How right-sized graphics can lend a whole new dimension to your online appearance

Most organizations would never send their leaders to a news conference in pizza-stained sweatpants and a moth-eaten Planet Hollywood t-shirt. But a startling number of them do the digital equivalent.

They stretch low-resolution logos and graphics to serve as cover images. They shovel photos online without noticing that the call to action is getting cropped out. Use intricate, complex images as pinkie-nail-sized profile photos.

The result is a blotchy, pixelated, distorted, unreadable mess.

If you’re swallowing hard as you read this, and recognizing your own organization in these words, take heart. Because even if you aren’t a graphic designer, there’s a simple way to take a huge step toward a better first impression.

And that’s to learn the pixel dimensions that your social platform uses… and then stick to them when you create your graphics.

Do that, and your profile photo will suddenly look crisper and cleaner; your logo will be recognizable; your infographics will still contain all their info.

These tips and resources can help:

  • When you’re creating graphics for the web, set your app’s measurement unit to pixels instead of inches, picas or centimetres (which don’t mean a lot when you’re dealing with screen measurements).
  • Always preview your graphics at their actual size (also known as 100%) before uploading them.
  • Don’t keep hunting down the same specs over and over again. There are some lovely folks who’ve done that work for you and shared it online:
  • Store that information where you can get it when you need it. Scroll past Dan’s infographic, and you’ll find a table with all the values listed as text. I’ve copied that table into Evernote, and now it’s at my fingertips when I need it. (That feels especially clever when I have Photoshop open on my laptop and Dan’s table open on my tablet.)
  • Can’t find the specs for a particular image? You can measure it yourself.
    • Install a browser extension that gives you an on-screen ruler (such as MeasureIt for Firefox for and Tape for Chrome).
    • Or if you have a little HTML and CSS knowledge, right-click on the image and choose Inspect Element (or your browser’s equivalent).
  • The good folks who build platforms like Facebook and Twitter often change their interfaces, and that means changing image dimensions, too. So when an update comes out (like those banner images everyone’s been introducing over the last year or so), check to see if you need to rebuild your images – or create a whole new one.

Let’s be clear: how you look on a social platform like Facebook and Twitter isn’t nearly as important as what you do.

But as with the rest of life, a little attention to your appearance often makes a big difference. First impressions matter: looking crisp and professional can get you through the front door of people’s attention, and allow the conversations to happen that lead to deeper engagement.

You don’t need drawing skills to create powerful images that amplify your content

Across the social web, organizations are discovering the power that the right image – including an apt cartoon – can lend to your content. And there’s never been a better time to not be able to draw.

Okay, let me back up. It’s not that it doesn’t matter how well something is drawn, or how visually attractive it is. If you’re great at drawing, or you have a good eye for color and composition, you’re way ahead of the game — all other things being equal.

But all other things usually aren’t equal. (Try measuring them if you don’t believe me. I know of a rather good book on measuring things.) Exacting design standards can work against you if they keeps you from posting a less-than-perfect visual so long that the conversation has moved on to another topic by the time you hit “Publish”. And slick production values may not have the same impact as something that’s crudely drawn, but reflects an authentic voice conveying an important, resonant idea.

So here’s how you can add some visual cartoon-flavored impact to your story, blog post or report, even if you’ve never so much as doodled Snoopy on a high school notebook.

First, remember that the underlying content trumps everything else. What’s the message you want to convey, the story you want to tell, the fact you want to get across? What’s the emotional reaction you want your audience to have? What action do you want it to drive them to? Start by answering those questions, then start thinking about the visuals you want to create (and how you’ll make them). That can save you a lot of wasted effort, and you’ll avoid wasting your audience’s time and attention.

And tying for first, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t draw. Most of us actually can. We just have limits to what we can draw and how well, and beat ourselves up when we trip over them. But bumping up against our limits is how we learn to do better. And even if you never get to the point where gallery curators are banging on your door, there’s a lot more acceptance online of pretty rudimentary drawing skills… as long as they get across a great idea.

