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General Information
Basic Publicity Design on a Budget

Gabriella MiyaresIt’s a situation many of us are familiar with: you’ve finally chosen a show, secured a venue, set the dates, even procured a cast — but now the production is looming, and you have to figure out how to advertise the thing. Problem is, there’s no budget, little time, and you’re not what anyone would call a graphic designer.

As a designer myself, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need a lot of time, money, or a graphic design degree to create effective publicity designs for your show. What you do need is a solid grounding in the principles of design, and an idea of what choices will save you money — and this post is a quick lesson in both!

There are five main principles of design: balance, alignment, repetition, contrast, and hierarchy (B.A.R.C.H.). They all work together to create something pleasing to the eye and effective from a communication standpoint.

Balance provides stability and structure to a design. You can think of it as various elements on the page having different visual “weights.” If you distribute them evenly, or in a way that creates some tension (leading your eye from one point to another), then you’ve used balance.

Alignment creates a sharper, more unified design, creating invisible connections between elements on the page.

Repetition strengthens a design by tying together otherwise separate parts and creating association. You can think beyond repetition of content into repetition of font styles, layout styles, colors, etc.

Contrast is the most effective way to create emphasis and impact with your design, and should be obvious: big/small, classic/modern, thick/thin, cool/warm, smooth/rough.

Hierarchy creates organization, guiding the reader through the reading process. It visually identifies and ranks the importance of the information you’re presenting.

Here’s a poster design I created: how does it utilize the design principles?  (Clicking on the poster will make it larger.)

Balance: The large type on top is balanced by the smaller but more condensed type on the bottom.

Alignment: There’s a clear vertical line that starts with the “l” in “long” and leads the eye down to the production information.

Repetition: The same typeface (Futura) is used throughout the poster, and the words in the title share a common motif (the sinking letters).

Contrast: The black/yellow makes for easy visibility, and the size difference between the title and the rest of the text makes the title pop.

Hierarchy: The more important the text, the bigger (and/or more bold) I made it. This is a simple and effective way to create hierarchy.

Now you’ve basically got a degree in design principles. Congratulations! You can also try putting yourself into a designer mindset: pretend that your production is a client, and you’ve been hired. Think about the audience, the message, the motivation for your publicity campaign — what do you want to communicate about the play? What do you want people who see your design to do after they see it (buy tickets, I hope!)?

Above all, know the play. Know your intent. And, from a practical standpoint, make a list of everything that needs to go on your poster/program/what-have-you. Otherwise, inevitably, you’ll forget something important. Or misspell someone’s name.

When you’re sketching out ideas for your new publicity designs, make sure to keep B.A.R.C.H. in mind, as well as what’s appropriate for the play and your audience — and don’t be afraid to make lots of little thumbnail sketches! They don’t cost anything and they’ll help more than you think in formulating ideas and layouts.

What’s that? You have a design idea, but you still don’t have any money, and you’re freaking out? Deep breaths! Here are some simple tips to keep costs low:

  • Keep your design black and white if you can. Consider printing on various colored papers to add interest.
  • If you must use color, create a design that also works in black and white. Being able to print both versions saves some money.
  • Create your own imagery to avoid copyright infringement or having to pay for image rights.
  • Consider hand illustration/lettering (or find an artistic student or teacher who will volunteer). This is an easy way to create instantly interesting and unique designs. Just make sure it will copy/print well!
  • Make your designs part of a campaign. Spread digital versions of your poster art / fliers via Facebook and Twitter. You can also go viral in an old-school way by asking local businesses to post fliers.
  • Need to boost your budget? Leave ad space on your design for the program and sell some ads.

Here are some examples of super-cheap fliers for events I organized in college. They were all hand-drawn with black marker and copied onto colored paper stocks. They stood out because of their unique aesthetic, but they could not have been any cheaper to make.

If hand-drawing and hand-lettering isn’t really your thing, but you don’t have access to design programs like Photoshop or InDesign, never fear! You can use standard programs like Word and Powerpoint to create publicity designs. Here are some technical tips for digital design:

  • Make sure your design is sized to fit standard-size paper stocks. (8.5 by 11, 8.5 by 14, 11 by 17)
  • Watch your margins! If you don’t leave enough space, information will get cut off.
  • Make sure your design looks good printed at 100% size (and not just zoomed in on the computer). Is your type all legible?
  • In Word, the “format” menu is your friend! Use this especially for text format. The most important fields are indents and spacing.
  • Also in Word, right-click on images to open the format menu for them. This will allow you to control how text fits around, in front of, or behind the image.
  • Powerpoint can sometimes be a better layout tool than Word.
  • For a great deal more control over image and text layout, consider downloading Gimp (http://getgimp.com/) for free. It’s Windows-only, and has similar capabilities to Photoshop.
  • Always save your files as PDFs for printing as opposed to Word or Powerpoint files. This ensures that you won’t have any issues with fonts being changed from computer to computer.

Examples I’ve made using Word:

And here’s one using Powerpoint:

 

See? It’s totally possible! Just remember the design principles, keep things simple, and soon you’ll have a publicity design that looks great, fills seats, and won’t break the bank. Good luck!

— Gabriella Miyares

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