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Black Cat Studios
Professional Affordable Graphic & Web Design

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Graphic Design

It’s an intriguing time in graphic design. The graphic arts are being revitalized as we’re beginning to see a resistance to the flat design movement. The design scene is about to get a lot more interesting as we continue to focus more on originality and the individuality of brands and their audiences. With so many old and new styles on the table, it will be a time of taking risks and breaking patterns.

Here are ten hot and upcoming (and returning) trends to watch in the near future.

1. RESPONSIVE LOGOS

It’s been more than ten years since responsive design began to revolutionize the web, and since then it has become the industry standard. The rapid rise of mobile browsing (and an endless assortment of devices and screen sizes) has created critical usability issues for traditional websites.
Designers and developers began experimenting with various ways to make designs adapt to the user’s device as a one-website-fits-all solution. This laid the groundwork for what would become known as “responsive design.”

The idea of altering logos to meet the same user demands has largely remained unthinkable, until recently. Companies have been refreshing their logos into modern, simplified versions over the past few years and responsive logo design is the logical next step in meeting the demands of today.

2. GRADIENTS (or as some call them, color transitions)

In the not-so-distant past gradients reigned supreme. They were found on every website button, page header and PowerPoint presentation. Your corporate PDF wasn’t cool unless a gradient graced the cover. Then, sometime around late 2007 they were sidelined as we embraced an era of flat design.

Flat design is evolving, and gradients are making their modern-day comeback as a flat design enhancement. This enhancement is part of a design update often referred to as “flat 2.0” or “semi-flat design”. Their reappearance in iOS and adoption by industry leaders like Stripe and Instagram have solidified their popularity once again, and you’ll be seeing them in the form of vibrant UI, branding, backgrounds, illustrations and overlays.

We’re also seeing an increased use of the term “color transitions” when referring to gradients. While the terms seem to be used interchangeably, “color transition” more often refers to the modern application which is vibrant, smooth and “flatter”—fitting within flat design aesthetics.

All BSC logo designs are responsive, and can be used for both web and print applications. In other words, when you purchase a logo design from BLack Cat Studios, its future proof and ready for whatever usage you may need.

3. MORE DEPTH (semi-flat design)

We’ve been seeing them a lot lately, and it’s safe to say that shadows are officially back in 2018. Like gradients, shadows were put on the back burner as we stripped realism and skeuomorphism from our designs in favor of extreme minimalism and two-dimensional design.

In hindsight, depth was a valuable tool for helping users determine visual hierarchy, input fields and calls to action on screen. Designers had been experimenting with “long-shadows” as an acceptable means to add more dimension to their flat designs when Google Material Design reintroduced real shadows as an enhancement to their UI. The idea quickly spread outside of Material Design and designers began reintroducing shadows of their own. These shadows were large, soft, sometimes colored and added subtle depth and dimension unlike their harsh, overused, “drop-shadow” predecessors.

The purists may not like it, but depth has proven that it can fit within the evolving ethos of flat design by improving usability and simplicity, both of which are core principles of flat design. Going forward you will see shadows become a staple of the “semi-flat” design movement. We’re already seeing them being used to enhance icons and illustrations, as well as websites, app interfaces and even print designs.

4. THE USE OF DUOTONES

Duotones are traditionally created through a halftone printing process where one halftone is printed on top of another of a contrasting color, creating a two-toned image. This fundamental printing technique has found new life in digital media. Imaging software has made it easier than ever to create duotones, as well as related variations like monotones, tritones, quadtones and “fake duotones” (tinted images).

Spotify has been credited with their return to mainstream design by using duotone images in their app and promotional microsites. Designers are taking advantage of this technique as imagery created within a limited color palette is delightfully complimentary to semi-flat design.

With bold colors and beautiful application possibilities, duotones are predicted to be one of the hottest trends of 2018.

5. PALETTES & PATTERNS INSPIRED BY THE 80’s & 90’s

From pretty pastels to electric hues, color schemes from the 80’s and 90’s have been gaining popularity once again. With the movement away from ultra-flat designs, expect to see the abstract and geometric patterns inspired by the era move from the fringes into the mainstream as well.

As children of the 80’s and 90’s become more prominent and influential as both brand leaders and key target audiences, this trend will add visual excitement as well as a touch of nostalgia to your designs.

6. FLAT GRAPHICS IN PACKAGING

Packaging design made a move towards simplicity around 2016. This does not necessarily mean minimalism but instead a stripping back of layers, detailing, text and tone to hone in on the core information and graphics. These are then treated in a simple, deconstructed manner.