If you can draw two circles and make them overlap, you can make a Venn diagram. (If you can draw three circles, you can draw a more complex Venn diagram than most of the ones you’ll see out there.)

Cartoon about Venn diagrams

If you can draw a triangle on top of a square, and add a rectangle…

Shapes of a house

…then with a little practice, you can draw a house…

finished houst

…and if you draw a line or two coming out of it, pointing to a few words (no shame in doing those with your computer, by the way!), you have a cartoon.

House with caption

Two pointy lines, a circle, two dots and six straight lines,

Cat shapes

… and you can make a cat…

Assembled cat

…which, if you play your cards right, might volunteer to help you with fundraising.

Cat with caption

The point isn’t to convince you that you can, in fact, draw Tippy the Turtle and should enroll now for an exciting career in illustration. It’s to say this: everyone has limits. See what you can do working within them, and every once in a while, press those boundaries gently and try to learn something new. Because those limits can bend and shift, and the more (and more often) you push against them, the more they’ll move.
(Bonus silver lining: Constraints in your drawing ability can force you into the kind of simplicity that focuses your message onto what really matters. If you can’t draw the cluttered, distracting background, you won’t.)

So that’s my pitch for learning to draw — or, more accurately, learning what you can draw now, and learning how to draw more down the road.

In the meantime…

Still can’t draw?* You can still create great pictures. Sites like Bitstrips.com and apps like Comic Life have amazingly simple interfaces that let you create comic strips and cartoon panels — and you’ll never have to draw so much as an eyebrow. Online charting and data visualization tools like Easel.ly are can let you pull together charts and info graphics quickly and easily.

Countless online meme-generating sites can let you whip up a sharable text-on-photo image in seconds; a mobile photo captioning app like Over for iOS lets you do it yourself right on your own device.

Or find some inspiration from the way webcomics like a) Dinosaur Comics, b) the profanity-laced Get Your War On and c) Wondermark use artwork created by others. Specifically, they use a) exactly the same clip-art in exactly the same positions in every single strip, adding dialogue; b) a very few different pieces of really awful clip-art, adding dialogue; and c) vintage public-domain 19th-century illustrations, adding dialogue. Just be sure you aren’t running afoul of anyone’s usage rights. (By the way, at least one of these artists actually can draw very, very well. So can Randall Munroe, who draws the stick-figure-centered, wildly-successful xkcd

* By “can’t draw”, I mean “Your drawing skills aren’t yet to the point where you feel comfortable sharing your creations with the world, but you’re working on them and any day now, you’re going to post that first doodle.”

If you don’t want to use a pen, you can still use a camera. Whether it’s a top-of-the-line DSLR or the nearest smartphone, a camera coupled with your imagination can take you a long way. Trying to dramatize the impact of overfishing and habitat degradation on wild salmon stocks? Get a few discarded fish bones from your local fish store, lay them on a sandy beach and (with a little chopping and arranging) set out the panels for a cartoon. Snap it, Photoshop in a few dialogue bubbles once you get home, and you have your cartoon.

You can do the same thing with all kinds of visual communication, of course. Those salmon bones could become a bar chart, tracking the decline in population. Or engage your inner pre-schooler to chart changes in education funding: make a line graph by gluing macaroni onto construction paper. Or if you want to draw attention to a word or phrase, write it in big letters on a blackboard or a lined flip chart, or draw it on a napkin — whatever context makes sense for the underlying idea. Take a picture of your creation, and you’re set.

In a bind? Let someone else do it. There’s the absolutely lovely way of paying a cartoonist to draw a custom cartoon (thanks, Beth!), or to license an existing one — but there’s also a trove of cartoons and illustrations out there available under a Creative Commons license. You can search for them on Flickr, or just Google “creative commons”, “cartoon” and various keywords. Or you can start bookmarking cartoonists you come across who post under an open license. (Modesty forbids suggesting a starting point.) Just be sure you respect the terms of that license, which may require attribution, using the image without modification, or using it in content that has a similar license.

