Tips & Tricks

3 Takeaways From Toronto DesignThinkers 2018

Back in October, our resident Graphic Designer Kevin Cascagnette (hey, that’s me!) had the opportunity to attend DesignThinkers Toronto, an industry leading conference put on by the RGD (Association of Registered Graphic Designers). More than 2,000 creatives participated in the event over the course of two jam-packed days. Forty-eight speakers dove deep into a broad range of topics, including “Augmenting The Everyday Through Design,” “NSFW: F*ck Your Office,” and “Interactions Speak Louder Than Words: The Role of Storytelling in UI Design.” The conference boasted design legends such as  Jessica Hische, Bonnie Siegler,Alex Center, and Michael Beirut (MICHAEL FREAKIN’ BEIRUT) talking about their careers, their triumphs, and their shortcomings. Simply put, it was a remarkable two days.

So how can I chalk up two days worth of knowledge into three main takeaways? With blood, sweat and gin, I will try (*pours gin*).

GIF of attendees and arrow pointing to Kevin Cascagnette at DesignThinkers Toronto 2018

Takeaway #1 – There’s a whole world of designers out there looking to collaborate, learn, and grow together.

When I first walked into the conference, I was struck by the number of people that were attending; there was a broad spectrum of design experience represented, everyone from young people studying design in school to seasoned pros looking for some fresh inspiration. It was amazing to watch a community form from this diverse group, with everyone excited to be among “their people.”

Over the two days, this collaborative group shared questions and tips and meaningful conversation, to the point that I learned almost as much from my fellow attendees as the keynote speakers. It reaffirmed a belief that everyone at Collaborative Haus shares: we’re better working together than working against one another.

Kevin Cascagnette, Diane Torlone from Toronto, and Suzie Djordjevic from Detroit

The conference also proved that designers don’t take themselves too seriously; the number of designer jokes certainly proved that (example: designers always wear black, so of course a sign was posted with “Look a sea of people wearing black” above the large foyer area).

Takeaway #2 – Think critically & cohesively before you design.

This one seems like a no-brainer right? It is, but the need to think critically & cohesively was also something that the conference stated repeatedly. As designers, we have to ask questions of ourselves and our clients that might be uncomfortable. We’ve all been in situations where we’re not on the same page as someone we’re working with, and we need to remember that to have a clear understanding of a project you need to align yourself through common frameworks and language to meet your goals.

An example of this is trying to explain the visual design of “trustworthy.” Using words and language can help us understand what “trustworthy” looks like to person A or person B. While person A or B might be able to agree on words that describe trustworthy, they may also be on different wavelengths when it comes to what a “trustworthy” typeface looks like. It’s through processes like setting up a t-chart and having our clients lay out different font choices on the chart that we’re able to better visualize what “trustworthy” or “dishonest” might look like. In the case of the t-chart below, we see that we can also have the other axis help us narrow in on other traits the client wants their logo to represent like the ability to be taken seriously. By designing with expectation and fail-safes in place to help ensure we’re all thinking critically & cohesively, designs begin to take form in meaningful and impactful ways.

Michael Bierut speaking at Design Thinkers TO 2018


Takeaway #3 – Stay Inspired.

By the end of the first session of the first day, I had already realized how inspiring the conference was going to be, and it honestly felt as though the entire design world was focused in on the streets of Toronto. In addition to the inspiration by being surrounded by like-minded people, many of the talks focused on how successful designers had managed to stay fresh. What was their secret? How do you keep making magic when you’ve worked in an industry for close to 40 years (MICHAEL FREAKIN’ BEIRUT)?

The answer is in many ways was to stay inspired. Josh Higgins,  Executive Creative Director at Facebook, said that “Art Inspires Community, Design Builds Community.” This quote helped awaken my mind to the fact that the art I had been admiring for years had a significant impact on my daily design work. The idea of searching for inspiration all around us can be a tired cliche but seems to ring true time and time again. These everyday inspirations are what fosters our creativity and challenges our perspectives.

