Postcard Design Webinar for Ripon Printers.

Don’t dismiss postcards as low-end, low-value promotions for companies that can’t afford anything else. Postcards can certainly be used to attract high-value buyers, promote sales and offer coupons, even change the narrative surrounding your brand.

In this one-hour webinar, you’ll learn about:

Design postcards with an edge.

  • Understanding postcard design building blocks
  • Incorporating content elements (including photo-personalization) into your design
  • Designing postcards to support your business goals
  • Exploring creative substrates
  • And using metrics to improve your design solutions

Add a little green to your office this winter.

I love my Apple Magic Mouse but…what to do with that fancy lucite box it came in? It’s just too nice to pitch and it doesn’t have a recycle symbol. So, I created a terrarium to green up my office in the dead of winter.


I kept the white insert that originally held the mouse in place inside the box and it now acts as a plastic mulch on the soil, both functional and lends a clean and modern appearance. Perfect for my desk.

Here are the materials and steps. It’s really not difficult.


  • 1 Magic Mouse lucite packaging box with white insert from Apple
  • 1/2 teaspoon teeny tiny activated charcoal
  • 2-3 tablespoons terrarium soil mix
  • bit of living moss (you can dig it up from your yard or look for a very short plant from a local nursery)


  1. Wash the lucite box and white insert with hot soapy water but be careful not to scratch the box. It will scratch easily, as you can see in my photo.
  2. Dry with a lint-free cloth.
  3. Pre-dampen your soil mix and rinse the charcoal to remove dust (charcoal dust will make this look dingy and dirty and you’ll have to start over, I’ve done this twice now).
  4. Set the lid aside and insert the white liner into the lower portion of the box. You’ll be working with the white liner in place because, trust me, there’s no way to insert it after planting because the soil and charcoal will be in the way. And in order for the lid to fit, the insert must be seated all the way down.
  5. Carefully scatter the charcoal in the hole of the white insert and push some of it under the lip.
  6. Now gently push the damp soil under the lip of the white insert while holding the insert down firmly. As you’re pressing, the insert may want to pop up, that’s why you’re holding it down.
  7. Leave room for the root mass of your moss in the hole of the liner.
  8. Dampen the roots attached to the plant and using tweezers or tiny fingers, place it gently in the hole of the white liner.
  9. Trim excess tendrils from the plant so it’s neat and compact. Then wipe the white liner with tissue or Q-tips to remove specs of dirt for an especially Apple-clean appearance.
  10. Replace lid and position in non-direct sun. I keep mine on my desk near a window.

Keep in mind, this is a sealed terrarium so choose a plant that will survive. I like to think that Steve Jobs would approve of this reuse of Apple packaging. And that he’d like the zen-like appearance of a simple single green plant with white plastic mulch. Now if only I could find a tiny critter to put inside but it’s hard to locate micro-miniature garden gnomes.

I’m sure you can come up with more groovy hacks for the mouse box.

Using Illustration to Cut Through Visual Clutter.

brushOff-ink-250When  Julia and I first began discussing this topic, we were determined to take an illustration vs. photography approach. But the more research I did, the less I wanted to talk about photography. It’s not a competition, really, but rather a matter of making a choice based on which form will best accomplish your marketing objectives.

The Illustration Edge

According to the AIGA, the professional association for design, here’s what illustration can do for you: “Illustration can provide a unique sensibility to certain projects. Illustration brings spontaneity, freshness and a unique point of view to the design of content. It helps to communicate both simple and complex messages while enhancing a design through the unique vision and skill of the selected illustrator.”

“A Rationale for the Use of Illustration” published by, offers further insight by noting that the new way of communicating in an age of tech-driven sameness is often the least technical and most unusual. Illustration cuts through today’s visual clutter to get ideas and products noticed. Illustration can:

  • Provide the best solution to a problem. There often is no better way to capture and manipulate emotion, atmosphere, flavor and mood to validate an idea or maximize a product’s allure.
  • Offer more flexibility. Reality has distinct limitations, but illustration can give personality and form to intangible ideas and concepts for which there are no practical photographic solutions. Think about:
    • Presenting products not yet built
    • Bringing back people and events long past
    • Revealing hidden sections
    • Communicating products that are in the works
    • Adding, moving or eliminating surroundings
    • Emphasizing details
  • Reduce costs. Not only are there a growing number of stock illustration sites, but also keep in mind that virtually 100 percent of the costs of a commissioned illustration go directly into the creativity. There aren’t always travel costs, elaborate sets and other costs often incurred with a custom photo shoot.

If you’re considering stock—or just want to get inspired by the great illustrative styles that are out there—check out these sites:

When working directly with illustrators, we recommend creating a standard form that outlines your licensing requirements. For example, having a contract that says, “We pay $X for Y license for Z time or Q medium,” makes it really easy to accept because the illustrator knows how much, for what, for how long and where.

Illustration Meets Technology

Keep in mind that illustrators haven’t been lost in a time warp. In fact, many illustrators use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and other programs to create artwork that may include photography and other graphic elements. Ben Heine, a Brussels-based artist, combines photography and illustration to generate interesting images and new spaces that are comic, fun and a surreal. A new visual concept invented by Heine in 2010, the “Pencil vs. Camera” series encourages an expanded view of an otherwise normal subject. This technique has many possibilities for use in advertising, packaging and graphic communications.