Finally, keep working at it. Use your emerging skills — in drawing and in the alternatives — to create cartoons, but also to explore other ways to communicate visually. Try new things, see what works for you and for your audience… and keep learning. Read great books like Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin, and follow folks like Sunni Brown. Add Information is Beautiful and Sketchnote Army to your information diet. Watch Beth’s Pinterest board on visual marketing.

And please doodle. On your meeting notes, on your grocery list, on the draft annual report you’re editing… because sooner or later, you’re going to look at one of those doodles and see a cartoon — the kind you’d be proud to post, publish or share.

A version of this post originally appeared on Beth Kanter’s blog.

You don’t need drawing skills to create powerful images that amplify your content

Across the social web, organizations are discovering the power that the right image – including an apt cartoon – can lend to your content. And there’s never been a better time to not be able to draw.

Okay, let me back up. It’s not that it doesn’t matter how well something is drawn, or how visually attractive it is. If you’re great at drawing, or you have a good eye for color and composition, you’re way ahead of the game — all other things being equal.

But all other things usually aren’t equal. (Try measuring them if you don’t believe me. I know of a rather good book on measuring things.) Exacting design standards can work against you if they keeps you from posting a less-than-perfect visual so long that the conversation has moved on to another topic by the time you hit “Publish”. And slick production values may not have the same impact as something that’s crudely drawn, but reflects an authentic voice conveying an important, resonant idea.

So here’s how you can add some visual cartoon-flavored impact to your story, blog post or report, even if you’ve never so much as doodled Snoopy on a high school notebook.

First, remember that the underlying content trumps everything else. What’s the message you want to convey, the story you want to tell, the fact you want to get across? What’s the emotional reaction you want your audience to have? What action do you want it to drive them to? Start by answering those questions, then start thinking about the visuals you want to create (and how you’ll make them). That can save you a lot of wasted effort, and you’ll avoid wasting your audience’s time and attention.

And tying for first, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t draw. Most of us actually can. We just have limits to what we can draw and how well, and beat ourselves up when we trip over them. But bumping up against our limits is how we learn to do better. And even if you never get to the point where gallery curators are banging on your door, there’s a lot more acceptance online of pretty rudimentary drawing skills… as long as they get across a great idea.

If you can draw two circles and make them overlap, you can make a Venn diagram. (If you can draw three circles, you can draw a more complex Venn diagram than most of the ones you’ll see out there.)

Cartoon about Venn diagrams

If you can draw a triangle on top of a square, and add a rectangle…

Shapes of a house

…then with a little practice, you can draw a house…

finished houst

…and if you draw a line or two coming out of it, pointing to a few words (no shame in doing those with your computer, by the way!), you have a cartoon.

House with caption

Two pointy lines, a circle, two dots and six straight lines,

Cat shapes

… and you can make a cat…

Assembled cat

…which, if you play your cards right, might volunteer to help you with fundraising.

Cat with caption

The point isn’t to convince you that you can, in fact, draw Tippy the Turtle and should enroll now for an exciting career in illustration. It’s to say this: everyone has limits. See what you can do working within them, and every once in a while, press those boundaries gently and try to learn something new. Because those limits can bend and shift, and the more (and more often) you push against them, the more they’ll move.
(Bonus silver lining: Constraints in your drawing ability can force you into the kind of simplicity that focuses your message onto what really matters. If you can’t draw the cluttered, distracting background, you won’t.)

So that’s my pitch for learning to draw — or, more accurately, learning what you can draw now, and learning how to draw more down the road.

In the meantime…

Still can’t draw?* You can still create great pictures. Sites like Bitstrips.com and apps like Comic Life have amazingly simple interfaces that let you create comic strips and cartoon panels — and you’ll never have to draw so much as an eyebrow. Online charting and data visualization tools like Easel.ly are can let you pull together charts and info graphics quickly and easily.

