Blog Entries

Postal Regulations for Postcards

Understanding postal regulations for postcards is of utmost importance. You may design the most beautiful, attention-getting postcard that would drive all of your customers to action, but if it doesn’t meet postal regulations it will never be delivered. Finding out too late in the process, like after you have printed and addressed the cards, could kill an entire project. Some simple planning up front can save you time and money down the road.

Clear Zones

There are certain pieces of information that the post office needs to print on a card to ensure its delivery. The three key areas are:

  1. postage
  2. address
  3. barcode

The area where these elements are placed are called clear zones because you cannot place other elements here and expect correct delivery. Luckily, there are several online resources that will help you know exactly what areas are clear zones.

Modern Postcard is an online printer, but also offers templates for many different design applications that have the clear zones marked. On their postcard page they have several different size postcards, all of which they print. You can send postcards in other sizes, but Modern Postcard offers the templates as a resource for people using their services, so they only have templates for the sizes that they print.


This image is a modern postcard template for a standard 4.25 x 6 postcard. The three gray areas are the clear zones. In the upper right corner is the indicia, or postage area. This is where you would place a stamp, or print your organization’s indicia for prepaid postage. No other elements are allowed in this area.

Below that is the mailing address area. This is the only area that the addressee’s information can be placed. The area adjacent has a notice about the post office equipment scanning for an address. If the address is not placed within the specified area it may be returned to you. Equally important is the bottom section of the postcard reserved for the barcode to be imprinted.

Other markings on the document apply to layout areas for Modern Postcard, but are pretty standard and should work for other printers. These include the area for a bleed, the trim line is where the postcard will be cut down to size, and the safe zone is the area in which all of your important content should be placed to ensure it is not compromised. In this example, the layout template is overlaid over an actual postcard to show how these guides are used in layout.
postal example

You can see here that the three clear zones have been left empty of content. The text area ends just before the barcode area begins. That content also fits within the green safe zone so that none of the information would be cut off or too close to the edge of the final postcard. This example is pretty text heavy, but you could add any elements to the open areas, like full color images or illustrations.

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Preflight and Exporting

With all of this information on what you need to communicate to a printer, it is equally important that you know how to deliver files correctly by preflight and exporting. Fortunately InDesign has some built in tools that make the final steps of design very easy.

Why Preflight

Preflight is a term coined to describe the process of double-checking a final document to ensure that everything is set correctly for printing. Preflight is actually running at all times in InDesign, constantly checking for potential errors.

How to use Preflight in InDesign

This video tutorial walks you through how to detect any errors in your document and how you know the correct way to fix the error. Note: In the video he talks about overset text. This just means that there is additional text within the frame that isn’t currently visible.

Youtube video on using Preflight:


The instructions on setting up a custom Preflight Profile and defining color modes so that InDesign will notify you if you are using something other than CMK can be extremely helpful.

Packaging Your projects

Now that you have finished checking your document with Preflight you need to package all of the different objects and fonts together so that you have one folder that houses everything that you used in the InDesign document. This is extremely helpful if you need to send the original documents to a printer and also for archiving your work. Just for example, I did some design work a few years ago on an old computer. Last week the client asked me to take the old file and make some adjustments to it. On my new machine I don’t have the same fonts installed and couldn’t locate some of the images that were originally used. Because I packaged the file I had one folder with all of those elements and didn’t have to waste time searching for those resources.

Watch this video the explains how to package your documents:

You may have noticed that when you package your files you get another final check for potential errors in the document. Just like with Preflight the packaging tool runs one final sweep of all assets used and checks to make sure they are formatted and liked correctly.

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Design Theory: Contrast

When designing email marketing the choices you make can significantly increase how users interact with a message. One defining application is the use of the design theory, contrast. By giving contrast to important sections of information your users are more likely to see that information and take the action you intend.

Contrast, in very simple terms, means being different from something else, usually something in close proximity. When thinking about the use of contrast in design there are multiple applications. You can have contrasting colors like black/white or red/green next to one another. You can also have contrast in pattern, shape, size, and scale. Contrast should be used to create a visual hierarchy and also to direct attention strategically.


