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How to do Graphic Design for Balsamiq's Company Retreat

· Posted by Lei in Company · Add a comment

Hello, friends of Balsamiq!

This is Laura, Balsamiq's still-pretty-new graphic designer.

As some of you may already know, Company Retreats are very important for us at Balsamiq. Planning a retreat means a lot of work, and a part of it it’s design-related: the gifts, making the location welcoming, create graphics for the different teams, etc.

Some little details can make a big difference, that’s why we pay attention to the design process, we want to make the whole experience unforgettable!

So… how do we do that? Let’s dive into it together.

First of all, set a theme!

Setting a Retreat theme can be really fun, we’ve started doing it a few years ago and we love it.

This year’s theme for us was the Nest (our new office), and Bologna (the city where the office is located), you can read more about it here.

This was the first time for me to work on the Retreat graphics since I’ve joined Balsamiq one year ago, I admit it’s been challenging but my coworker Mike - who took care of this task before I was hired - helped me during the initial part.

We are a distributed company, so the first thing that came to my mind was to design something that could hold us together, especially for the people that are not able to come to the office often.

I wanted everyone to feel like the Nest was their second home.

Hoodie and t-shirt design

The first things I was asked to work on were a T-shirt and a hoodie.

The requirement was to keep the design minimal - we didn't want people to think "Ouch, that's such a huge design... I'll probably never use this hoodie/shirt".


I wanted the hoodie to represent the Nest, and to make everyone feel a part of it. I sketched a swallow (at the office we have some walls with a similar design) and a globe for the front part then, I eventually came up with "Nest is where your ❤️ is" text to use in the back.

Nest Style initital sketch

I showed the sketch to the small team I was working with, they were happy with it so we decided to go digital.

Nest Style Hoodie Graphic

We liked the digital result, too, so we decided to print a test hoodie. Sad trombone, the print was muddy because of the multiple colors and nuances (that's how print on demand comes out sometimes). Design dismissed!

We changed the illustration, making it simpler and opting for a singular color graphic. Here’s the final result:

Hoodie Retreat Final Design


For the T-shirt, we opted for a design that brought together Bologna and the Nest, so what's better than tortellini and a swallow?

Balsamiq T-shirt first sketch
T-shirt illustration process

We were pretty sure this illustration would look good on a red t-shirt (red is the main color of both Balsamiq and Bologna).

Here on the right, you can see the final result.

Balsamiq Retreat Red T-shirt

Chalkboard wall lettering

At our new office, we have a huge chalkboard wall, and this Retreat was the perfect occasion to create an artwork on it for the first time!

I think it's a nice idea to welcome someone in a new place with a huge mural, and since I'm the one in the company passionate about lettering... I couldn't wait to start!

I had never done anything like that before, I've always lettered on my iPad or my sketchbook, so I took a look at this video and read this article to learn a little bit more about the whole process.

How to do a chalkboard wall lettering

  1. Come up with a concept, sketch it, prepare a digital version of it
  2. Use a projector to project the digital file on the wall, to help you comply with the dimensions and the grid
  3. Trace the contours of the letters
  4. Unleash your creativity! Add thickness, contrast, and details!

Chalkboard lettering work in progress

You can see part of the work in progress in the image above: I only used regular chalks, and I didn't have any design ready for the decorations so I improvised.

Here are the first sketches for another part of the wall:

Initial sketch for Welcome Lettering
Digital sketch for Chalkboard Lettering

Here are the first two words: you can notice that it's similar but it's not the same as the digital sketch: I've added some depth, shadows, and details to make it playful.
Welcome Balsamici lettering

Here's a time-lapse of the second part:

And... done!

Final Lettering at the Nest, Balsamiq Bologna

Office Map

It was the first time at our new office for a lot of us, so we decided to create a map. We wanted to be sure that everyone knew where they had to go during the planned activities, and the map felt like a nice solution.

Balsamiq Nest office map

You can see the very first sketch above, I've sketched something really quick with a pencil and then I immediately created a digital version of it.

The initial digital version looked okay, but the day after creating it I thought "Meh... this is not Balsamiq style... I feel this is not the right direction and I want to change it".

I took my iPad, opened Procreate and started sketching using the old version as background. Here's a detail of what I call the "Much Better" Map.

Better map, Balsamiq

At this point, the only thing missing was the front cover, I decided to change it from the initial idea and I used the swallow + world illustration that didn't work on the hoodie. Easy Peasy!

Final Balsamiq Map

Team Posters

Last but not least, another thing I designed for this Retreat was Team Posters. We wanted a poster for each team, to hang it on the wall.

The elements that needed to be included were: Core Team Members, Extended Team Members, Team Description, Fun Fact and an empty area where everyone could stick post-it notes.

I have to admit I didn't have a lot of ideas about the posters, so it was a little bit challenging at the beginning because I didn't know what to do.

Zero ideas poster

Here's the first sketch I came up with. I didn't like it, I kept looking at it thinking "No".

I decided to switch to digital and use my iPad to give it a more Balsamiq look.

At the beginning what I wanted to do was to manually write every description, but I thought that too much-handwritten text would have meant lack of consistency so I decided to fill that area with a regular font on my computer.

I added some emojis related to the fun fact because it made it more fun and playful.

I hope you liked this behind-the-scenes, I'm looking forward to sharing more about our graphic design process in the future.

Have you ever taken care of the graphic design for an event like this? If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, or sign up for an Office Hour session with me! I'd love to hear from you 😊

Lei for the Balsamiq Team

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