Many of the speakers also spoke of personal projects that helped propel their creative thinking and expand their skill set. It was through these personal projects that designers were able to expand their network, improve their skill-sets, and understand what design looks like from our clients perspective. As Mitch Goldstein put it in his talk Unknowing, “I have started to understand more and more that my creative practice is not about knowing what I am doing – it’s about confidently not knowing what I am doing.” His philosophy of making for the sake of making has provided him with a myriad of creative opportunities both professionally and personally. Whether the project was playing with glue guns and Photoshop or working on campaigns, all of the speakers firmly planted in my mind the importance of “playing.”

Jessica Hische speaking at Design Thinkers TO 2018

Blood, Sweat, and Gin

To try and capture the entire depth of what I learned, heard, and was inspired by into three main takeaways was next to impossible. With some of that blood, sweat, and gin I mentioned earlier, I hope I was able to brush the surface just enough that you were able to get a sense of how valuable it was to me both personally and professionally. Thanks for reading.

Photos by Connie Tsang Photography for RGD

BONUS Takeaway

In addition to all of the takeaways stated above, there was also a trade show element to the conference where I was able to learn about cutting edge print processes that could take any of your print marketing to the next level,  so give us a call!

3 Takeaways From Toronto DesignThinkers 2018
read more

Spice Up Your Documents with these 4 Font Alternatives to Arial

We’ve all been there: looking at a letter, formal document, or poster with Arial staring back at us. Don’t get me wrong, Arial is a great font, it’s tried and true, and gets the job done. But at the end of the day, sometimes we’re looking for more than “getting the job done”, and that’s when our Alternatives to Arial come into play. Another awesome aspect to these fonts? They’re all Google Fonts, which means they’re easier to use on websites, free to download, and easily available from the Google Fonts site. So, without further adieu, 4 Font Alternatives to Arial To Spice Your Documents Up:

  1. Poppins
    A stunning geometric sans-serif font that combines functionality with a touch of curvy fun. The Poppins family includes five weights ranging from Light to Bold and also includes the alternatives required for Latin language elements like é, à, and ç and so on. Originally published by The Indian Type Foundry in 2014 and constantly growing in usage, this is a great alternative to Arial.
  2. Raleway
    Raleway might look familiar as it’s one of the font families used throughout the cHaus branding and website. Once again, combining a functionality with an element of fun, Raleway is perfect for businesses that are modern but don’t take themselves too seriously. Initially designed to only include a light weight, the font was expanded to include 9 other weights. Some of the interesting elements of Raleway include it’s approach to numbers. While most fonts keep numbers in line with text, Raleway drops some numbers below the descender line (see Anatomy of a Character here). This unique element can be both a positive and a negative, depending on who you ask, but don’t fret, as there are more traditional number characters available as alternatives included in the font.
  3. Montserrat
    Increasingly growing as one of my favourite fonts to use, Montserrat has an understated coolness to it that combines strong Caps letters with a retro vibe. According to typeface creator Julieta Ulanovsky, the font was inspired by the old posters and signs of the Montserrat neighbourhood of Buenos Aires and brings back some of the type-styles of the early part of the 20th century. If that isn’t a cool enough reason to download this font, maybe the fact that it is available in 9 different weights AND has an alternative version with rounded elements to it.
  4. Roboto
    Probably the most “Arialish” of the list, Roboto has all the elements that make a typeface great. It’s versatile, it’s professional when it needs to be, and it’s easy to read. The one noticeable difference to Arial is that Roboto has a more condensed look to it. This can be handy when you have a lot of content, but not a lot of space. Roboto is the only font on this list actually developed by Google and was actually created as the system font for the Android operating system. Google has described the font as “modern, yet approachable” and “emotional”. While it can be tricky to feel emotion when looking at a font, give it a try. Another fun fact about this font is that it is currently used on the B Division line of the New York City Subway.

And there you have it, four font alternatives to Arial that are sure to breathe some new life into your everyday typeface battles. When you’ve had enough of trying to figure out which fonts to use though, feel free to give us a call. We’ll be happy to quote on your graphic design needs!

Font-Lover-Kev, signing off.

Spice Up Your Documents with these 4 Font Alternatives to Arial
read more

How to Improve Your SEO and Accessibility with Alt Attributes

You took the time to find that perfect image for your website’s homepage or a blog post. You feel that image says everything you want to say about your business or blog. The last thing you would want is for it to be invisible. If you neglect the alt attribute of that image, it may very well be invisible from a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and accessibility standpoint.

