Our Go-To Design Sites

Want to study up on design? Subscribe to some great design sites. Here are our top picks:


–Invision provides a platform for prototyping, collaboration and workflow. You’ll find resources for UX, team-building, and marketing, like inclusive design, how to conduct user research, and ways to empower your design team.


–Marvel boasts “the best design articles every day”. Product design, color theory, the ultimate UX reading list have all been covered recently on the blog.

Product Design Weekly

–Check here for digital product design news, like immersive design, how QuickBooks rocks new user onboarding, 5 brainstorming exercises for introverts.

Creative Review

–Boasting “the best in creativity”, you’ll find timely conversations about women of color in design, gender stereotypes, and #MeToo in the creative industry.

UX Design Weekly

–Learn from the best in user experience design, including a practical guide to ethical design, and five tips for a successful career as a UX researcher.

Fast Co Design

–Dig into UI and UX articles, plus product insights and cool things happening with cities and spaces across the country.

Design Week

–With categories including branding, packaging, print, graphics, interactive, interiors, and retail, you’ll find a wide variety of topics and inspiration.


–Typewolf covers “What’s Trending in Type”, like font recommendations and lists, plus guides and resources.


–This is a great resource for anyone with an online retail presence, including user-friendly forms, user-centered transactional email design, and the importance of color for UX.

Designlab Weekly

–Here you’ll have an opportunity to learn 1-on-1 from an expert, plus gain hands-on experience, all built to fit your schedule.

Creative Bloq

–Design inspiration, product reviews, How Tos, and more!

It’s Nice That

–Known for “championing creativity”, Its Nice That features the best of animation, film, graphic design, illustration and photography.


–Want design inspiration expertly curated for you? Enter Muzli, the designers’ secret source for relevant design stories and inspiration.

Designer News

–Find stories, jobs and podcasts all catered to the design community.


–Short and sweet, Sidebar highlights the five best design links, every day.

Web Designer News

–Sort by “most voted” or “most clicked” to see content that resonates with designers around the world.


–Design, architecture, art, technology…you’ll find a little bit of everything here.

Our Go-To Design Sites2018-05-07T20:42:02+00:00

Meet the Artist: Sally Cooper Smith

I love business and art equally.

I respect the nuts and bolts of business, but I love the creative side most of all. I thrill at the creative “Aha” moments — when I can look at a client’s problem with fresh eyes and see a new opportunity or solution they had overlooked before.

The same dichotomy is true on the art side. I love the creative aspects of my world. Design and copywriting are my life-blood and I’ll probably never stop doing them, but I am extremely pragmatic. I require all my concepts to work hard for my clients. Beautiful for beauty’s sake is just not in me. To be beautiful, something has to be effective as well.

How did I get this way?

I don’t know, but I was the kid who was always making a poster for the school play, or painting the backdrop for our neighborhood “circus” show, or creating a brochure with the cheer lyrics so the East High School football fans could chant along with us. (Yep, I really did that. I was crushed when I found the majority of them under the bleachers after the game.)

I enrolled in college to be a set designer. I didn’t know the field of Graphic Design existed. It was my advisor’s idea that I take general graphic design classes before I consider specializing. It was perfect. I fell in love.

I learned the “old school” methods of the field in college, and as a professional picked up the technologies the desktop computer introduced. Now, as the internet has grown to be an integral part of our lives, it has brought new communication opportunities. There are always new design media to embrace, new techniques to learn, and new ways to touch people.

In my business I’ve worked with hundreds of clients to help them use those technologies and develop deeper connections with customers and stakeholders. I’ve helped them define and express their brand and grow their businesses through creative marketing and intelligent communications.

In addition, I’m doing more and more business consulting, using my marketing and messaging insight to help direct clients through the process of vetting and implementing a business concept. I love working closely with my entrepreneur clients.

As I look forward to our 25th anniversary this summer, I feel truly blessed. I have a profession I love that is the synthesis of “smart” and “art”.

Meet the Artist: Sally Cooper Smith2018-03-30T15:27:34+00:00

Meet the Artist: Will Bassett

As a 2016 graduate of the Iowa State University College of Design, Will Bassett is the newest member of our design team. He has quickly become an integral member of our agency, working closely with clients to deliver hardworking print & digital communications.

What’s your favorite color palette to work with?

