Design Skills: Posters and Outreach

Wooden bench in fall with leaves on the ground. Poster text reads "design skills for public historians"

One of the side projects I’m working on has had me thinking a lot about self-promotion and employment skills.  This thinking has been primarily around what emerging public history professionals should know when they go on the job market and how they can build the strongest resumes and cover letters possible.  Unsurprisingly this line of thought has also inspired me to consider what skills new professionals are bring to the workplace.  I’ve also been doing a lot of outreach events recent and thinking about marketing techniques.

So about those pretty graphics. Online promotion, creating physical flyers, and designing attractive graphics is a huge skill set.  Not every heritage organization is lucky enough to have their own design or communications person.  In smaller organizations with minimal staff one person is responsible for everything from event design, to promotion, to facilitation.  So how are your poster making skills? And how can you build basic design skills without breaking the bank?

Public Domain Images Are Your Friend

Don’t recreate the wheel or steal other people’s work. Seriously. There are a ton of places online where you can access public domain images to use in social media promo or other design projects.  One my favourite go to sites is Unsplash a website which hosts high resolution public domain images created by photographers. These images often work great as stock photos and are also available to remix and reuse as desired.  Check out “made with Unsplash” examples for ideas on how the images could work in promotional material.

I also love Old Book Illustrations, which is a collection of public domain illustrations that have been scanned from out of copyright publications.  The site specializes in Victorian and French Romantic images, they are available as raw scans to download or in a variety of resolutions.  I also particularly love that this site provides information on creators, where the images came from and the techniques used to create the image.  If you’re looking for historical images I would also suggest checking out library and museum collections to see what public domain scanning projects they have started.

Other sources I use for public domain images: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr Commons and the aforementioned archives.

Yay For Templates!

Poster design takes practice.  Knowing where to place images, how large text should be, and how to make everything eye catching takes work.  There are some horrible posters out there and chances are we’ve all been guilty of creating at least one – too much text, an image that is a bit blurry, or just a bad colour combination.  Using templates can take some of the guess work out of this. Most word processing programs include poster template if you’re looking for something basic.

Canva is an online drag and drop design program that comes with a lot of templates for social media, presentations, flyers, and other formats.  You can signup as a free user to access a number of the templates, images, and fonts.  They also have a subscription option for folks interesting in using their resizing tool or accessing additional templates.  This program is really easy to use for beginners who aren’t looking to invest a lot of time into design.

PosterMyWall is similar to Canva in its use of templates. It is a simple drag and drop design setup with an emphasis on building attractive promotional images. I’ve found this site particularly helpful if you’re looking for a event flyer inspiration or templates. I haven’t used it for social media graphics but it looks as though that is an option as well.

Training Options

At minimum I’d suggest that folks should gain basic photo editing skills.  This can be using Photoshop, GIMP or another open source editor of your choice.  Being able to crop, alter file sizes and formats, and alter the colour of images can be easy first steps to building your skill set. Want other design skill ideas? Allana Mayer wrote a great series of posts about how heritage organizations can use public domain images to create print-on-demand products.

There are also more and more design workshops popping up locally.  Check your local employment centre, library, or entrepreneur group to see if they are offering any introduction to design or introduction to online promotion workshops.