Lesson 17: Bridging the Online and Offline World – Part 4

Designing Materials

By now you should have an organized list of all the materials you’d like to put in front of customers, their sizes and places they will be posted/distributed. Now it’s time to design the materials. Here are the key components to think about.


Ideally you’re using typical print sizes for your signs. Whether you’re printing on your own or using a professional printer, standard sizes will make your life easier. Those include:
– 8.5″ by 11″
– 8.5″ by 11″ – folded vertically into two halves
– 3.5″ by 2″ – standard business card
– 4.25″ by 6″ – standard postcard
– 1″ to 5″ diameter, circular

Most businesses have a logo, and that logo is usually in color. Since you want to maintain the look and feel of the brand, it’s advisable to stick to those colors. At most, you can add a neutral color like black or white. Even if the logo is very colorful, for clarity just pick 2-3 colors from it to be the main ones. The colors you pick should have good contrast between them so that the signage is clear and stands out. As a rule of thumb, a dark background should have light colored text. A light background should have dark colored text.

If you’re not able to print in color, a black and white sign will work as well.

Get yourself prepared with high quality logo files of the sites you plan to use. There are logo files available on the web in varying types, sizes and layout. Pick what’s best suited for the signs you plan to design (vertical, horizontal, circular, square etc.). It’s advised to stay consistent across the different signs you use in the same business.

For OwnerListens logos go to http://ownerlistens.com/press/logos/. There’s a variety there to choose from.

In addition to logos, you may use QR codes to direct customers to the links you care about. QR codes are pictorial representations of links that customers can scan with their phone. You can generate a QR code for any link you want using QR code generators (here’s a free one). After scanning, the customer will be taken to the link without having to type in the address.
The problem with QR codes is that customers need to download an app in order to scan them. Not all customers know this, so QR codes can be a source of confusion for them. They might try to scan the code but without an app, it will not work for them which might be frustrating. Our recommendation is to only use QR codes if you’re certain most of the audience in your area know how to use them properly.

Whenever possible, try to use the brand fonts. Those could be the same fonts used in the business’ logo or the fonts the business has already been using in marketing materials (business cards, brochures, menus etc.) . Use no more than two types of fonts in your signage. Too many font types make the layout unbalanced and unappealing to the eye.

Make sure the font size is at a good readable size. Print some test signs first, place them in the store and walk around as if a customer to see if they’re noticeable and readable.

You don’t have a lot of space and certainly not a lot of time to capture the customers’ attention. Your message needs to be short and to the point, just intriguing enough to create interest to drive the customer to want to learn more. The messaging should be authentic to the style and ambiance.

For example, in a fancy spa, the sign cannot say ‘hey, what’s up? did we blow your mind in a good way? Like us on … Did we blow it up badly? Hit us up on OwnerListens”. That’s pretty good copy. For a bar. For a fancy spa something like “Did we make you feel luxurious? Our goal to is to treat you like royalty. If we lived up to it, please like us on FB or follow us on Twitter. If we didn’t, let us know how to improve with OwnerListens.

Another messaging option involves getting the owner or manager to make a personal plea in the sign or in postcard inserts. Including his or her name, why they started or work at the business and how much they appreciate customer support with both positive feedback (like us online) and negative feedback (send through OwnerListens).


A part of a good messaging is good signage layout and structure. As written above, there is little time to capture customer attention so the signage has to stand-out and be understandable at a glance.

Less is More
Your design should be as least crowded as possible. Think about the minimum content that is required to spark interest. Customers will likely pass over a sign that’s too crowded or has a lot of text to read.

Alignment and spacing
Keep the elements of the signage aligned. Your anchor can be right, left or center alignment, as long as you stay consistent. Maintain balanced and equal spacing between the elements and sections. The human eye favors balance. It needs to start on one side and maintain it in order to effectively follow your sign.

Logical Flow
After you’ve decided on content and message, you will need to come up with the right order of appearance and flow. Try to divide the layout to sections and decide and how much real estate will you give to every section. The main message should be the largest. The sections after that are meant for more information to be read once you’ve captured the initial attention.