Take this advertisement for True Food kitchen as an example of contrast used in several different ways:

  1. Color – To make the graphic of the burger stand out it was included in full color while the rest of the advertisement was done in black. Because the text runs right next to the image, this contrast in color focuses attention on the colorful image.
  2. Scale – There is also contrast in the scale of the typography. The first line of text is significantly larger than the line just below it. Because the scale of each line of text is so different the contrast breaks the two lines into two different ideas, or two separate chunks of content.
  3. Pattern – Pattern is also used to create contrast and separate elements. In the upper-right hand corner there are two columns of cross-hatching that visually contrast with the text separating that sentence from the surrounding text.


Here is another example, this time contrast is used in the design of an email message:

  1. Color – Color is used within the body of text to create contrast. Key pieces of information are displayed in shades of orange that contrast with the black text. The use of contrast makes those bits of content stand out from the rest.
  2. Combination of shape & color – Contrast is also applied through the combination of shape and color. Three sections of the design—the top, middle, and bottom—each have a shape with a contrasting color applied for emphasis. The shapes at the top and bottom mirror one another and framing the message. The shape in the middle is the most unique, having the most contrast and the deepest color. This is also the most important element as it contains the call-to-action.

This email illustrates one of the keys to successful email marketing: the call-to-action needs to be clearly visible. After deciding what is the most important thing you want subscribers to do, consider how you can make the call-to-action distinguishable through the use of contrast in the final design.

As you consider how to best incorporate contrast in designing your own email message, take a look at some good examples of email marketing and contrast.

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Designing Postcards

One reason that postcards are so popular is because the are very cost effective both in terms of postage and printing. One cost saving method is to vary color and black and white within a single postcard. In the last example, you may have noticed that the postcard shown was black and white and mostly text based. The image below shows the other side of the postcard which is full color and features an image of the artist’s artwork.
By printing full color on one side and black and white on the other there was a great cost savings. For this particular project 1,000 postcards were printed and the savings was over $100. If you factor those savings over the course of a year with 10-20 different events to be publicized the savings are $1,000-2,000, enough to even offer another event to your calendar.
Even with the one-color mailing side, the final design still has a striking image and all of the pertinent information. Nothing is lost in the process.

Designing to Stand Out

Your design needs to stand out from other mailings so that your recipients will notice and read your information.

Size & Orientation

Size is a big factor in how noticeable a piece is initially. Think about the mail that you get each week. I’m betting that most of it is a standard envelope size. When you receive something that isn’t the standard size it sticks out, literally. You’re forced to notice it because it isn’t like everything else. This graphic shows the standard postcard sizes with 6 in. x 11 in. being the largest postcard that you can mail. The larger sizes here are show being folded in half to fit within the size parameters of the smaller cards.

Smaller cards like the 4×6 might still blend in with other mail, but oversized postcards like the 6×11 will definitely stand out. They also allow more room if you had more text that needed to be included.

In addition to size, you can also use orientation to help your design stand out. The mailing side (with the postage and address information) must be horizontal to accommodate the postal service machinery, but the other side can be turned to any orientation. When someone receives the card and flips it over to view the front they will have to turn it twice, forcing them to interact longer with the piece. That extra time might increase the likelihood that they remember your message.


The visuals used on a postcard are important to its being noticed. They should clearly communicate a message and also be bold enough to grab someone’s attention. Take a look at this collection of postcards. Each design has a distinctive personality, but they all have singular focus through bold typography and clear graphics.

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Best practices for email marketing

Avoiding Spam

Spam is when you send an unsolicited email to a whole list of people. Often this begins with the purchase of an email list from a business. You absolutely can not send a mass email to this type of list without their consent.


As the video showed, there are ways in which you can collect email addresses correctly. One possible way to do this is to collect email addresses on your website. If you have ever signed up with a web service you have probably seen a small checkbox at the end of the form where you can opt in or opt out from marketing messages. You can also collect addresses at your events through a sign-up form, or send postcards requesting email addresses. As long as people are consenting to receiving your email you will be good.