I’m not sure there is a specific color palette that I enjoy over others. I would say in general, my favorite palettes include black and white, plus some soft, natural colors with a powerful, vibrant spot color. I love design that pops, and it usually starts with a strong spot color. If I had to choose, I’d say reds and blues are my favorite to work with, though depending on the day it could be something completely different. It really depends on the project and which side of the bed I woke up on.

What is your favorite typeface and why?

My favorite typeface is probably Futura. I love how simple yet versatile it is. It works when it’s thin, and it works when it’s bold. Futura makes a great headline typeface, body copy, all caps, or upper and lower case. It’s absolutely one of my go-to’s.


For a serif typeface, I really enjoy Bodoni. It’s super clean, and the contrasting thin and thick lines make it a beautiful choice when I need a more formal option.

Where do you find design inspiration?

My favorite place to find inspiration is on Behance. It’s a great place to see what designers are doing all over the world. From small, personal projects to corporate branding and major promotions, I think Behance is a wonderful source of inspiration and trends.

Another great place for inspiration and design knowledge is Skillshare. Skillshare is a site where anyone can become a teacher and post tutorials, how-to’s, and technique videos for others to learn from. The site has videos on everything from cooking to technology to business, but the design videos are extremely informative and helpful. There are some really well-known designers who post tutorials on Skillshare like Paula Scher, Aaron Draplin, and more. I highly recommend checking it out!

Tell us about your most memorable project.

I think my most memorable project would have to be a semi trailer wrap that I did for the Iowa DNR’s mobile exhibit. It is certainly the largest project I’ve done in my career so far. Every day I am learning new things, and this was one of the largest learning curves I’ve had as far as scope and technicality.

The trailer exhibit debuted at the Iowa State Fair and travels around to schools and educational events around Iowa to inform the public of the impact of how we live on the environment. I believe that the best design is design for good, and getting the opportunity to create something with so much public impact was incredible. It’s always fun to see something you’ve done out in the world, especially with so many people interacting with it at a place as iconic as the State Fair.

Who are your favorite artists or designers?

One of my favorite design groups out there today is DKNG Studios. DKNG is an illustration-based design firm out of LA consisting of two designers, Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman. I was turned on to them in college, and have been borderline obsessed ever since. They do a lot of promotional work for movies, bands and festivals, and their designs are both intricate and beautiful. These guys are also very involved with Skillshare and are regularly posting tutorials on Adobe Illustrator shortcuts and techniques.

A local designer that I really admire is John Bosley. He is also an illustration-based designer who does mostly screen printing for events and locations around Iowa and the Midwest. His designs are super clean and the compositions are brilliant. A few of his posters may or may not be on my Christmas list this year.

What are your favorite well-executed brands?

In my opinion, Nike is one of the most well-executed brands out there today. They do a great job of appealing to about every demographic while keeping their look and brand consistent and recognizable. You can’t go anywhere without seeing that swoosh, and people (myself included) will certainly pay extra to have that logo on their outfit.

Apple is an easy answer, but I have to say I wasn’t an Apple convert until a few years ago. I used to try to fight the overwhelming Mac/iPhone trend until I visited my dad’s cousin’s house/design studio. He opened up a Power Mac G5 computer so that I could see the inner workings, and it was beautiful. The inside of this computer (that most people would never take the time to look at) was a work of art on its own. Everything had a place. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the clean design and order that Apple prides itself on. I didn’t even want to throw away my MacBook or iPhone boxes because the packaging is so well done. That attention to detail and presentation goes a long way in selling and building brands, and Apple is probably the best there is at it.

Meet the Artist: Will Bassett2018-05-07T21:44:23+00:00

All About Paper

We love paper. After nearly 25 years of business, and countless print projects, we can confidently recommend the best paper for each project. We work closely with paper suppliers and our local printer partners to choose the perfect paper. Beyond color, you’d be surprised how many versions of “white” there are. Here are the basic paper stock options to consider.

Paper Weight

  • Text – Text weight stock is the weight of standard printer paper. It is used for letterhead, handouts etc.
  • Cover – Cover weight stock is thicker, and similar to what a file folder is made from. It is used for things like postcards or business cards.

