No matter the size of your business, the design of your digital marketing materials is a big part of their success in bringing in customers and raising your company’s stature. In today’s competitive environment, if your website, events page, or newsletter doesn’t look polished and professional, it doesn’t put your best foot forward.
The good news is, there are plenty of tools and shortcuts that have been created to help businesses create sleek websites, social media posts, and newsletter blasts without the cost of a design professional. Here are a few, depending on your skill level as a designer, that could be worth your consideration.
If you have no prior experience with design
If you’re a design novice, and you’re also incredibly busy, you can still create great design elements with a variety of available tools. You’ll want to look for programs that offer ready-made templates and drag-and-drop functionality, as well as step-by-step tutorials that help you finesse a design at the same time you make it. Here are a few programs that fit that description, with details about what each one is useful for:
- Canva. Canva is a one-stop-shop for crafting unique and polished designs for infographics, banners, social media graphics, and posters. Using Canva is quick and intuitive, ideal for those who are short on time.
- Splash. Splash is a meant for building, designing, and launching the site for an event or a campaign that requires its own web page. (Think of it as your online flyer or poster.) The streamlined process means minimal fuss and hassle, even with a number of very handy features. For events, you can manage guests lists and RSVPs on Splash, as well as integrate your site with email lists.
- Squarespace. If you’re looking to launch or relaunch your company website, but you want to avoid spending excessive time and resources on design, wireframes, and development, Squarespace provides you with a shortcut. It guides you through the process step by step and lets you create a pro-quality site using a template, so all you have to do is fill in the text and images. Developers and designers have the ability to customize a Squarespace site, so down the road, if you want to build out more features or update the design, you’ll can.
- iStockPhoto. If you need images but don’t want to plan and execute photoshoots, iStock has millions of options available on just about every topic, for reasonable-to-low prices. They’ve also expanded their library to include illustrations, videos, and music clips that you can add to your site or graphic.
If you have a little design experience, but you’re short on time
Perhaps you’re more than a novice. You have a good eye for design and a strong sense of what’s on-brand, and you’re looking to get a bit ambitious with digital possibilities. But, since you can’t devote all your time to design, you’ll need some shortcuts. Here are applications that let you optimize design without turning banner-creation into a full-time job. These can be used in conjunction with some of the apps from section one.
- SnapApp. This tool takes items that seem impossibly complex, like interactive quizzes, and makes them simple to create and design. From surveys to interactive infographics to video tours, your options on SnapApp are wide-ranging, and the site makes them highly accessible through user-friendly user interfaces.
- VSCO Cam. If photography is your strong suit, and Instagram is a key aspect in showcasing your brand online, this tool is a premium option for taking, editing, and sharing exceptional images. It offers a unique set of filters that imitate sophisticated film effects (more advanced than the filters offered standard on Instagram) as well as editing tools that help you create distinct moods, grains, lighting, and more.
- Google Fonts. The right font can bring strong identity and differentiation to a brand. If you’re into fonts and looking to find the perfect option, Google provides access to hundreds of free, open-source fonts optimized for the web. Just browse the options, choose your font, and integrate it into your website or design. You can even customize them–especially if you’re a veteran designer (read on, if so!).
If you’re a veteran designer
Design is your thing, and you’ve got plenty of skill in your arsenal. That means you can make use of free or inexpensive tools that are directed to a professional audience. Many of these programs offer tutorials, forum, or extensive FAQ sections, so if you’re looking to dive in deep, you’ll be able to design and learn about design at the same time. Of course, tweaking a design can be time-consuming, so be sure you’re allocating the right amount of time to a given task–just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean it’s completely productive!
- Atomic. This streamlined, sophisticated tool lets you draft a design from a blank canvas, or integrate existing designs, then lay them out and animate without having to code a thing. You can design on your computer and view on mobile, and share tools that make for easy sharing and collaboration with your team.
- Makr App. Logos can be a bear to design — plenty of agencies make their living exclusively on this component of branding. But Makr (now powered by Staples) is structured to simplify the process, and offer easy access to custom design and printing. You can brand your website and social media feeds, then customize designs for company t-shirts or Christmas cards. The app provides templates, but advanced designers can also upload their own bespoke designs.
- Affinity. This one is used by the pros. Dubbed “the Photoshop killer” by some in the web design field, this app offers well-designed tools that provide beautiful results in your images and web design, for a price that won’t bust your budget, especially if it means you won’t need full-time or contract design help.
Whether you’re looking for the best option in the least amount of time, or want to showcase your design skills in service to your small business, these tools will give you a jumping off point to achieve your vision and win the small business marketing game.