Opting Out

Now that you have a list of consenting email addresses there is one additional requirement to prevent from being a spammer: you must offer a way to unsubscribe from your communications. Working MailChimp, this function is built in by default, and in fact they will not allow you to send an email without an unsubscribe link somewhere in the message. These can be very inconspicuous, and in fact are generally included as very small text in the footer of an email.

Adding Lists Correctly

Enough talk about what not to do, let’s focus on how you should be adding lists. You can manually add recipients to MailChimp, but the quickest way is to import contacts directly into MailChimp. This short tutorial shows how to import lists in different formats:

Learning from your contacts

One of the most valuable aspects of email marketing is the ability to gather real-time statistics on what you recipients are doing with your messages. A smart marketer will learn from their recipients and tailor future campaigns to meet those needs and desires.

A wealth of data is being tracked with each campaign sent. This data will help you to figure out what works and what doesn’t work in getting your recipients to open your message and take action. Watch this short video that overviews the Reporting and Tracking features in MailChimp:

As you can see there are a ton of tools built in to help you base your future decisions on and also really nice looking reports to impress your boss. You could spend a career specializing in the crunching of analytics data, so we will focus on four areas of data that can be very important in successful email marketing: open rates, click rates, unsubscribe rates, and time analysis.

Open Rates

Open rates very simply track the number of people that clicked on your email and viewed it with images enabled. These rates are tracked by inserting a tiny invisible image into each message and then tracking the number of times that image is “viewed.” There will be some margin of error to open rates because some email clients don’t automatically download and show images. You can use these numbers to evaluate the success of your subject lines and the timing of campaigns. If the open rates fall below your normal rates for one campaign you can use that information to determine what went wrong.

One of most important aspects of an email campaign is the subject line. If you don’t have a compelling subject line there is a good chance that your message will not be opened at all. You may have the best engaging content in your email campaign, but if someone doesn’t open it it is useless.

MailChimp has done some research on this matter look at actual subject lines used by their members and the resulting open rates of those emails. The results might surprise you. This chart below shows the subject lines that earned the best open rates on the left and the ones that earned the worst open rates on the right.

Hopefully you’ll noticed that the best subject lines are clear about who is sending the message (company name would be replaced with the sender’s name) and what type of information is in the email. The worst subject lines read more like bad marketing headlines. Your readers have consented to receiving messages from you, so you don’t have to trick them into reading the content. The best way to craft a compelling subject line is to distill down the who and what of your campaign.

Click Rates

Once someone has opened your message, you want them to take an action of some kind. This may entail clicking a link to read more about a topic or filling out an RSVP form for an event. Click rates will allow you to see which links are most successful. With this data you can decide whether it is the text of the link that makes it successful, or the placement. Links that simply say “click here” are generally not as successful as more descriptive links like “view the full event details.” Your link text should describe what the person will find at that location. The placement of links can also be a factor, and generally you should have your most important link placed several times throughout the email. With the same example in mind, you might put a link both at the top and bottom of the message to view the full event details. This will catch people who aren’t interested in reading the entire content and want to get to the details right away and also the people who want to read the message first and then view the additional information.

Unsubscribe Rates

Sometimes people want to leave a list and stop receiving email. If, however you notice that this rate is accelerating you will need to ask some critical questions about your marketing methods. The first thing to question is whether you are sending the type of information that your recipients signed up for. Maybe you promised them updates about upcoming events, but lately you have been sending donor solicitations instead. It can be easy to think you have a captive audience to send any type of information you want, but the reality is that people will unsubscribe if you aren’t delivering on your original promises.

Another point to consider is how frequently you are sending messages. Are you emailing every day? Maybe that is too often. If you think this may be the issue, you can set up interest groups based on the frequency of mail and then allow your users to choose how often they want to receive messages.