Paper Texture

  • Smooth – Both coated and uncoated paper can have a smooth finish
  • Matte – Non-glossy, flat looking paper with very little sheen
  • Satin – Colors will be sharp and vivid, but the finish is less shiny with a lower gloss level
  • Glossy – Glossy paper makes photos pop and colors more vibrant, and has a high sheen

Paper Coating

  • Coated – Coated paper make details sharper and colors denser. Coating can be matte, dull or glossy, and paper can be coated on just one side. Applying coating makes paper difficult to write on.
  • Uncoated – Uncoated paper is used for stationery, envelopes, and other projects you intend to write on. This is the easiest paper to write on because it absorbs ink.


If your company is interested in reducing its environmental footprint, we can source recycled paper made from post-consumer waste, (from 10% to 100% recycled), and can request soy-based ink for your projects.

“Non Paper” Paper

There are several printable plastics and fiber-based papers available that are moisture and tear resistant. They’re often used for menus & envelopes, or in place of printing techniques like lamination.


A printed brochure, business card, or mailing is a chance for you to provide a tactile experience to your customer. Choosing a unique or high quality paper stock can really help your print piece stand out.


All About Paper2018-05-07T21:01:09+00:00

Where Small Budgets Die

We get a lot of clients who see a really cool die cut, fold or finish in their mailbox or at a tradeshow, and want to include something similar in a project.

Special finishes can add big impact, but they require extra production time and quite a bit more budget than you may expect. To avoid sticker shock (especially if you tend to print small quantities like many of our clients), read on to learn more about what it takes to make some of our favorite fancy finishes happen, and when to consider finding the budget for that extra pop.

Die Cutting

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For the most part, those cool edges, shapes and folds you see require a printer’s ‘die’. The metal edge cuts the paper; the rest is padding that pushes the cut sheet back off the edge. Dies range in size from huge (for pocket folders), to small (for a few business cards), and if you create one custom for your company or project, your printer stores them for use when you reprint. You can also request to use dies your printer already has on hand. Most printers or finishing houses have stock dies for things like envelopes, pocket folders, and divider tabs. These kinds of dies are also used to create custom edges, fold-ins, windows, patterns, etc.

Simple die cuts are easy to incorporate even in smaller print runs of 250-500 for business cards, brochures and more. The die is a one-time investment of a few hundred dollars, and only adds a day or two to your turnaround time.

Things get trickier when you use die cuts for direct mail. Non-standard and even non-solid shapes are mailable, but the surcharges are something you’ll want to keep in mind for your budget if you don’t plan on putting your piece in an outer envelope.


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Embossing & Foil Stamping

Foil stamping and embossing require a printer’s die also, and are a great way to add depth and dimension to artwork, or bold text on a cover, pocket folder, invitation, or business card. Here are some examples:

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Multilevel dies will cost you more than single level, and you’ll want to invest in a heavy, quality sheet of paper — thick enough to handle the depth of the emboss. Cost and process to emboss and/or foil stamp is similar to die cutting in that a die must be created. There’s usually some back and forth between the designer and the finishing house to get the artwork in just the right level of detail for the size and substrate. Simple embossing can be affordable even for smaller quantities, but the sky is the limit. For example, 500 business cards like these will run you $1500 just for the printing.

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If you want the look of embossing, but don’t have the budget, you can get hand embossers to add a simple seal. They’re usually best used on text weight paper.

Other Finishes

Other cool finishes to explore include spot varnish (pictured), scratch offs, or scratch and sniffs.

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General Rules of Thumb

Intrigued? Here are some words of advice before you decide to add a special finish to your next project:

Add a week (or more!) to your schedule.

Special processes like these take more time, but are worth the wait. Designers need extra time to come up with that cool die cut and make sure the folds work just right. Then the printer has to have a die made. Then once the project is printed, it often has to go to another press specifically to be die cut or embossed, and sometimes to another facility. Plan ahead, and allow for extra time and budget for design, production, and printing. Cool things come to those willing to wait.

Consider your quantity.

Special finishes can double, triple, or quadruple your per-piece cost on small quantities. If you only need 50, 100, or even 250 of an item, you have to weigh whether or not the impact per recipient is worth it. Is it possible to increase the quantity and use those brochures or binders for something else down the road? Or is the event you’re hosting a fancy affair that’s worth the extra cost per invitation for the foil and the multilevel die?

Consider your message.

Does this piece need to help you stand out? Are you offering a high-end product or service? If you’re looking to have a conversation about attention to detail or being the best of the best, detailed finishes provide a wow factor that can be well-worth the price tag.

Where Small Budgets Die2018-05-07T21:52:33+00:00
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