Many major retail and manufacturing firms have adapted the design and have taken the market by storm with single colour label design. Featuring just the core information and intriguing illustrations, the contrast of its simplicity with the complexity of its competitors’ designs has ensured both distinctiveness and strong shelf standout.

7. BOLD TYPOGRAPHY (and serifs) RETURN TO THE SCREEN

When it comes to typography in 2018 you’ll find that the bigger and bolder, the better. Designers will be opting for artistic effects, extra-large font sizes and huge headlines. Helvetica inspired sans serifs have dominated digital spaces, and while they’ll remain as fashionable as ever, especially their extra-bold family members, we can expect more typeface variety in the coming year.

This variety will include more decorative and hand-made fonts as well as serif fonts. I know, it's hard to believe, but yes, I said Serif fonts! Our serif font friends have been making a rapid reappearance on screens, especially when paired with sans serifs.
With a demand for synchronization across all media, designers shied away from serifs almost entirely to avoid inconsistency as brands began to live more of their lives online. With the serif’s increasing acceptability on screens (likely due to better screens and Google Web Fonts’ impressive options), we can expect a ripple effect and for the serif to regain some of its former footing.

Trends mainly seen in print will also be finding their way on screen. These will include experimental and artistic typography, more creative layouts and placements involving imagery, and bolder variations in alignment and kerning.

8. CUSTOM GRAPHIC ART & ILLUSTRATION

Whether they are whimsical, practical, or purely artistic, the demand for custom graphic art and illustrations will continue to grow in the new year. Custom imagery has always played a major role in print media. When it comes to digital media however (despite being a star player of Flash websites in the 2000’s), custom graphic art and illustration has taken a backseat to cheaper stock imagery alternatives for much of the last decade.

The accessibility of stock left drawing, painting, calligraphy, artistic typography, photography and illustration underutilized on the modern web. This includes modern renditions of classic graphic design techniques like duotones and double exposures for example, both of which are becoming trends of their own. The movement toward flat design also left little room for these embellishments and as we opted for icons and illustrations tailored to flat design trends, we left things looking a little homogenized.

Custom artwork and illustration helps create a visual language which can really enhance and add personality to a brand. In 2018, you can feel free to get really creative as we’ll see more artwork in a broader range of styles surface as designers and their clients begin to untap the potential of these underused assets.

9. AUTHENTIC PHOTOGRAPHY

Authentic photography looks and feels real. Whether you’re working with custom photos or selecting stock, look for images that convey emotion, contain action or tell stories. Unfiltered and unstaged photography was a huge part of advertising in the 90’s, and though we’re not quite sure why models spent the next 15+ years shaking hands and smiling at their screens, it’s refreshing to see natural (and more interesting) compositions return to the mainstream once again.

Demand for real-life photography grew significantly in 2017 and will grow even more in 2018 as brands seek to connect with their users, and designers seek to rid the world of cheesy stock photography. Luckily there are lots of amazing photographers out there who are helping meet this demand through premium and free stock photography resources.

Trends mainly seen in print will also be finding their way on screen. These will include experimental and artistic typography, more creative layouts and placements involving imagery, and bolder variations in alignment and kerning.

10. HIGHLY DETAILED VINTAGE

Vintage isn’t anything new (obviously), but the trend will remain strong in 2018. Though it may contradict the mainstream desire for minimalism—beautiful, finely crafted logos and illustrations are timeless. Brands looking to achieve a top-shelf look often find classic design aesthetics can provide an air of distinction and sophistication.

While this trend may not be practical for everyone, brands in the food and beverage industries, especially those in wine and spirits, have been leveraging this style for years with gorgeous results. Artisan, organic and natural product brands are loving this look by using it to give their products that hand-crafted, wholesome feeling of simpler times.

Trends mainly seen in print will also be finding their way on screen. These will include experimental and artistic typography, more creative layouts and placements involving imagery, and bolder variations in alignment and kerning.

You've decided take your business to the next level and create your own brand identity. Excellent!
So what is the first step? You've already taken it, you're here reading this.

Your brand is important. From business cards to flyers, or maybe even clothing, your company brand is what potential clients and customers see first.
You want the best bang for your buck, anything less isn't an option.

When I design your logo / brand, I guarantee you will be 100% satisfied with the final product. That product (your logo / brand) will be usuable on all media, be it the web, print media such as flyers or business cards, apparel, or even billboards, if you are so inclined.

