free design tools anyone can use

As a web designer, I often go through a branding consultation with clients who are setting up a new business or nonprofit. In this one-hour session, we figure out the fonts, colors, feelings, and images that best suit you and your audience- it’s kind of like setting up a design language. However, not everyone can afford the 1-4 hour strategy session that takes, so here are some tools and resources for those who would like to DIY their design.

Canva- an entirely web-based Photoshop lite.

I love Canva and recommend it to any client that wants to make their own social media graphics. It’s an easy way to put text on top of images and make some very basic image adjustments.

Google fonts- free fancy web fonts

Did you know you can go to to see and filter a list of all the google fonts? These are free to use on new web projects, usually pretty easy to download for offline use, and already incorporated into your google docs and slides. Try using the drop down menus to see only certain categories of fonts (like handwriting) or put in your own sample text to see it in action.

Pexels- free stock photos that don’t suck

Of course, it is always better to hire a photographer and get custom shots. But if you’re looking for something a little cheaper, or maybe just a quickie background image for your blog post where you don’t have to worry about copyright violations, check our Pexels. Their quality is excellent. color palette generator

Just hit spacebar to make new color combinations. When you see a color you like, press the lock button. It will give you the hexadecimal color codes (those six digit numbers at the bottom) you can copy/paste over to your designer or into your design program.

Magisto – quick and easy video creation

If you want a little video for social media but don’t have the budget to hire a videographer, try Magisto– it’s an app you put on your phone. Just choose the images and videos you’d like, pick some royalty-free music, and it gives you a video! Pretty great.

GifMaker- create animated image files

Gifs can be nice for use in email (where videos are not possible), or when you’re trying to show an animation that doesn’t need audio (like the illustrations on this page! I also like make photos into cartoons or paintings (for free)

Ok, I almost didn’t put this in here because I’m a designer and I like things to be well-designed (and frankly, this site’s user interface is a mess!). But, I haven’t found a better (free) service out there than this one, if you want some fancy effects on your photos. It’s not as good as hiring a real illustrator to make you a real cartoon or painting, but hey- it’s free!

Lucidchart- DIY flowcharts and infographics

Want to build flowcharts or custom infographics, but don’t have the budget to hire me? Try this site, it is pretty easy to use and has 3 free charts on the free plan. They’re not as pretty as custom-drawn infographics, but they get the job done if you just need to communicate an idea quickly.

Are you DIYing your next design project but don’t know where to start? Get in touch for a some expert help, I have 13 years of experience in web and graphic design illustration. I’d be glad to point you in the right direction and offer you 30 minutes of my best advice, totally free.

How to add a COVID-19 notice to your website (for free!)

Ok, so I’ve had a lot of folks asking me how to get those little colorful info bars at the top of your website- you know, the ones that say you’re still open with modified hours, or explain your safety precautions you have in place, or just to answer that question you are getting a million calls about.

Luckily, it’s easy to put that information somewhere obvious on your site without messing up the rest of your website’s design. Even non-tech-savvy folks can do it!

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The best free way to market your website

Think about it… who’s the best potential client for you, realistically? It’s the folks you already know, who trust you and like you!

So, how do we keep what we do (and our new fancy website!) on the tops of their minds? An email signature is a great start, and best of all, it’s super easy!

How to setup an email signature in gmail

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Crowd-Funding, not crowd-flopping

Or, how to use good design to make a kick-ass Kickstarter

Using the GENDER book as an example – 320% funded.