Best Times to Send

When you send a campaign is just as important as what you are sending. You will definitely want to tailor your timing based on audience, but there are a couple of general rules to also keep in mind:

  1. Daytime hours are better than night hours
  2. the highest volume of emails are sent on Tuesdays and Thursdays

With those rules in mind, you want to also start thinking about who your audience is and what their typical schedules are like. Let’s say for example that you are communicating with high school students. It is safe to assume that they will be in school from 8-3 Monday through Friday. In this instance, those times would not be good times to send your messages because the recipients are likely not checking email then. If your audience is mostly working professionals you can safely assume that they work a standard 9-5 schedule Monday through Friday. It is probably more likely that this group is checking email throughout the day, so you have to consider other factors, like when would they feel most rushed when checking email. For this group, open rates are much lower on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. On Monday mornings, professionals are often digging through full inboxes of messages that have come in over the weekend. On Friday afternoons, they are likely more interested in getting out of the office and beginning their weekend.

Much of what I’ve covered so far is guesswork, but luckily you don’t have to rely on that alone. As you establish a history with your recipients you can use the statistics and data from your actual campaigns to determine ways to improve. Once you have sent some campaigns, the Reports tab will show you statistics on those campaigns. In the upper-right hand corner just under the monkey there is a button to Compare All Campaigns. This button will prompt you to download an excel file with all of the data from all of your campaigns.

This file can be extremely helpful in analyzing patterns over time. One of the fields in the file relates to the day of the week that emails were sent on and their corresponding open rates. You can use these two numbers to determine which days of the week your particular audience is more likely to open emails from you.


Now that you are armed with tons of data and have figured out the best way to send messages you can also consider how best to remarket to your subscribers. Remarketing is simply following up with subscribers based on their actions. This is useful to reinforce messages and can lead to greater engagement.

Remarketing is based on segmentation of your lists. When you create a new campaign you will see all of your lists with a link to “Send to Segment” of each list. Within each list you can segment based on information about subscriber location and activity. Location can be very important when publicizing events. If you are having a small event in Ohio it isn’t likely that someone from California is going to attend. The location feature will help you target messages to only people that might be able to attend. Ensuring that all of your recipients are receiving relevant content is important to keeping engagement high.

Most important with remarketing is the subscriber activity section. This will segment your lists based on how recipients interacted with previous campaigns. You can segment based on whether users opened or didn’t open a previous campaign and also whether they clicked or didn’t click on a link in a previous campaign. You can even combine multiple criteria to get even more specific. How can this help?

If someone didn’t open your last campaign you might follow up with the same message a week later and change the subject line. This gives you another chance at getting them to see your message without having to send the message to everyone again. If you were to send the same message to subscribers that had already opened it there is a higher likelihood that they will unsubscribe from the list because you are sending repeat information to them.

On the other side of that same activity, you might want to follow up with people that did open the last message, but didn’t click on the call-to-action link to prompt them again to make the action. Knowing that this group has seen your last message you can tailor the language to briefly ask them again to do something without having to give them the entire message a second time.


The final feature I want to touch on is the ability to personalize content. Any field that you add to a MailChimp list (name, email address, physical address, etc.) can be inserted as a personalized field in an email’s content. You might use this to create a personal connection with a greeting that reads “Hey Ann!” or a salutation that says “We really hope to see you Friday, Mark.” Small touches of personalization can help increase action from subscribers.

You might also use this feature to check-in with your subscribers and make sure their information is up-to-date. For example, let’s say you are about to do a large print mailing. You might precede the print mailing with an email message letting everyone know that the annual magazine is about to drop and you want to make sure they receive it. You can use a personalized field to display the address you have on record for them and a call-to-action asking them to click a link and update their address if it isn’t correct.

There really is no limit to the type of information you can include and personalize. You could include a gift amounts, business names, kids names, and virtually any other information that you know about your subscribers.