What is branding you ask? And why is it so important for your business?
Branding goes way beyond just a logo or graphic element. When you think about your brand, you really want to think about your entire customer experience. Everything from your logo, your website, your social media experiences, the way you answer the phone.
When you look at this broad definition of branding, it can be a bit overwhelming to think about what is involved in your brand. In short, your brand is the way your customer perceives you.
It is critical to be aware of your brand experience and have a plan to create the brand experience that you want to have.
A good brand doesn’t just happen. It is a well thought out and strategic plan. Many small organizations and start-ups neglect to spend necessary time thinking about their brand in this broad sense and the impact it has on their business.

Let’s look at five reasons why your brand is important.

1. Recognition

People tend to do business with companies they are familiar with. If your branding is consistent and easy to recognize, it can help people feel more at ease purchasing your products or services.

2. Stand out from your competition

In today’s global market, it is critical to stand apart from the crowd. You are no longer competing on a local stage, your organization now competes in the global economy. How do you stand out from the thousands or millions of similar organizations around the world?

3. Your brand tells people who you are

Your full brand experience, from the visual elements like the logo to the way that your phones are answered, tell your customer about the kind of company that you are. Are all of these points of entry telling the right story?

4. Referrals

People love to tell others about the brands they like. People wear brands, eat brands, listen to brands, and they’re constantly telling others about the brands they love. On the flip side, you can’t tell someone about a brand you can’t remember.

5. Clarity and focus

It’s easy to wander around from idea to idea with nothing to guide you, and it doesn’t take long to be far away from your original ideas. A clear brand strategy helps you stay focused on your mission and vision as an organization.
Your brand can help you be strategic and will guide your marketing efforts, saving you time and money.

Web Design

I have designed and built many WordPress sites for my clients over the years. Too many in fact. But, the customer is always right, or are they?
Here's a few reasons why I can not recommend WordPress as a platform for your website.

1. Security. Or lack thereof

WordPress sites get hacked, a lot. Not even advocates of WordPress would argue with that. But, why do they get hacked?

Well, often, the answers come back as "It's popular so it's targeted". That's true, but, if it was secure, it still wouldn't get hacked.

Another reason given is "It's a result of using poorly written plugins, addons and themes". Because WordPress does almost nothing out of the box, so one is forced to extend the functionality by installing plugins because well, there really isn't very much built in, other than some basic blogging. Which by the way, is what WordPress was designed for.

Sadly, it's not just the plugins at fault here, the way WordPress is written to accommodate the plugins is where the problems start.

2. Performance. Or lack thereof

There is no consideration given to performance in WordPress out of the box. There is no caching either at the server or browser level, no minification, nothing!
Add some plugins and you have an HTML header that is at best hilarious to anybody who knows about performance or writing HTML, and at worst, a bloated mangled mess of code that is time consuming to troubleshoot.
It's just a bad idea. A very bad idea.

Of course, adding all the plugins to make the system do anything meaningful or even make it secure, presents further impacts on performance, and so, the solution? You guessed it, more plugins!

You know when your computer slows down because you have too many things running, do you think the solution is to install more stuff? Of course not.

3. Lack of basic essential features

It's supposed to be a CMS. Although it's not, it's written as a blogging system which is almost all it does out of the box, though there are plugins to make it more CMS like. So again, more plugins.

There's also no built in way to control how WordPress sends email. So how do you add this basic funtionality? Right again, more plugins.

There isn't a way to manage the same content across pages. So how can you do it? You got it, more plugins.

So, overall, we have not seen a single compelling reason to use something that is broken, incomplete and needs fixing, rather than choosing something that works out of the box.

Also, please keep in mind that search engines use speed as a ranking factor and a WordPress site can be an SEO disaster without a great deal of work. And yes, there are companies out their who claim to specialise in making it secure and fast, though of those I've spoken to, I've usually pointed out where and how they've failed to do so.

In any case, why bother? Why not just use something that is fast and secure by design and get it done right the first time? Of the WordPress designers I've spoken to, most have never heard of Google PageSpeed, and it shows in their work.

4. No, it won't make you a web designer

Too many people are under the impression that having a WordPress website will allow them to update and modify their site without knowing a thing about web design. This is simply not true, and a potentially costly assumption that gets people into trouble, a lot.
I can't tell you the number of times I have gotten a call, text or email from a panicked business owner who broke their website.

Keep in mind, whether I built the site or not, I am going to charge a premium for correcting your self induced broken website misery. As I am sure other designers will as well.

In the simplest terms, responsive web design means your website will function as intended and look great on all platforms, from a cell phone to a large television.