A lot of the work was done in the 4 years in advance, building our newsletter, audience, and hype about our project, but some specific things I’d suggest for the months before you launch include:

  1. Date a blogger who has a big readership in a related field (haha, just kidding. Seriously, though, it helps).
  2. I used a lot of the tips from here: hacking kickstarter. You can see our sample landing pages here and here (I changed the branding to match). It’s totally worth it to get a web guy to do this for you if you don’t feel comfortable. On a related note, I am a designer who is accepting new clients.ks-1
  3. Use Mailchimp. It’s easy to use and free for small projects. Take your core list of already-interested persons and hit them up throughout the campaign. Write these emails before it even starts. In addition to your already-interested list, make a separate a list of all your gmail contacts (instructions here) and use it, but only once in a very long while. Remember they didn’t sign up on your list. They’ll tolerate an unsolicited email once in a blue moon because you’re friends, but don’t be a jerk.mailchimp html emails are pretty!
  1. Abuse your social networks. If you facebook, facebook it. If you tweet, tweet it. If you call people, call them. Don’t worry about the networks you don’t already use; it’s too late now for that. Instead, if you’re not hip on Tumblr, ask your friends who have 2,000 followers on it to tumble it for you. It’ll have more reach that way. Use the networks you already know and are good at, and use them lots. If by the end of your campaign, your friends are sick to death of hearing about it, you’re doing it right.
  2. Make an event page on facebook for the kickstarter, and then hack facebook to automagically invite all your friends, and then invite your close supporters to do the same. This gives an exponential increase to your social reach. Here’s the example page of how we told folks to help.
  3. Use Hootsuite to program tweets and facebook updates to run a couple times a day throughout the campaign. Program this before the campaign starts. That way, when you’re flooded and overloaded and reeling from the press/monies/updates, you’ll have at least something posted every day.
  4. Think of your stretch goals in advance and make these very visible. We made a graphic for them. I updated every time we passed one to keep people motivated. Likewise, make sure you set your initial goal high enough- that’s the one most people care about. Don’t be afraid to ask big if you have the following to back it up.stretch goals
  5. Make a street team of your core supporters to help you out as much as if it were their own project. See: the gender scouts.Give them fun assignments that build hype, and practical assignments that will really help you, like the facebook hack above to invite their friends to the launch event, or to write articles supporting your project.kic-10
  6. If you’re posting an update or announcement, try to do it with a custom graphic image or video, like this and this. It’s much easier for folks to reblog or share if it catches their eye visually. If you have illustration talents, use them. ( Or hey, hire me to do it for you).
  7. kic-13Be transparent with your pricing; people want to know where their $$ is going, and why. You need them to trust you. Again, I made a visual for this because I’m a visual kinda person. I also put up links to our google spreadsheet budget. Maybe this is a little overboard, but I think it build trust.
  8. Try to ally yourself with other good causes by giving a % of the proceeds away. We did a book scholarship program for this, and had other “feel good” reasons to donate, like planting trees for the project, using recycled paper to print on, etc. The more people associate you with good causes, the more they’ll donate.
  9. Press releases- cherry-pick the authors you know already and the ones you think will be interested based on their past stories. Ask on facebook: “Do I know anyone who writes articles online?” You might be surprised who can give you an introduction. Send them a ready-to-copy-and-paste article along with juicy images. Make their jobs easy, and build one-on-one relationships with them. You might get a story in the Huffington Post this way, or be featured on the front page of Buzzfeed. You never know.
  10. Referral contests– it’s cheap for you to give away copies of the thing you’re making (and free to give away the digital goods), and referrals are priceless. Make it a game.the referral game
  11. Show, don’t just tell what the perks are. Again, use your Photoshop skillz or hire me to do it.
    kic-12 kic-05 kic-04
  12. Build some buzz around the big launch day-countdown on all your sites and social media until it opens.
  13. Make your video awesome as possible.
  14. kic-14Set yourself fun mini-games: if we make $X today, I will ____. If we get to 100 funders tonight, I will do 100 pushups. Insert your silly stunt here. If nothing else, it keeps it exciting for you.
  15. Good luck!

Want some graphics for your kick-ass Kickstarter?

Let’s get together for a free 30-minute cofee date consult to talk about your specific needs- goal graphics, perk illustrations, or more! This can be especially useful with products that aren’t made yet- I can mockup what your printed book will look like or draw an image to represent the future product being used. I can travel to you anywhere in the San Francisco bay area for a small additional fee, or we can meet over Skype, Google Hangout, or on the phone- it’s totally up to you. Click here to get started!