8 design tips for non-designers

This one’s for all you marketers and social media execs, from solopreneurs to massive corporations, who are holding the fort of content creation for your business. While tools such as Canva and Adobe Express are great at making suggestions and providing editable templates, you can really up your game by applying some processes and principles used by professional designers. Here are our top 8 tips to improve your output:

Nick Steer

February 13, 2023

Consistency is key

Ask your marketing or creative team for your company brand guidelines so that you can begin to learn the do’s and don'ts of your company’s visual ID. If there aren’t any, then begin to create some rules for yourself so that you can repeat things like font size, alignment, and where and when you use colour. Remember, consistency is not the same as uniformity, so if you need to adjust the size of something to make the design work then go for it, but proceed with caution. Remember, you have to know the rules inside out before you can know how - and when - to break them.

Less is more

On social media you only have around 0.5 seconds to grab someone’s attention before they scroll on, so have one key message and keep it short and to the point. Make the language clear and the proposition enticing to create interest, then put the detail in the text of the post. If you’re not confident getting creative that’s fine, don’t cram dozens of words, calls to action, colours, shapes and images into a small space. When it comes to presentations, use more pages with less content on each page. Your audience will either be listening to you OR reading the slide - they can’t do both.

Embrace the space

Many non-designers see empty space in a design and have an overwhelming urge to fill it. Actually, white space is an effective tool to have in your arsenal. It helps to give your reader's eye clear direction, gives your information room to breathe and adds rhythm, and thirdly it avoids visual overload, which causes people to miss or skip over things. Think about how you have a conversation. There are pauses. You emphasise. You speak at a speed that means you can be understood clearly. So design like that.

You wouldn’t shout at someone at 100 miles per hour without stopping for breath, so don’t do it on a page.

Use a grid

Grids form a framework which helps you to organise, align and size the elements of your design with speed, accuracy and consistency. They help to bring balance and hierarchy to your design, and make them look cleaner, too.

Colour contrast

Beyond simply being able to clearly read the text on your design (see point 4 below), accessibility in design is more important than ever. Make sure you use clearly contrasting colours, or to keep things simple, just use a neutral colour and one brand colour. Although you’re not going to be penalised for poor accessibility in a static image, consider how the visually impaired or colour-blind might see - or not see - your design. There are loads of online tools for checking contrast, we like Colour Contrast because it’s really easy to use and it looks great too.

Readability & legibility

Yes, these are two separate things, and both are very important. Readability is how easy it is to read something, so, for example, avoid using big all-caps words, packed tightly together, because sentence and lowercase text give your eyes and brain cues to understand the letterform. Legibility is how well you can distinguish between letters in a word, so keep your message clear by not using over-styled typefaces, which can be hard to read at best, and indecipherable at worst.

Design principles

Always bear in mind that at its core graphic design is about visual communication, not the pursuit of art. Something that looks cool but doesn’t deliver information in a clear and easy way is not doing its job correctly. All good graphic design will adhere to and even play on these core principles:

  • Alignment - Lining things up neatly creates order, a visual connection between elements and a unified design.
  • Repetition - Repetition builds recognition. By repeating elements of your visual ID, such as a pattern or typeface, you foster familiarity and create associations between different executions.
  • Contrast - Create distinction and emphasis in your design by deliberately and obviously using contrast between colours, fonts, sizes, textures etc. (but don’t go mad - it’s effective when used sparingly)
  • Balance (Symmetry/Tension) - This is how to distribute the elements of your design to bring stability and structure.
  • Hierarchy - Simply put, hierarchy is the ordering of information and elements to create a sense of priority and order, so the reader understands where to start and where to go next. That’s why a headline goes at the top of a page and is bigger than the body copy, for example.

Your logo doesn’t need to be bigger

Really. Your logo is there to reinforce your brand and to act as an identifier, not to do the heavy lifting. Often by making it bigger you take focus away from more important information. In fact, if your audience is already inside your brand ecosystem - on a social media profile for example - and your designs are consistent, you probably don’t need a logo at all.

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