5 Best Practices for Designing Event Merchandise


December 18, 2018


5 Best Practices for Designing Event Merchandise

You’ve decided on the type of event you’re going to hold.  You’re ready to start spreading the word on your organization’s social media accounts. You’re crafting a registration landing page that any attendee will find easy to use.The only thing missing is memorable merchandise that will commemorate your event and spread the word about your organization.

Event merchandise can supplement your fundraising efforts, strengthen relationships with your supporters, and attract more attention for your cause. When your attendees wear, carry, or display the merchandise they’ve picked up at your event, others are likely to ask them where they got the items and what they represent.

Your goal is to create merchandise that will make your attendees happy and generate conversation surrounding your organization and the good work it does long after the event is over. While designing merchandise is a creative process that gives you lots of room to have fun, following a few guidelines will ensure that your organization benefits from your merchandise.

In addition to these guidelines, we’ve noted a few common mistakes you should avoid as you start designing. Let’s begin with the most important aspect to consider when designing merchandise: giving your event attendees what they want.


1. Find out what your attendees want

Knowing your audience is the first and most essential step in designing custom merchandise for distribution at your event. Your attendees want merchandise that fits within their personal styles, relates to the cause they care about, and reminds them of how much fun they had at your event.

This may sound like a tall order, but don’t worry! You can create merchandise that addresses all three of these preferences if you do some research on your supporters ahead of time. First on your list is knowing some basic demographic information about your attendees.

How old are your attendees? If most of them are around the same age, they’re more likely to share design preferences. If you’re worried about following a trend that will quickly become outdated, remember that attendees of all ages will appreciate a simple, stylish design that places your organization’s mission at its center.

In-person events take place in specific communities, so why not incorporate your attendees’ shared geographic location into your merchandise design? Consider incorporating town and city names and landmarks in your design or modifying your organization’s logo to reference the location of an event.

If you’re designing wearable merchandise like t-shirts as an event fundraiser, try to create a design that guests of any gender would be comfortable wearing, or provide multiple options from which they can choose.

Need to do more research before creating something that you know everyone will love? In addition to broad demographic research, focus on your organization’s past experiences with community engagement. You may have useful information on hand from previous community events, social media interactions, or earlier merchandise sales.

After you take your attendees’ demographic information into consideration, it’s time to think about their relationship to your organization. Think back to what you know about your supporters: what draws them to your cause? If you can summarize that in a memorable phrase or a striking visual, you’ve uncovered the starting place for your design.

Depending on the focus of your organization, you may be already associated with certain images (animals, children, or nature, for example). But this isn’t the case for all nonprofits! If your cause doesn’t easily translate to an image, a good typographic design is just as effective.

Mistake to avoid: Not doing enough research on your attendees! Choose and design items and styles that your particular group of supporters is most likely to love.

Your attendees want merchandise that shows their pride in the good work your organization does and serves as a memento of the event they attended. Commemorate the occasion with a design that will remind them of how much fun they had every time they wear it.

2. Connect your design to the event you’re hosting

You have multiple options when it comes to deciding when your attendees will receive their merchandise. Will you use merchandise as a way to promote your event, including the items with registration and distributing them before the event so that attendees can wear, carry, or use them there? Or will you sell merchandise at the event so that everyone can take home a memento from the big day?

Whichever you choose, you know that your goal is to create merchandise that your attendees will wear or use to show their support for your organization wherever they go. They’re more likely to do so if the item reminds them of how much fun your event was!

Wearable merchandise, like customizable shirts from Bonfire, is a perennial favorite among both nonprofits and supporters. If you’re opting for t-shirts or sweatshirts, don’t forget to take the season of your event into consideration! Choose a sleeve length that’s appropriate for the time of year and climate of your event. You may even consider a seasonal color scheme, especially if it fits well with your organization’s branding.

The type of event you’re hosting can also help you decide on a design. For instance, athletic activities like runs and walks are common fundraising events. If you’re holding one, go for a sporty design. If your merchandise is a take-home gift after an evening event, try something classic and elegant, or something bolder for a louder party setting!

Mistake to avoid: Your merchandise references your organization but not your event or–more dangerously–references your event but not your organization! The perfect design strikes a balance between identifying your organization and cause and commemorating your event.

