’ll use is our client Harigon Gourmet Foods. As a supplier to supermarkets, butchers and other food stores, packaging and shelf presence have high priority. As their products are quite specialised, making the contents easy to identify at a quick glance has been important too.
Due to the different types of products, different packaging solutions have been designed. These include:
- Complete packaging, where the entire box or pouch is designed.
- Full colour labels, unique to each product.
- Generic labels, where product details can be added as an overprint.
For promoting the products, we have designed various posters and information flyers. A recent project was to design a promotional table for in-store taste tests of their products.
Graphic design can be used by businesses in many different ways. How does your business use design to improve your sales?
There is nothing like seeing our work out and about – we still get a buzz from it, no matter how many years we’ve been doing this for! We spotted the flags we designed for Pets’ Day Out in Frankston today. The event is coming up in a few weeks, on October 14.
There are numerous content management systems for websites out there. We use WordPress for our clients’ websites – but why WordPress?
Being supported by a huge community of developers, there is a lot of benefit in using a widely popular system:
- It is automatically updated regularly, keeping it secure and current with modern browsers.
- There are a lot of plugins available to extend the functions of your website. Things such as forms, online stores, social media connections, etc are easy to add.
- Those plugins are also regularly updated from their developers to keep in line with the main system updates.
- While we provide customised how-to guides and one-on-one training for each client, there is an abundance of guides, articles and forum conversations publicly accessible online too.
Easy to Update
WordPress has one of the most simple user interfaces we’ve come across. For those clients who still might feel overwhelmed, the user interface can be customised even further to the most basic set of buttons. It’s easy for anyone to maintain; I normally refer to that if you are familiar with typing a document in Microsoft Word, you’ll be able to use WordPress (there are a lot of familiar formatting options).
There are also nifty little features, such as autosave while you’re typing, a dynamic word counter, and even the ability to schedule pages and posts to publish on a set day and time.
Easy to Expand
We work with a lot of start-up businesses who don’t need a large website initially, but have plans for expanding later on. WordPress is one of the most friendly systems I’ve ever worked on to expand a website. Whether it’s adding new pages to the menu sometimes, or to the extreme of adding a full eCommerce store, the system not only makes it possible, but keeps it simple.
Good for Best Web Practices and SEO
“Best web practices” likely doesn’t mean much as a phrase to you. It’s all the background stuff you can’t see, but makes the user’s visit a pleasant one – such as a page loading quickly, or a page easy to read on mobile and desktop.
With WordPress, you’re not limited to a selection of templates. We custom build each layout, not only to keep it unique to your business, but also to keep the code neat and tidy. A well-built website also has the benefit of improving your opportunities with SEO. WordPress has turnkey SEO tools to help you make the most of your keywords and content too.
No Ongoing Licensing Fees
WordPress, at its core, is a free system. You don’t have to pay a fee to use WordPress, or to receive updates. The only part you pay for is the development/customising of your website, which is a one-off cost. Quite a few content management systems have monthly or annual fees for simply using their system – but not with WordPress. This makes it a sustainable long-term solution for developing websites.
We can convert websites from other systems into WordPress. If you’re feeling limited by your current system, you can contact us to discuss your options.
One of those “design things” that you might not realise is a thing, but can bother your eyes: actual centre versus optical centre.
What am I talking about? When an image, a heading – anything visual – is centered perfectly on a page, our eyes don’t agree. It may feel like the image is lower than it should be. If you let your computer do the centering for you, it will make it perfect centre, but it won’t look perfect. It’s also called the mathematical centre or geometrical centre.
So what position makes our eyes happy? It’s called optical centre, and it’s just slightly above the actual centre, and slightly to the right. It’s ever so slight that you won’t notice it’s not mathematically correct – but it makes all the difference. Our brains process images that are placed in the optical centre much more positively; it’s comfortable for our eyes.
Just one of those little random design tricks for you today!
