Thinking of doing a poster template in Word?

I often get clients asking me if I’d set up a Word poster template for them. The reason they want it in Word is, obviously, to be able to keep creating posters more quickly and cost-effective than by using a designer all every time. That all makes sense.

However, here is the catch: the brief is to make their word-heavy posters have more impact, to ‘stand out from the crowd’ when  pinned on that busy notice board…

So, how do you explain to your client, in as nice a way as possible, that you can’t easily have something that has impact, yet allow anybody to edit and fill the template with too many words, thereby ripping the carefully formatted table apart?

I’ve just had another one of those requests and, having carefully formulated a response email (for what must surely be the hundredth time), thought it worth posting it here for future quick reference. There must be so many other designers out there getting the same request, and having to explain the same argument every time. So, this post is also for you. If you think I’ve missed out a point, do let me know!

This is the email I sent:


Dear client

Just a short note to lay out the challenges with Word templates:

  1. To make a text-heavy poster stand out is harder, as there is less space available for graphic elements.
  2. A clean and formatted layout can help make it look clearer and better presented – but will require a strict word count to be adhered to.
  3. Word docs can’t be printed with a bleed, so no colour can go off the edges.

And, depending on design, the options:

  1. The design could simply be about creating a clean layout to help the message look better than at present. This is the simplest option, as it could be done with the help of a table grid in the doc (no visible borders).
  2. For more colour impact, an option would be to have a header/footer/side strip that bleeds off the edges. A base sheet would be pre-printed (lie a letterhead), onto which the Word doc body template then gets overprinted.
  3. Another option is to set it all up as a form pdf with pre-specified text fields. This kind of template allows for tighter design/layout control by fixing font sizes, colours etc. It means everybody will have to work within the strict confines of the template. The point of doing it this way is that the simple word template in point 1 can be ‘broken’ by anybody ie. by adding too much text etc. The pdf can not be altered except for the fields allowed for editing.

The main restriction for any design template will be word count, word count, word count!

For a designer, working with a word doc is a bit like nailing jelly to the wall. All elements can shift about, simply by adding too much text etc

To create a clean and visually strong design designers use all sorts of tricks, but most importantly it is structure and layout. Allowing other users to then edit these structured layouts and add too much text is the biggest challenge with Word doc templates.
If the main point of this design is to make it by visually stronger and stand out more, then editing/cutting down text will be the most challenging part. Only by reducing the amount of text can more colour/graphics be added to the design of the template, and larger, more impactful headlines be used.
But enforcing the discipline of editing text is not easy. Which is why perhaps using the pdf option might be advisable, as it forces the author to edit the text to make it fit the set style, as excess text will simply not show.
In the end, the big challenge is flexibility vs design control. Which is why designers rarely work in Word docs, and prefer the control inDesign offers.

The environmental doughnut goes youtube

Feeling privileged to have been involved in this project, designing the now famous ‘environmental doughnut‘ graphics.


We don’t need to consume less. We just need to design better products

Having read and loved this celebrated industrial manifesto Cradle to Cradle, this article by one of it’s authors caught my attention straight away. The attraction here is that we don’t have to preach to the public about being frugal and pious, but that we simply need to do things in a better way. The benefits would be on many levels: from preserving scarce resources, protecting the environment to creating new job opportunities. The news is good. Time to do it!

The world doesn’t have a consumption problem, it has a design problem, says Lewis Perkins, President of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and a member of the Global Future Council on Consumption. Instead of consuming less, we need to design products that are less harmful to our environment and the labour force that creates them, he argues in this interview.

Why is it important to think about the future of consumption?

The world’s population is growing, and consumption drives the global economy – so even if we wanted to cut back on consumption, it isn’t a realistic ambition. But I don’t think the world has a consumption problem, I think we have a design problem: we are still designing products to be made with rapidly diminishing resources, in ways that are toxic to our water systems, not mindful of the labour force that creates them, and so on.