Countless online meme-generating sites can let you whip up a sharable text-on-photo image in seconds; a mobile photo captioning app like Over for iOS lets you do it yourself right on your own device.

Or find some inspiration from the way webcomics like a) Dinosaur Comics, b) the profanity-laced Get Your War On and c) Wondermark use artwork created by others. Specifically, they use a) exactly the same clip-art in exactly the same positions in every single strip, adding dialogue; b) a very few different pieces of really awful clip-art, adding dialogue; and c) vintage public-domain 19th-century illustrations, adding dialogue. Just be sure you aren’t running afoul of anyone’s usage rights. (By the way, at least one of these artists actually can draw very, very well. So can Randall Munroe, who draws the stick-figure-centered, wildly-successful xkcd

* By “can’t draw”, I mean “Your drawing skills aren’t yet to the point where you feel comfortable sharing your creations with the world, but you’re working on them and any day now, you’re going to post that first doodle.”

If you don’t want to use a pen, you can still use a camera. Whether it’s a top-of-the-line DSLR or the nearest smartphone, a camera coupled with your imagination can take you a long way. Trying to dramatize the impact of overfishing and habitat degradation on wild salmon stocks? Get a few discarded fish bones from your local fish store, lay them on a sandy beach and (with a little chopping and arranging) set out the panels for a cartoon. Snap it, Photoshop in a few dialogue bubbles once you get home, and you have your cartoon.

You can do the same thing with all kinds of visual communication, of course. Those salmon bones could become a bar chart, tracking the decline in population. Or engage your inner pre-schooler to chart changes in education funding: make a line graph by gluing macaroni onto construction paper. Or if you want to draw attention to a word or phrase, write it in big letters on a blackboard or a lined flip chart, or draw it on a napkin — whatever context makes sense for the underlying idea. Take a picture of your creation, and you’re set.

In a bind? Let someone else do it. There’s the absolutely lovely way of paying a cartoonist to draw a custom cartoon (thanks, Beth!), or to license an existing one — but there’s also a trove of cartoons and illustrations out there available under a Creative Commons license. You can search for them on Flickr, or just Google “creative commons”, “cartoon” and various keywords. Or you can start bookmarking cartoonists you come across who post under an open license. (Modesty forbids suggesting a starting point.) Just be sure you respect the terms of that license, which may require attribution, using the image without modification, or using it in content that has a similar license.

Finally, keep working at it. Use your emerging skills — in drawing and in the alternatives — to create cartoons, but also to explore other ways to communicate visually. Try new things, see what works for you and for your audience… and keep learning. Read great books like Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin, and follow folks like Sunni Brown. Add Information is Beautiful and Sketchnote Army to your information diet. Watch Beth’s Pinterest board on visual marketing.

And please doodle. On your meeting notes, on your grocery list, on the draft annual report you’re editing… because sooner or later, you’re going to look at one of those doodles and see a cartoon — the kind you’d be proud to post, publish or share.

A version of this post originally appeared on Beth Kanter’s blog.

You don’t need drawing skills to create powerful images that amplify your content

Across the social web, organizations are discovering the power that the right image – including an apt cartoon – can lend to your content. And there’s never been a better time to not be able to draw.

Okay, let me back up. It’s not that it doesn’t matter how well something is drawn, or how visually attractive it is. If you’re great at drawing, or you have a good eye for color and composition, you’re way ahead of the game — all other things being equal.

But all other things usually aren’t equal. (Try measuring them if you don’t believe me. I know of a rather good book on measuring things.) Exacting design standards can work against you if they keeps you from posting a less-than-perfect visual so long that the conversation has moved on to another topic by the time you hit “Publish”. And slick production values may not have the same impact as something that’s crudely drawn, but reflects an authentic voice conveying an important, resonant idea.

