“Dear Digit, I know my communications are supposed to look good. But, I don’t have fancy expensive design software, and I want to do my brochures and website myself. What can I do?”
In this visual era, it is nearly implicit that our communications should not only be clear and engaging, but they should be visually compelling. However, not all of us were trained in digital arts. Those of us who were do not always have time or funds available to stay up to speed on rapidly evolving visual tools.
Fortunately, the internet is overflowing with options for every skill level. Here is a sampling of the numerous free tools and programs that can elevate your digital creative capacity.
If you don’t find what you are looking for below, try a Google search with a specific phrase such as “free ______ tool.”
Google Sheets (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/) might seem like a strange recommendation for a design tool. However, it enables you to make a wide variety of visuals useful on and off-line. Could be useful for making contact forms, submission forms, and even data entry forms (great for volunteers!); also much easier to use than Excel for making pie charts, bar graphs and other data-based visuals.
Infogram (http://infogr.am/) is similar to Google Sheets in functionality and useful for making data-based charts. Both Google and Infogram require you to start a user account.
Easelly (http://www.easel.ly/) is a highly-intuitive tool for making infographics. It offers several base templates for visualizing information such as national demographics, flow charts for thought processes and decision-mapping, and even a visual profile of an individual. There is also a blank canvas, and with all the customization tools, you can add text, clip art, your own image files, and more. No user account required.
Serif DrawPlus Starter Edition (http://www.serif.com/free-graphic-design-software/) can produce highly sophisticated images, along the lines of those possible with Adobe Illustrator. However, reviewers state the program is intuitive, user-friendly, and does not require professional skills. Could be useful for touching up photos, designing a logo, or digital illustration. No user account required.
Whether we want to include an infographic in our organization’s annual report or design a logo for our next project, design work need not stretch us to our limits. And that is thanks, of course, to the same technology that can sometimes seem so daunting.
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Dear Digit was a “question-and-answer” column that provided resources, ideas and tips to address digital communications questions from an arts perspective. I wrote this column for State of the Arts, a bimonthly newspaper published by the Montana Arts Council.
Although the column emphasizes artsy digital communications, the topics we address are widely relevant, with application for communication in science, education, sustainability and many other sectors.