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Design Theory: Hierarchy

With the design theory we have covered already, you have probably noticed a common theme. Those theories are all applied in the hopes of creating a consistent hierarchy of information. Why is hierarchy so important? It determines how information is interpreted. The same piece of content with different hierarchy applied can communicate completely different messages. Take this example:

The same quote has two different applications of hierarchy through varying font sizes. In the first the emphasis is placed on the word “perception” and the phrase “case to see”. In the second the emphasis is given to “art” and “familiar”. By simply varying the size of the text two different interpretations or meanings are applied to the same quote. This is why it is so important to always look back at your work to see what message you are highlighting and question if it’s the best one.

As you consider your previous work, you will need to approach the hierarchy from both a macro and micro viewpoint. First you want to look at the hierarchy you are presenting of your skills. Work that is stronger should be highlighted more prominently while work that may be weaker should be minimized in importance. One way that this type of hierarchy comes into play is in the categorization of your projects. Looking at all of your work you need to think about different ways to categorize the individual pieces and then determine which is the best option. You might, for example classify your work as print and digital, or direct mail and marketing materials. You may also want to consider how this categorization will change throughout your program as you add pieces from other courses. Maybe you will be adding in fundraising plans, grant proposals and an operational budget. In that example you may want to be able to categorize by your different skill sets of “Marketing” and “Fundraising”.

One of the great things about creating your portfolio as a website is that you have the flexibility to easily change anything about it later on. Hopefully as you progress in the Arts Administration program you will gain a better understanding of what type of skills your future employers will be most interested in and can make adjustments to your website to highlight those strengths.

Next you want to look at each individual piece and make sure one final time that the hierarchy in that particular design is communicating the most information first. You may find that something you loved 3 or 4 weeks ago you now feel like could be adjusted to be stronger. That’s the great part about taking time away from your own work–it’s like you can look at it with fresh eyes the second time around.

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Branding Basics

In addition to showcasing your best work, an online portfolio is also a presentation of your own personal brand. It should showcase your abilities, but also indicate your own personality and style. There should always be a good balance between the two. You don’t want the work to completely overshadow your personality, nor do you want your personality to overshadow the work. The best application of branding hits a medium where the work supports the personality and vice versa.

Take a look at these examples. The first is the portfolio site for Jessica Hische, and renowned typographer. The focus of her homepage is on the five thumbnail images of her work and the one larger image of the work that she sells. There are also details that hint at her personality. The background pattern has definite feminine undertones. She also includes touches of bright orange throughout the entire site including her logo and the small heart that allows visitors to change some of the styling of the site from normal to “teen girl mode”, “swiss mode”, and “field notes mode”. The inclusion of the sparkling teen girl mode hints to a very feminine and humorous personality. The logo itself is very subdued and quickly identifies the site without distracting from the work itself.

This second site takes a quite different approach. This web designer places the emphasis of the homepage on introducing himself with a large photograph of himself and headings that explain what he does, what he loves, and where he resides. Within the explanation text there is also injections of his own personality. Instead of simply saying he loves design he says “It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning (besides a grande iced coffee)”. Here he uses language to showcase personality, not just design.

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Print vs. Email Newsletters

If you undertook a survey of company newsletters in your city you would likely find three different types: printed, online and email formats. We are in a transitory state with communication in which individuals have very strong opinions about how they wish to consume content. Some prefer the convenience of having mail sent to their email inbox while others have trouble reading on a screen and prefer to hold a tangible newsletter in hand.

While the obvious difference between the types of newsletters is the format in which they are received, there are other less obvious differences you will want to consider when deciding between print vs. email newsletters.


The difference in printed and digital mediums shapes the type of content that each can offer. Printed newsletters are more restrictive, allowing mostly text and images to communicate a message. Digital newsletters, on the other hand, can include text and images, but aren’t limited there. They can also include video, audio and animation.


I will preface this topic by saying that it is debated quite a bit. Debatable points aside, it is safe to say that longer pieces of information are much easier to read in a printed format under a wider variety of conditions. This consideration should come into play with newsletters as you evaluate the type of content that will be included. If the newsletter will be composed of one or two very lengthy articles, it will likely be more readable in a printed format. If you have shorter bits of information, then the screen may be more readable.