So here’s how you can add some visual cartoon-flavored impact to your story, blog post or report, even if you’ve never so much as doodled Snoopy on a high school notebook.

First, remember that the underlying content trumps everything else. What’s the message you want to convey, the story you want to tell, the fact you want to get across? What’s the emotional reaction you want your audience to have? What action do you want it to drive them to? Start by answering those questions, then start thinking about the visuals you want to create (and how you’ll make them). That can save you a lot of wasted effort, and you’ll avoid wasting your audience’s time and attention.

And tying for first, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t draw. Most of us actually can. We just have limits to what we can draw and how well, and beat ourselves up when we trip over them. But bumping up against our limits is how we learn to do better. And even if you never get to the point where gallery curators are banging on your door, there’s a lot more acceptance online of pretty rudimentary drawing skills… as long as they get across a great idea.

If you can draw two circles and make them overlap, you can make a Venn diagram. (If you can draw three circles, you can draw a more complex Venn diagram than most of the ones you’ll see out there.)

Cartoon about Venn diagrams

If you can draw a triangle on top of a square, and add a rectangle…

Shapes of a house

…then with a little practice, you can draw a house…

finished houst

…and if you draw a line or two coming out of it, pointing to a few words (no shame in doing those with your computer, by the way!), you have a cartoon.

House with caption

Two pointy lines, a circle, two dots and six straight lines,

Cat shapes

… and you can make a cat…

Assembled cat

…which, if you play your cards right, might volunteer to help you with fundraising.

Cat with caption

The point isn’t to convince you that you can, in fact, draw Tippy the Turtle and should enroll now for an exciting career in illustration. It’s to say this: everyone has limits. See what you can do working within them, and every once in a while, press those boundaries gently and try to learn something new. Because those limits can bend and shift, and the more (and more often) you push against them, the more they’ll move.
(Bonus silver lining: Constraints in your drawing ability can force you into the kind of simplicity that focuses your message onto what really matters. If you can’t draw the cluttered, distracting background, you won’t.)

So that’s my pitch for learning to draw — or, more accurately, learning what you can draw now, and learning how to draw more down the road.

In the meantime…

Still can’t draw?* You can still create great pictures. Sites like Bitstrips.com and apps like Comic Life have amazingly simple interfaces that let you create comic strips and cartoon panels — and you’ll never have to draw so much as an eyebrow. Online charting and data visualization tools like Easel.ly are can let you pull together charts and info graphics quickly and easily.

Countless online meme-generating sites can let you whip up a sharable text-on-photo image in seconds; a mobile photo captioning app like Over for iOS lets you do it yourself right on your own device.

Or find some inspiration from the way webcomics like a) Dinosaur Comics, b) the profanity-laced Get Your War On and c) Wondermark use artwork created by others. Specifically, they use a) exactly the same clip-art in exactly the same positions in every single strip, adding dialogue; b) a very few different pieces of really awful clip-art, adding dialogue; and c) vintage public-domain 19th-century illustrations, adding dialogue. Just be sure you aren’t running afoul of anyone’s usage rights. (By the way, at least one of these artists actually can draw very, very well. So can Randall Munroe, who draws the stick-figure-centered, wildly-successful xkcd

* By “can’t draw”, I mean “Your drawing skills aren’t yet to the point where you feel comfortable sharing your creations with the world, but you’re working on them and any day now, you’re going to post that first doodle.”

If you don’t want to use a pen, you can still use a camera. Whether it’s a top-of-the-line DSLR or the nearest smartphone, a camera coupled with your imagination can take you a long way. Trying to dramatize the impact of overfishing and habitat degradation on wild salmon stocks? Get a few discarded fish bones from your local fish store, lay them on a sandy beach and (with a little chopping and arranging) set out the panels for a cartoon. Snap it, Photoshop in a few dialogue bubbles once you get home, and you have your cartoon.