A suggested layout composition
(For an 8.5″ by 11″ sign)

Section 1 “Our goal to is to treat you like royalty. Did we make you feel luxurious?”

This will be at the top third or half of the layout using a large font and a large graphic asset (if you choose to use one).

Section 2 “If we lived up to it, please like us on FB or follow us on Twitter. If we didn’t, let us know how to improve with OwnerListens or text 555-321-5678.” (The phone number only applies to businesses who choose the OL Pro package).

This will be the sub-heading. It comes right after section one and is slightly smaller but not too much. It should still be readable at a glance.

Section 3 Will be dedicated to more specific instructions about how to download the app as well as logos, links and QR codes (if used). It might also include a personal message from the owner.

This is a relatively large sign so it can be tempting to put a lot of info on it, but resist that temptation and keep it brief. In smaller signs, you might only have room for two sections. Just always keep in mind: First, grab attention. Get the customer interested in getting close to the sign and learning more. Second, call to action. Tell the customer what to do next. If your signs hit on those two things, you’re all set.

Home or Office printing
Home printing is a good way to evaluate your work before sending it out to professional print service. It can also be a simple and low cost printing solution. Most modern office printers are fairly high quality these days. Depending on the printer you own, colors may or may not print as you intended. Non-professional printers will sometimes be off color from your original color values. If you do choose to print by yourself, it imperative to print several test signs and adjust colors accordingly. If you can’t get a high quality image from your printer, you may consider professional printing services or you can opt for a black and white sign. It’s better to have a quality black and white sign than a faded, unprofessional looking color one.

Printing at home or office printer allows us to check if the design came out as we expected. Check the actual size of the font and the look of the graphic assets. For example, you might find that the image used is printed but blurry. This means its resolution is too low so you must replace it with a higher resolution image.

Prior to printing, make sure that print settings are on 100% and that “fit to paper” is NOT on.

Professional Printing

If you’re using a professional printing service, the service provider will give you instructions on the file format and settings. In general, there are three standard guidelines and rules that apply when crafting and preparing a file for professional printing:

  • Colors: A print file has to be in a CMYK color mode (CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key(black)). This is unlike a screen colour mode (RGB) which is the mode used by Powerpoint. It’s advisable not to use Powerpoint as a print source unless your sign is very basic (text only). There are open source, free design programs you could use to get much better quality. Most businesses will only have access to PowerPoint. Your ability to use design software could differentiate your services as a social media manager because it’s something that is difficult and expensive for a business to do on their own. Two potential free programs to consider are Scribus and PagePlus. You can read more about them in this handy guide. If you must use PowerPoint, this is a handy guide as well.
  • Resolution: Typical print quality is 300 dpi (dots per inch). This means that all of the graphic assets (images, graphic elements) have to be in high resolution. Using a low resolution image on a 300dpi file will result a very blurry image. A good high resolution indicator is the image size and weight. Good resolution should be a few thousand pixels width and height. In most programs, right clicking on the image or going to the image menu will provide you with an option to look at size. If the size is in inches you can either toggle to pixels inside your program or use a converter. Also, look at the size of the file holding the image. To do that you can go to the folder where it’s saved and depending on your display settings, the size should be showing. If it isn’t, right click on the file and choose “properties” in the menu to get a look at the size. A high resolution image is typically no less than 1MB. If the asset is 450 * 250 pixels and takes up 150k, it’s probably not suitable for printing material.
  • Bleeds: With professional printing you will also need to add something called a ‘bleed’ to you sign. The ‘bleed’ is an area that goes beyond the edge of the printing dimensions. The ‘bleed’ is there to account for potential movement of the paper in the printing machine. For example, if you’re printing an 8.5” x 11” inch sign, your bleed might be another ½ inch around the frame so a 9” x 11.5” inch

Most of the professional print services would prefer to receive a PDF file but its important to consult with your provider first. Every printer has its own instructions about how the PDF file should be exported.

Your ability to design and print great signs and banners can help you stand out and make your business more successful. If you can’t reach customers with signage, everything else you’re doing will suffer. Take the time to learn this skill and reap the benefits.

Photo By Galymzhan Abdugalimov

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