Keep it simple, silly -- How I turned an overwrought design into a stylish notecard

designing handmade thank you cardsThis week I've been working on notecard sets to deliver to a small gallery in Seattle. One morning at 5:45 am, as one of my cats tried to paw me out of bed, I started thinking about a new card design. 

Thank-you cards always sell fast in my Etsy shop. I make them with pages from old books and a round "thank you" stamp. They're ok, but for a downtown gallery -- shouldn't I add some pizzazz? Bad idea.

Here's how I refined my over-complicated designs into a simple but attractive notecard.

My first idea started with a TV. Specifically, a photo of an old-fashioned TV in a microwave cookbook from the 70s. What if I made it look like the "thank you" was actually on the TV screen? How fun would that be?
retro tv
Wood grain is so underrated.
Hmm, not the effect I was looking for. Maybe the problem was the opening -- round peg in a square hole. So, I tried a photo with round objects.
images from cookbook
Not your mother's cookie.
Nope. This one is actually sinister. Maybe it's the disconnect between the realism of the photo and the graininess of the stamp. 

I knew where to find illustrations that would match the look of the stamp -- in the old Golden Book Encyclopedias I'd just gotten. The pages were filled with lots and lots of round things.

retro illustration for thank you card

retro illustration for thank you card
Hmm, kind of cool, but the "thank you" gets lost in the details. A busy card like this might confuse the recipient -- "Hunh? Why is Sarah sending me a card about coal?"

At this point, my design process was interrupted by a visit from Martha Stewart. Not in person, but in the form of a paper punch I couldn't resist. It produces paper "thank yous" with a simple squeeze. 

I returned to the retro illustrations and put the punch to work. I played around with lots of different designs. Here's the one I ended up with.
tiger illustration
Tiger, tiger burning bright...into my retinas!
Pretty clever, don't you think? See how I used both the positive and negative letters? I liked how the text was hard to read, like a tiger hiding in the grass. I was happy. Until I handed the card to my husband.

His face got that look. The one that says, "I don't love it, but I don't want to hurt her feelings so I'm not sure what to say." I can take it, I told him. After coaxing, he said the letters made his eyes hurt. Uh oh. 

I went back to the original card, the one that customers seemed to like. How to incorporate the new punch letters with the book pages? Here was my first try.
thank you card with simpler design
The Sally Field of thank you cards.
Closer, I thought, but the double "thank you" seemed almost sarcastic. Like, "so I said thank you -- are you satisfied?" So I simplified even more.
thank you card with simpler design
Just right. 

What do you think? How do you know when enough is enough -- or too much? Do you start simple and add, or do what I did -- start big, then remove and simplify?

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