Technology can also be used to animate illustrations in order to tell a story or convey an idea. Animated GIFs are a way to add animation to email campaigns (with caveats for newer versions of Outlook*) and Flash banners can be used in many magazine websites.**

This banner ad for Prinova is a perfect example of using illustration to creatively communicate how customers can use Prinova’s ingredients in their food manufacturing solutions. Photography also would not have worked as well to introduce the new company tagline. If you’re reading this from a smart phone, the backup JPG is displayed.

Remember that Original Artwork Belongs to the Illustrator

AIGA points out that an artist’s copyright is owned by the artist and is protected by the 1976 Copyright Act from the moment it is created. This protection covers the work for the artist’s lifetime plus 70 years. If agreed to in writing, the copyright may be assigned elsewhere, usually for an additional fee.

But original artwork is provided only temporarily to licensees for reproduction. Even the purchase of “exclusive rights” represents rights to reproduce the artwork only. The original illustration remains the property of the illustrator unless it is purchased explicitly and separately from the rights.

Original artwork also cannot be changed without the creator’s approval. Changes to an illustrator’s work must be made by the illustrator, unless you secure permission from the illustrator first. Many people are simply not aware of this law and unintentionally violate it. Please take the time to learn the rules of the road.

Call an Illustrator Today

There you have it—lots of reasons to incorporate more illustration into your communications.  So get moving. Or do I have to draw you a picture?

By Larry Bauer

*Outlook 2007/2010/2013 and Windows Mobile 7 will display the first frame of an animated GIF so keep that in mind when building animations for email use. Most other email apps will indeed take advantage of the full animation.
**While Flash is often an accepted format for website advertising, always provide a backup JPG in the event that users are viewing the website without Flash, such as via iPhones or iPads.

Do’s and Don’ts of Using Illustration.

reFereez-MVBA-250Original and distinct communication materials with the right illustrations can help boost your product or service in a crowded marketplace. These do’s and don’ts will help you get the most return on your investment.


  • Obtain exclusive rights for any illustration representing your brand.
  • Experiment with different types of illustrations to find out which types work best for your brand.
  • Use manual illustration to add a classic charm to your materials.
  • Use digital illustration to combine media, programs and techniques for very unique artwork.
  • Create a licensing agreement form to expedite direct transactions with illustrators.
  • Have a clear idea of what you want an illustration to convey or express.
  • Work with the illustrator to create a specific set of art review and approval stages.
  • Specify what individuals need to be part of the art review and approval process.
  • Educate yourself about copyright ownership vs. licensing agreements. US Federal law applies copyright ownership to the artist while you are free to negotiate licensed usage agreements for the copyrighted illustration.
  • Trust your artist to be the artist. If the illustration conveys your message, let the artist decide the details of the artwork.


  • Dismiss illustration because you think it’s too expensive—it’s often not.
  • Treat typography as an afterthought in the overall design—awful type can ruin great artwork.
  • Alter any illustration without getting the creator’s permission.
  • Think that illustration is a low-tech medium of a bygone era.
  • Try to illustrate materials yourself if you’re not a professional artist.
  • Reject the use of a certain color just because it isn’t one of your favorites.
  • Edit the life out of the illustration. Nitpicking the position of a character’s thumb or the shape of a chair corner (yes, people do it) won’t likely improve the artwork.
  • Forget that hand-drawn style illustrations can be a unique way to add character to digital deliverables like video, banner ads, and websites. Just because the deliverable is digital doesn’t mean the illustration has to look like it.
  • Ignore the nature of your brand personality. Illustration style, like photography, should support your brand, not fight with it.

By Larry Bauer and Tom McCain

Integrating New Brand Look Across Sales Materials.


Prinova, a global ingredients supplier, needed a fresh set of sales materials after a major rebranding that included a new company name. We developed an illustrative approach to separate them from competitors in all the industries they now serve. Materials include folders, brochures, sell sheets, e-blast templates, banner and print ads, and trade show materials.

New Design App for Knitters.

DKinterfaceDKiconInterface design for iPad apps needs to be functional as well as appealing. DesignKNIT was created for advanced knitters who design their own patterns.

The app is easy: touch a stitch, touch a square. Included is a stitch library as well as the ability for knitters to store their own designs in their sketchpad, Dropbox, or their photo library. Social tools allow sharing and designs can also be exported.

Visit iTunes to check out this app.

DesignKNIT has been sold to the fine folks at Knit Companion. You can get more info on their Ravelry page.


Sweet New Blog Design for Sweet Treats.


Allison needed a design upgrade to keep up with the quality of her gourmet chocolate business.

We worked closely with her to structure the blog’s content and create a design that is integrated into her online storefront. Customers may now explore her recipes and read interviews as well as order vegan chocolates, caramels, brittle, and cookies.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are revolutionary.

ripon-revolutionWe created a campaign to help marketers think more broadly about reaching prospects. In the age of social media, many forget that integration of multiple channels wields more sticking power than a more narrow focus.

Promotional campaign for Ripon Printers: print and digital ads, direct mail, white paper