Running a business has a lot of places where you need to stand out. Your service, products and communication are key factors customers evaluate when they interact with you. But what about your brand? That is important too.
The issue is, in many small businesses the owner is working in the business – not on the business – so while the day-to-day operations are working great, the higher things get less attention.
Neat and consistent branding adds a lot of value to any business, even the smallest of businesses who are run solo. But the flipside of this: if your branding is not getting the attention it deserves, you are likely devaluing your business without even realising. It’s the small things that build a much bigger picture: the image of your business. Your logo, your website, your signage, your stationery. All of those little visual “things” – customers evaluate all of these too.
But when it comes to neat and consistent branding, it doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to try to be clever about it – just consistent. A really simple logo and only using a few basic colours consistently will have a much more professional impression than no logo and random colours.
Below are some lists of what to avoid, and suggestions how to improve your brand (most you can already do with your tools at hand):
Avoid having no logo at all. We suggest to even have just a basic design that is used consistently. It’s better than nothing.
On the other side – avoid having too many versions of your logo. If you have too many different designs, using different fonts and colours, it can get confusing. A single design is easier to recognise, simply by seeing it everywhere. It might sound boring but it works.
These tips are mostly for those businesses using DIY website builders, who are managing it all themselves. We build professional websites, but we completely understand that everyone has to start somewhere when it comes to getting online. And there’s a few little things that can help until you’re ready for a custom-built website for your business.
Make sure that all photos you add to your website are high quality. If they look pixelated or distorted when you upload them, then they are likely too small. The quality of the actual photo is important too. Make sure they aren’t blurry or have dark shadows on them.
Keep the formatting of your text on each page consistent – same colours, sizes and fonts. Set formatting for your paragraphs and headings that is the same on every page. This is actually a space where it’s clever to not be creative. Keeping it simple is best.
And if you need to use a DIY website builder, make sure to remove the credit link, even if you have to pay to do so. It can look unprofessional – but we all have to start somewhere when it comes to getting online. So make your first online impressions as professional as you can, even when just starting out.
Avoid using templates that use colours or images not connected to your business. It’s safer to start from scratch and stick to the colours in your logo so the look is consistent. Same goes with fonts and formatting. Everything online and in print, in an ideal world, should use the same colours and fonts, building that tidy and consistent brand. The more consistent everything looks, the more professional your business looks.
When it comes to printing – where possible, avoid the cheapest option. As an example, your business cards are an item left as a reminder of you and your business with a (usually potential) customer. If they are flimsy paper, with rough looking colours, they won’t leave as positive of an impression as an impossible-to-bend card with embossing or a gold foil finish.
Social media is where I often see businesses get a bit casual and “forget” about their brand – but ironically, it’s sometimes the place that your business is seen the most, especially relevant for micro and online-only businesses. Especially with text-based image posts (such as quotes), make sure to choose some fonts and stick to them for all posts. Use colours from your website and stationery, so when your customers interact with your business elsewhere, they feel like they’re with the same business.
Think simple. Think consistent. These will add value to your brand, and improve your business with more impact than you realise.
Nearly 10 years ago, Sarah was the promotions co-ordinator at the Westernport Chamber of Commerce. So it’s really lovely to be back to work on a design project for them.
We were asked to design a new logo, and redesign their website. The request for the logo was to ensure it included a pelican. After a number of pelican designs were considered, this was the one who made the cut.
The website features fresh brand colours, moving away from their original purple and orange palette. It is also mobile-responsive and includes a business directory with over 150 businesses listed. We also featured aerial photos of Hastings on the home page for impact.
While there’s lots of new businesses in town over the past decade, there’s still familiar faces there who are going strong. We always run into someone we know in Hastings, and it’s always wonderful.
Most service-based businesses have some kind of capability statement. Whether you call it a company profile, tender introduction or capability statement – they all have the same goal. They can be the first document another business sees of you (and often, a bigger business or government organisation) – so it’s important that it gives an amazing first impression.