There’s widespread acceptance now that we need to retool the economy, to change the equation around each of those components of design. But how we do this is a huge question. It’s valuable to have space to focus on one specific part of it: the standpoint of consumers. We are in a disruptive moment, both politically and technologically, and that offers opportunities to rethink how we consume – indeed, how we want to live on this planet.

What are the emerging trends in the shifting patterns of consumption?

I think there are three, and they all fit closely together. The first one is the circular economy: we are paying more and more attention to the materials that go into products.

The second is the sharing economy: we are shifting from models of ownership to models of service. There are limits to what we might want to share – toothbrushes, for example – but there’s a lot of potential to take the model that’s growing exponentially with Uber and AirBnB into other products, like technology, hardware or apparel. If current trend forecasting is correct, the rising generation of consumers will think very differently about the concept of ownership.

Finally, there’s a nascent but growing backlash against designed obsolescence – the idea that you buy an Apple or Samsung phone, say, and expect to throw it away and get another in 12-18 months. Products like the Fairphone – which is designed to be repaired and upgraded by replacing modules, for greater longevity – could be seriously disruptive to this kind of business model.

Are there examples of major companies embracing these trends?

Having mentioned Apple, they are putting out some videos about recycling – but it looks more like an added back-end system than a radical change in design. Companies that seem to be seriously rethinking their entire models include H&Mand Ikea, who made a bold statement that we’ve reached “peak stuff” and they plan to make their products easier to repair and recycle.

How they get there remains to be seen, but I do believe this is more than just the marketing speak du jour. Organisations are starting to see the risk of becoming dinosaurs.

What are the barriers to changing models of consumption?

For now, it still works to be a dinosaur. Most people are still buying phones to throw away in 12-18 months. It’s still cheaper to make stuff with raw materials. In many companies, well-intentioned people in sustainability offices are doing good work but keep running up against a brick wall.

So the big barrier is leadership: it takes a lot of guts to jump off your cash cow. If you’re a $10 billion company, are you willing to risk becoming a $9 billion company – or even a $5 billion company – if you believe that’s what it takes to invest in your longevity?

What role is there for governments and the nonprofit sector?

I think we’ll see more mission-based organisations, including nonprofits, getting into the space of solving problems for corporations by setting up systems to collect, sort and reuse their products – and the future may be in startups that eventually get bought out by larger companies.

As for governments, most likely we’ll see a market-driven process that evolves into standards, that ultimately become regulatory – although the pace at which that happens will depend on where you are. We’ll likely see earlier and firmer regulatory pushes from, say, the EU than the US government.

Where can you imagine we’ll be by 2030?

I can imagine that technology will have given us better systems to track materials. The concept of a “material passport” is getting more discussion now, and – at the risk of throwing out buzzwords – big data and the Internet of Things may have advanced sufficiently by 2030 that we will have a database of where all materials and components in each product came from.

Such a database would enable much more sophisticated systems to arrange the return of materials and components to the companies that manufactured them – and also for third parties to verify the source of materials and their quality, to check that they can safely be recycled into something else.

Venn reality hits home?

This is quite an amusing Venn diagram about the usability of many University websites. When internal expectations collide with external expectations? Josh Spiro’s article Redesigning the Ivory Tower certainly takes apart the UI of educational websites. And quite rightly so.

If academia is often compared to an ivory tower, then a college’s website is the school motto carved proudly into that tower but overgrown with ivy. Most college websites make life harder for the people who visit them. This goes double for colleges inside a larger university. They are probably only redesigned every few years because of budget and staffing constraints, and they are bloated with excess content, unintuitive design, and competing internal interests and politics, as illustrated by the comic below.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder how many other sites don’t quite meet the expectations of their visitors. Do you think your site is doing well?

Designing The Stop Sign

What if there were no stop signs, and a major corporation was charged with inventing one? They’d brief their agency and let them do it. Sorta. Welcome to corporate creativity, where groupthink and endless revisions help good ideas get executed.

Does this sound familiar? Watch this classic video as a reminder of how too often creative projects work.