Designing your own graphics can be intimidating, but it’s certainly do-able if you have a natural instinct to organize information and a creative eye. With simple, drag-and-drop style platforms such as PicMonkey and Canva, creating your own infographics, flyers, or PDF downloads (in some cases) doesn’t require fancy design software or oodles of experience. However, before you go all DIY on your graphics, there’s a few basic design principles you need to know.
First, don’t skimp on pre planning.
Don’t be mistaken, design is a detailed process. Which is why there are some projects that require a seasoned professional. However, successful design is always backed by a thorough plan. Prior to creating, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is my audience?
- What is the message?
- What is my goal?
It’s important to understand WHO is going to be seeing and interacting with your content so you can incorporate elements (fonts, colors, textures, etc.) that will peak their attention. You also want to have a clear message. While a picture is worth a thousand words, it won’t attract any engagement if no one understands what you’re trying to say. Finally, you need to determine your goal. What are you using this graphic for? If you want your content to be effective, you need to understand its purpose.
Second, understand the rules.
Poor design sticks out like a sore thumb while quality design slips by unnoticed, and that’s largely the point. So what’s the secret to designing content that’s functional, complementary, and effortless?--A solid understanding of basic design principles. While there are many, here are the top five you need to know.
Contrast is the arrangement of opposite elements in order to create visual interest (light versus dark, rough versus smooth, large versus small, etc.). Designers typically use contrast when they want to highlight a specific point of focus within their piece. Basically, the element you want people to focus on needs to stand out from whatever is surrounding it in order to help your audience grasp the message and avoid confusion.
One of the most common ways you can utilize contrast (and probably the easiest) is to use your background as a tool to highlight your subject. For example, pair a dark or textured background with a light and bolded colored text. You can also create contrast by pairing opposing patterns, colors, shapes, and positions as well.
Scale and Ratio
Have you ever looked at a website, flyer, or brochure and felt immediately overwhelmed because you didn’t know where to look first? Intentional design carefully guides the viewer's eye, letting them know where to look and when. That’s where scale and ratio come in.
Scale and ratio help balance your design with proper composition which helps it appear natural and organized. Your audience craves clarity. Which means the way you size and position your design elements matter. Eliminate chaos by positioning your elements where they make the most sense and organizing your information that your audience can easily follow.
Feeling slightly intimidated? You don’t have to start from scratch. Leave the hard work to the professionals by using ready-made templates that you can tweak to your liking.
Symmetry refers to the arrangement of the elements on a page that are equal to each other on both sides. Since viewers are naturally attracted to images that are well balanced, unsymmetrical design can be awkward and downright unpleasing.
Avoid confusion by creating a line guide down the center of your design and balance your elements evenly on either side. Ask yourself, if I could physically fold my design in half, would it look exactly the same on both sides? If not, keep tweaking.
It’s perfectly acceptable to be meticulous when it comes to making sure all of your elements are nice and even. In fact, your audience will thank you for it.
Fonts give your message a personality. However, you want to be sure you’re giving the right impression. There’s a reason you won’t see a stop sign with a delicate cursive font or a french bakery with neon block letters. These font choices don't fit the context and distract viewers from the message.
The typography of your design needs to be functional while enhancing your style and voice. Communicate effectively by understanding which fonts pair well with one another and whether or not their tone resonates with your message. For example, Function is sleek and modern while Quicksand is fun and youthful.
Remember to limit yourself to 1-3 font choices and make sure the ones you choose are easily legible. Design is no good if no one can read it.
Repetition as a principle is the process of repeating elements throughout a design in order to create a unified look. In a specific design, however, repetition can be used to make a certain element stand out or appear more significant (see our example below).
Overall, repetition is meant to create consistency within your designs which makes your customers happy and strengthens your brand experience. After all, you wouldn’t want page 14 in your ebook to look completely different from the rest, right!?
You can do this setting design standards that allow you to streamline your process. Select a set of colors, filters, line widths, and shapes to use throughout each of your pieces so they become unified and easily recognizable by your audience. Incorporate them into your business cards, one-sheets, brochures, and infographics alike.
Design is the driving force of your brand experience, and while it’s possible for you to create quality graphics on your own, it’s important to understand the elements that makeup quality design. Start with a plan and implement these concepts and you’ll be on your way to creating content that will effectively drive your message.
There are some things you shouldn't do yourself.
Do color codes, font selections, and ratios make you feel a little woozy? The design process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Whether you want to create an infographic for a blog, A PDF download to attract email subscribers, or a sleek new business card, our design team has a ready-made framework to transform your ideas into a polished reality.