The Constraints of Stationery — An Opportunity To Be Unique
Imagine getting a letter from your lawyer, accountant, or doctor. The information it contains is important, but the logo is pixelated or too small. In trying to create something quickly, the firm you’re working with ended up with a poorly executed design. The presentation of their brand makes you wonder whether this is the right group to trust with your business, your money, or your health.
Sending letterhead or handing out business cards that contain unprofessional or boring designs can kill the credibility of your brand. Nearly every business needs to create standard stationery items — from business cards to letterhead to envelopes. Understanding how to correctly produce stationery materials can help set your business apart from the pack.
Creating within strict constraints.
Stationery is pretty standard — and many times it is designed without much imagination. There are stringent constraints on the space you have and the information that needs to be included. However, if you look at some of the really inventive, creative solutions out there, you can see that constraints are a great starting point for creativity. If you first understand the set parameters, then, instead of focusing on the limitations, move forward by exploring all the options in areas that do allow for creativity. Behance is a great place to get inspiration.
Principles and best practices for designing company stationery.
When crafting stationery, consider the following questions during your design process.
- What is your brand goal? Think of your stationery in a wider context — as an extension of your brand. It’s important not to downplay these seemingly simple designs and how they impact your customers’ perception of your brand. It’s important not to rush through this design process but to approach it with the same creativity you would your logo.
- What is your brand personality? Make sure you know how to use stationery as a part of a holistic brand image. A young, hip brand is going to have a different design approach to stationary than a more established company. And companies within an industry will want to find unique ways to communicate how they are different from their competitors. As a result, you need to consider not just your goals for the stationery design, but also the personality of your brand as a whole.
- How can you stand out? There are times when clever design tricks are appropriate for a brand, however, it’s also possible to stand out without being gimmicky. Small details, like the quality or texture of the paper you’re working with or the type of printing (letterpress, foil-stamping, etc.), can provide ways to differentiate yourself from the pack. We have fairly preconceived notions of what a business card looks like, so even minor changes to that standard can help catch your customer’s eye. For instance, an atypical size for business cards — like post cards — can increase your chance of getting noticed. Think about special finishes, printing on something other than paper or use die cuts to either add aesthetic or utility to your card.
- How does digital play a role in stationery? Business cards and stationery are one of the few remaining physical brand communications you hand clients in an increasingly digital world. Tactile experiences are becoming increasingly rare today. So while you should give attention to your brand’s digital appearance, utilize your stationery’s unique tactile nature to stand out by giving attention to such small details as how a business card feels in their hand.
Some rules still apply.
While there is plenty of room for creativity in these designs, it’s important to note that some rules do still apply. For instance:
- Font size. Though having less design real estate can mean needing to use smaller fonts, it’s typically not recommended to use below a 7-point font for business cards and 9- or 10-point font size for letterhead. The focus should be on legibility.
- Hierarchy. The most important information still should be most prominent in your design. In most business cards and stationery, this hierarchy looks something like your company logo followed by a contact’s name, title, and contact information. Using grids with typical layouts for stationery can help achieve this.
- Resolution. For the best reproduction when printing, use images that have a resolution of at least 300 dpi.
- Color. Design your files in CMYK for full color printing, unless you’re working with less than four colors or exclusively with spot colors.
- Size: The typical business card size is 3.5 x 2 inches, with an extra ⅛-inch margin for any design elements or background that will “bleed” or extend beyond the finished size.
- Font Selection: Limit your font usage to one or two font families and be sure they are visually compatible with each other. When using more than one font, be certain there is enough contrast between them — that they aren’t too similar. For example, pairing a serif font with a sans serif usually works well, while pairing two serif fonts usually won’t.
These guidelines are not hard and fast. Playing with viewers’ expectations of what a “stock” business card looks like can be a good opportunity for creativity, however be sure your design is legible and meets your practical business goals.
How to get started.
Designing business cards and stationery that help you wow customers can set you apart from competitors. Start with InDesign stationery tutorials, and then jumpstart your design with a template from Adobe Stock you can easily customize for your own design. Additional tutorials show you how to add fonts from Typekit — where you’ll have access to over 4,000 typefaces — or how to save your project and project elements to Creative Cloud Libraries.
Revamping your stationery can be a wonderful differentiator in a crowded marketplace. Get creative in the areas where you can and put your best foot forward with stationery that represents your very own brand personality.