You can do the same thing with all kinds of visual communication, of course. Those salmon bones could become a bar chart, tracking the decline in population. Or engage your inner pre-schooler to chart changes in education funding: make a line graph by gluing macaroni onto construction paper. Or if you want to draw attention to a word or phrase, write it in big letters on a blackboard or a lined flip chart, or draw it on a napkin — whatever context makes sense for the underlying idea. Take a picture of your creation, and you’re set.

In a bind? Let someone else do it. There’s the absolutely lovely way of paying a cartoonist to draw a custom cartoon (thanks, Beth!), or to license an existing one — but there’s also a trove of cartoons and illustrations out there available under a Creative Commons license. You can search for them on Flickr, or just Google “creative commons”, “cartoon” and various keywords. Or you can start bookmarking cartoonists you come across who post under an open license. (Modesty forbids suggesting a starting point.) Just be sure you respect the terms of that license, which may require attribution, using the image without modification, or using it in content that has a similar license.

Finally, keep working at it. Use your emerging skills — in drawing and in the alternatives — to create cartoons, but also to explore other ways to communicate visually. Try new things, see what works for you and for your audience… and keep learning. Read great books like Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin, and follow folks like Sunni Brown. Add Information is Beautiful and Sketchnote Army to your information diet. Watch Beth’s Pinterest board on visual marketing.

And please doodle. On your meeting notes, on your grocery list, on the draft annual report you’re editing… because sooner or later, you’re going to look at one of those doodles and see a cartoon — the kind you’d be proud to post, publish or share.

A version of this post originally appeared on Beth Kanter’s blog.

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit has arrived

A few weeks ago, I let you know that Measuring the Networked Nonprofit was on its way, bringing with it the combined wisdom of Beth Kanter and Katie Paine on how nonprofits can measure their impact in an era of free agents and networked activism.

It’s a momentous book. Organizations from governments to businesses to community groups to nonprofits have all struggled with whether and how to engage with the networked social world, especially when resources are scarce and stakeholders are feeling skittish. Measuring the Networked Nonprofit opens up new possibilities for accountability, learning, innovation and greater impact.

Today, Beth officially announced the book’s availability. It’s already been topping Amazon’s best-selling book on nonprofits for days because of advance purchases, which speaks to the hunger out there for this kind of practical information, framed in a hope-filled vision for the future of the nonprofit sector. (Beth and co-author Allison Fine articulated that vision in their previous book, The Networked Nonprofit.)

As Beth puts it, “The book is about how nonprofits can measure and improve results from leveraging their networks.” The advice you’ll find there has been “field tested in real-time as part of my work as Visiting Scholar at the Packard Foundation with 60 of their grantees who participated in a peer learning/focus group and contributed many of the case studies.”

And Beth will help you do a little extra good when you buy your copy:

I am donating my royalties to support the Sharing Foundation‘s college education program for young people in Cambodia. My family is sponsoring Keo Savon, who we met this summer in Cambodia. She is second year engineering student and by supporting her education she will have better economic opportunities.

In the interests of full disclosure (by which I mean deliriously excited bragging) here’s one more excerpt from Beth’s post:

To help those who need to learn to laugh at measurement, not fear it, I commissioned Rob Cottingham to create cartoons that capture the essence of each chapter’s advice. (There were numerous times when I snorted my latte from laughing so hard!).

(Which is why that waiver I have clients sign has such explicit language about burns and scalding.)

Beth and Katie have lined up a slew of events, but they’re also eager to hear from folks who’d like on in their community. In the meantime, if you’d like to support the book’s launch, Beth suggests four things you can do:

Buy a Copy of the Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

Attend a Book Event this month as part of our book tour

Share of photo of yourself with the book on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook and use the hashtag #netnon

Stay tuned to our blogs as we share more stories about how nonprofits apply the advice in the book and I’ll keep you posted on Keo Savon’s studies

And what do you want to bet they’ll be measuring all of it?