Utilizing the latest HTML and CSS, BCS responsive web designs are search engine friendly and work on all devices. Responsive web design not only guarantees your site is up to date with the latest tech, but is also future proof.

To put it plainly, SEO helps people on the web find you.
If you have no interest in growing or maintaining your business, can you rightfully ignore SEO, but if those things are important to you, you might want to reconsider. As SEO can help you.

1. Be visible.

This one’s a no-brainer. The easier you are to find, the more likely you are to sell your stuff. It’s worth putting in the time and effort on your end to save your potential customers time on theirs.

2. Earn credibility.

Mark yourself as an industry thought-leader and an expert in your field by making your online presence stand out. This may be digitally accomplished on your:

  • • Website
  • • Blog
  • • Social media pages
  • • YouTube
  • • Guest blogs
  • • Podcasts
3. One up your competition.

The better managed your SEO practices are, the more likely you are to outshine your competition in online searches. And what good entrepreneur doesn’t want to beat out their competition?

1. BLOGS

Blogs are a search engine favorite, and every site should have one. Even a small, easy to manage blog can greatly help your search engine rankings.

2. SEO AUDIT

Knowing where you want to be is as important as knowing where you currently are. Take this step to begin to understand why you aren't ranking as high as you'd like to be.

3. KEYWORD RESEARCH

Researching effective keywords can mean the difference between success and failure. Be certain to choose keywords that are searched frequently, but are used infrequently by your competition.

4. CHANGE EXISTING PAGES

Now that you have the keywords, it's time to make sure your content is in line with your keywords, and vice versa. This step is very important.

5. CHECK THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS

When a search engine scans your site, it isn't just looking for keywords, its also looking information called meta data. Be sure your meta data is what you want the search engines to see.

6. LINK BUILDING

In addition to blogging, keywords and meta data, search engines view links to and from your site as ways to verify your sites legitimacy. The more you have, the more legit search engine believe your site to be.

7. SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

Some people believe social media is the end all be all future of web advertising and marketing. I am not one of those people. Yes, social media can help, but it isn't the only game in town. That said, social media promotion will never hurt, as long as your budget allows it.

Other Stuff

Don't get too comfortable settling into your groove.

Getting comfortable as a freelancer means you are not growing. Without the structure of a regular 9-5 job, you have to create your own growth opportunities. You have to create limits to push yourself through and do your own research to figure out what is next.
When the freelance world becomes competitive, you will be more likely to survive if you are willing to throw your hat over the fence and take on projects beyond your perceived abilities. If you do not get in over your head, you will never have a reason to research solutions to dig yourself out of a hole. What you learn by digging yourself out of a hole, you will take with you to your next project. The more you learn, the more valuable you become as a freelancer, and the more likely clients are to choose you in a competitive gig economy.

Create a productive home working environment

Forget about painting your walls the perfect shade of Carribean blue "set the mood". Hold off on buying a bunch of ergonomic furniture as well. Workspace décor and furniture are important, but it is secondary to the layout of your furniture and the way you arrange your tech tools.
For example, before you fill your office with ergonomic furniture, determine where your desk will be located. You do not want the sun to come in through the window and shine in your face for half the day, but you do not want to be in a dark corner, either.
Plan out where you are going to work first. Then you will know how much wall space you have for each item. You could have the most expensive, highest rated ergonomic setup one can purchase, and with the sun shining in your face, your productivity will be next to zero (but you might get a nice sun tan!)

Stop with the freebies!

As freelancers we don't make money unless we charge for our services. But you already know that part.
If you are going to offer pro bono work, be strategic about it. Always ask for something in return. Clients who are not willing to reciprocate on even a basic level are going to take advantage of you.
Avoid pro bono work that is not reciprocated in some form, and do not discount your services to the level of a small donation. The client could interpret that to mean you are willing to work cheap and are desperate.
Even of you are, NEVER show it.
Surviving as a freelancer in a competitive market isn't easy. All too aften you'll get the "Well there's a website that will do it for $5.
To them I say, "Go for it".
You and I both know they will regret that decision, because we know all too well that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Cinilogic.com is live! Chris Cinieri specializes in helping your organization reach its full potential. Check out his website for more info.

Crepe Corner of Smithfield, RI is open for business. BCS created all the graphics, flyers, promo material and menu for Crepe Corner. I am proud to have been on board from the beginning, and to see it come to life.

BCS designed the logo and branding for The Peachee Pear, and watched the concept take off. Now they have been nominated for a Liebster Award.
Congratulations Angie!

Click here to check out The Peachee Pear