If you want to ensure that your page is SEO and accessibility friendly, this post is a must-read for you. If you use alt attributes on your site, but want to improve how they are written, this post is for you too. If you just can’t get enough alt attributes in your life, well, you’re in luck as well!

What are Alt Attributes?

Alt attributes, also referred to as alt tags or alt text, are an essential element for an effective online presence. They are used within an HTML code to describe the appearance and function of an image on a page. Alt attributes strengthen your visibility to search engine spiders and improve the accessibility of your website for people who are visually-impaired. By neglecting to add alt attributes to your images, you keep those images, and your page, invisible. They are essential for these three reasons:

  • Adding alt attributes to photos is first a principle of web accessibility. Visually impaired users need to know what the picture is showing. A screen reader will read an alt attribute, describing the image, and provide a better understand of an on-page image.
  • If an image can’t load, an alt attribute will be displayed in place of an image.
  • Alt attributes provide better image context and descriptions to search engine crawlers, helping them to index an image properly and improving your SEO.

Writing Alt Attributes

Now that we have a better idea of the importance of alt attributes, it is important to know how to write them. So if you were to create an alt attribute for this image:
pug dog wearing birthday hat looking up
The alt text could say: pug dog. That describes the picture on a basic level, but does not give the full picture. A better alt text would say: pug dog wearing birthday hat looking up. Why does that work better? Well here are 6 tips to keep in mind when creating alt attributes that are SEO and accessibility friendly:

Keep it Simple

Google does not like long descriptions of images (see keyword stuffing below) and neither do screen readers. The most popular screen readers cut off alt attributes at around 125 characters, so it’s advisable to keep it to that character count or less.

Be Descriptive and Concise

Not only should the alt attributes be short, it should be to the point. Alt attributes are designed to provide text explanations of images for users who are unable to see them. Be clean in your description, while trying to say it in as few words as possible.

Location, Location, Location

Placing images with alt attributes near relevant text will help create a logical experience for non-visual users. For example, if I was to include the picture of the birthday-celebrating pug above, it should be placed near text about a doggy-themed birthdays.

Keywords are Key

Remember when I told you that there is an SEO component to alt attributes? Well, keywords are key for SEO. Alt attributes are an opportunity to signal to search engines that your page is highly relevant to a particular search query. It’s a great strategy to use your site’s keywords in order to help your images rank.

Keyword Stuffing

Like all things, keywords are great in moderation. Be careful to not misuse your keywords as it could end up hurting your SEO instead of helping it. Google does not like it when you stuff the alt attributes with keywords. In our pug wearing a birthday hat example above, you would want to avoid this alt attribute:

pug dog breed puppies doggies birthday party hat red white pup puppies woof

First, this does not accurately tell a screen reader what the picture is. Imagine having to make sense of a picture with that description!

Secondly, filling alt attributes with keywords results in a negative user experience, and may cause your site to be perceived as spam.

Don’t Neglect Form Buttons

What is a form button? Form elements are different types of input elements, like text fields, checkboxes, submit buttons.

For example:

shopping cart

This is an example of a shopping cart or add to cart form button. If a form on your website uses an image give it an alt attribute. Image buttons should have an alt attribute that describes the function of the button, for example, this icon could have an alt attribute of shopping cart.

You are now ready to write your alt attributes for all the images on your site. Every time a new image is added, be sure to write the alt attribute. Remember to go back to older images and ensure that they have alt attributes as well. This simple step will give you a more accessible website that is also SEO friendly, creating a more positive user experience!

If you are more of a visual user, here is a tutorial from Google about writing alt attributes.

How to Improve Your SEO and Accessibility with Alt Attributes
read more

3 Tips to Keep Your Computer Safe

For over 200,000 people in over 150 countries, logging on to their computers was not business as usual yesterday. The cyberattack that hit over the weekend, called “WannaCry” or “WannaCrypt,” caused disruptions to universities, hospitals, businesses, and daily life across the world. No catastrophic breakdowns were reported, but the cyberattack has people concerned about their online security.

The attack was carried out via an email attachment. The malicious software or malware, contained in the attachment locks users out of their computers, with the threat of destroying data if a ransom is not paid via untraceable bitcoin.

The question for many remains, “am I safe?”. The good news is that there are things that you can do to keep yourself safe online.

3 Tips to Keep Your Computer Safe
read more