Tracking & Analytics

Analytics and the ability to track user engagement has become very important as a gauge of an effort’s success. With printed pieces you are involved in one-way communication, meaning that you mail out a newsletter and it is likely to stop there. Your ability to track the recipients engagement is limited to their response to an included call to action, like a business reply envelope. Because this type of call to action requires the recipient to make a concerted effort at a later date to mail something, you are likely to lose many people at that step. Your ability to analyze user participation is diminished because they must do something for you to track.

With digital newsletters that limitation does not apply. You may very will have specific calls to action that you wish to track, but your ability to gauge interaction is not limited to those. Email and webpage newsletters allow you to track so much information about a user, from their physical location to the type of device they are browsing with. You will know in real-time when someone receives your newsletter and what they did with it. Did they click the links you included to related articles? You can easily see this type of information and more.

Planning & Cost Evaluation

There really is no hard and fast rule to when either type of newsletter should be used, but there are some differentiating factors that you should consider. Of primary concern should be who your audience is and how they prefer to receive information. If your audience is 16-18 year olds, you can pretty easily conclude that they like electronic communications that can be distributed over social media. If your audience is 25-50 year olds, you will have a more difficult time deciding what is most appropriate. If you are unclear on direction, it is always helpful to do a survey of your users to find out their preference.

I worked with an organization whose audience ranged from 21-81. As we were debating switching to an electronic newsletter many people object saying that our “older” recipients just wouldn’t like it because it would be difficult to read. As a measure of user testing we sent the first eNewsletter to our entire demographic and it was surprising to find that the group most engaging with the newsletter (based on analytics) were in their 50s and 60s, while the “younger” group in their twenties were engaging less. The lesson we learned was not to make assumptions about our audience, but rather to ask them how they wanted to receive information.

Cost Evaluation

One of the most important factors to evaluate is the cost involved in different types of newsletters. There are different costs associated with printed and digital pieces. Both types of newsletters will have production & delivery fees. With printed pieces this will be the printing and postage associated with the mailing. Printing costs can vary greatly based on the number of colors you choose to use and the final size of the piece. Postage costs are largely based on the size of your final document and can be lessened somewhat by filing as a non-profit with the postal service.

Digital delivery will include the cost of a broadcast email system. I think that people tend to think email is free–you can just go into Outlook and send the email, right? Technically, you could do that, but if you are sending to lists of 100+ people outside of your organization you run the risk of getting your entire domain marked as a spammer. What this will mean is that none of the emails sent from your domain will be delivered until you are cleared. That has the potential to be a HUGE problem for an organization and can take months to correct. To head off these problems the are broadcast email providers that will assist you in developing and sending mail to large groups. They work very hard to compose and send email in the best way possible to prevent being marked as spam. The best part is that if that were to happen your own email capabilities wouldn’t be affected, nor would you find any delays in service through the provider. In the next unit, we will take a look at a broadcast email provider.


When planning for your newsletter, you will want to first plan a timeline for production and delivery. To do this, you will first need to make a decision as to whether you will have a printed or digital newsletter. If you are sending an eNewsletter your production time will involve time to write and compile the content, and time to compose and test the email. Realistically you should be able to compose, test, and troubleshoot an email in 1-3 days. The amount of time needed for writing will vary based on your contributors.

If you are producing a printed newsletter you should start by deciding what size the newsletter will be and how many pages it will have. You should also begin early with collecting printing quotes. Along with pricing information these quotes will also give you a time allowance that the printer will need for your specific project. This can range anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending on how complex your design will be and the number of other jobs they are working on at the same time. After the printing is complete you will also need to factor in time for the newsletter to be delivered by mail. Local recipients will generally receive mail within a week, but if your audience is spread out nationwide it may take up to two weeks for everyone to receive the newsletter. If you are including time sensitive information you will need to plan accordingly.

Also important to consider is the type of content that you will need to include. The type of articles, image and other media will be unique to your organization and newsletter’s purpose, but you should also consider common elements of newsletters that need to be included.

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