Take the time to create a design that your attendees will associate with both your event and your organization. The key to the latter is to brand your merchandise in a way that’s creative, but still consistent with your organization’s imagery.

3. Brand your merchandise to your organization

You know and love your organization’s familiar branding: the color scheme on your website and other materials, the characteristic font you use for your name, and of course your logo. While you may not be able to include all of these elements in your event merchandise, incorporating your organization’s branding within your design in some way is essential.

Consistent branding builds familiarity, trust, and recognition among your supporters and in the wider world of individuals who may become your supporters in the future! One main purpose of event merchandise is to build awareness for your cause when your attendees wear or use the items in public.

If you want to use your organization’s branding but need to tailor it to your event, create a design that combines these two elements. If your organization’s name can’t be displayed prominently within the design you choose, consider keeping your color scheme to boost recognition in this way.

Your organization’s logo is likely to be a part of any design you create, but consider updating it to reflect an aspect of your event or a shared interest of your attendees. A modification or partial redesign may make your logo fit in with the activity around which the event is centered, the location where it’s taking place, or the season when it’s being held!

Mistake to avoid: You design stylish merchandise that your attendees love to wear or use, but it contains few or no clear references to your organization or indications of your cause. Remember that part of the purpose of event merchandise is to spread the word about your organization and all of the good work it does!

Don’t neglect the power of branding in your design. If you create merchandise that your attendees love, they may even wear or use it in efforts to promote your next event in-person and on social media!

If you’ve decided on a color scheme and know how you want to incorporate your organization’s branding, it’s time for you to choose the design’s central image or text. Leaning toward a catchy phrase? Typographic designs are powerful, memorable, and suited to a wide variety of organizations and causes.

4. Choose a memorable phrase for a typographic design

You’ll likely be able to decide quickly whether your organization’s work is better expressed in images or words. You can, of course, always combine them in your design, or use your logo as the image component of your design.

If you’ve decided on a typographic design or are making text a large component of your design, you’ll need to choose a phrase that expresses the mission of your organization within the context of your event. This phrase should be short, memorable, and easy to understand. Merchandise that displays the phrase may end up introducing others to your organization!

Keep in mind that your goal for your typographic design is that onlookers are able to read it! This means that you need to put thought into your font selection, font combinations, and especially your choice of background and text colors.

Choose easily readable fonts and large type to ensure that your phrase comes across well on your merchandise. Need a little extra artistic value in your text-only design? Use multiple fonts, making sure that they complement one another. Above all, don’t choose two light or two dark colors for your background and text! Color contrast is essential to readability.

Mistake to avoid: Your phrase doesn’t strike the right balance between catchy and informative, or your have a great phrase that your design renders unreadable. If your phrase requires too much reading, is too dry, or contains too much “insider information” for onlookers to identify your organization’s purpose, revise it before you create your merchandise. Once you’ve formulated the perfect phrase, use a design tool to test out available fonts and color schemes to ensure readability.

5. Combine all of these elements into one great design

You’ve researched your audience, created a design unique to your event, incorporated your organization’s branding, and selected just the right image or phrase. Before you order your merchandise, go over this final checklist to make sure that the design will look as good on the items as it does in your plans.

Have you:

  • Chosen the right colors? Ensure that your image or text is clearly visible against the background color of your item. If you’ve gone overboard on colors in your design, you may want to reconsider: this can add up, and you want as much of the proceeds as possible to go to your cause.
  • Maximized your use of the printable area? Know the dimensions of the area on which your merchandise platform is going to print your design. Otherwise, parts of your creation may not show up on the final product!
  • Created a digital file of your design? Submitting a high-resolution digital file of your design rather than a drawing or photograph ensures that your design won’t look different than you intended as the result of a conversion process.

If you have ideas for designs but need some help with the process or don’t have the time to address every event planning challenge yourself, consider enlisting the help of someone with graphic design experience. You’ll get the design you want and save yourself time when you need it most.

We don’t need to tell you that events are a big deal in the event world, but we can tell you that you want your supporters going home with a professional-quality item that they’ll want to show off again and again. Provide them with the right merchandise and watch as awareness of your organization grows!

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