You might have stressed over the wording for ages, and finally got it reading as you hoped. Then you put it into Word, try to format it…and it doesn’t look as awesome as you had planned. Yours might be a short profile that needs to catch people quickly, but it looks like a formal letter. Or it might be a really long publication, but looks like a novel.
Our biggest tip is to make your whole capability statement match your brand. Every page should feel like your brand. This might include colours from your logo, fonts you regularly use, and maybe even an element from your logo. Below is an example of a capability statement – we designed this one for Aegir Divers.
Capability statements are often perceived as “premium” documents. Make sure to use professional photos wherever possible. A bold front cover with a big photo for that first impression is a perfect place to start. This is the cover we designed for Peninsula Civil Solutions:
Sometimes, another company is only going to have a short space of time to read your capability statement, so make it one they want to pick up and keep reading.
We go all the way back to 2011 with Lizi. Her business has evolved over this time in extraordinary ways, and we’ve been involved in the branding each time.
I remember the first time I met Lizi. She had just rented a shop in Koo Wee Rup, and wanted to create a logo to match the colours of her walls to save painting costs. The walls were bright green, more suited to a garden shop than a beauty salon. She agreed that maybe thinking outside the box wasn’t a bad thing! The eventual logo design became this:
She soon outgrew her first studio, and moved to a bigger space on the main street using her branding. The studio was decked out with chandeliers and beautiful wallpapers – all in line with her brand.
A few years later, she sold Respect For Beauty and became a mobile make-up artist. She was spending more time out of the studio on location for brides and fitness competitions, but the studio was still running well – so it was time to hand the reigns to someone else.
She rebranded to Glamourfied by Lizi Hance, and the below logo was designed for her new endeavours:
Fast forward to 2018, Lizi has made a name for herself as a bridal make-up expert on the Mornington Peninsula, and wanted to rebrand to reflect that market:
It’s been an amazing journey to be a part of. There’s something really special about the long-term relationships we build with our clients. They become like old friends, and we are so proud of watching their businesses grow.
Good search rankings on Google come from a lot more than using keywords – the content that surrounds the keywords is just as important.
When it comes to search rankings, you need to look at Google as “match or better my competitors”.
In 2018, the things Google looks for:
The goal is a minimum of 150 words per page on a set topic. 300 words is preferred, 600 words is ideal. Don’t treat content as an essay – use lots of subheadings so there’s no more than 100-200 words under each heading.
Adding new content to your website regularly is integral to ranking in search engines. There was a move away from ranking historical websites a few years ago, so now the most recently updated websites fare better. Updating existing content on a page can help, but it’s adding new pages that has the most impact.
Our general recommendation is to update your website with a new page at least once every 2-4 weeks, but it really depends on your competitors websites who are ranking for the same keywords. You need to match (or better) how often they update their own websites. If they all add a new page weekly or daily, then that would also be your goal.
Internal links: Google looks for pages linked to each other that are related to the same topic – it uses this to decide if a website is a collective of information or a once-off source. For example: if you have a page that discusses a product found on your website, make sure to link any references of that product to its own page.
Backlinking: is not as popular as it used to be, as Google now takes a lot more into consideration when ranking a website. If you want to build backlinks (as they do still hold value in rankings), ensure that the websites who are linking back to you have an excellent page rank and a low spam score.
Total number of pages
From our personal experiences, we have found that Google will rarely rank a website less than 5 pages in size. 5 pages is the bare minimum however. When you look at your top-ranking competitors, review how many pages are on their websites – that will give you a fair idea of what you need to match or better to be in a similar position to them.
While this is all relevant now, it will be interesting to see the changes over the next 6-12 months. Google is often changing their algorithms, but we have a feeling that content will always be the main driver of website rankings. After all – we visit websites for information, that’s the core reason for websites to exist!