Updated April 13, 2021
Given the power of visual content (it’s more memorable and more engaging than text-based content), many marketers have turned to DIY graphic design software.
With traditionally text-focused people taking on more design tasks, it’s time for a brief introduction to or refresher on the essential principles of graphic design.
I’ll show you how the strategic use of white space, typography, and color can drastically improve the efficacy and aesthetics of your visual content. Try these three graphic design tips to keep your blog, social media, and other visuals on the right track.
White space 101: Use plenty of it
A telltale sign of an amateur designer is a shortage (or misuse) of white space. White space (also called negative space) refers to the unmarked spaces around or between visual elements in a design.
Apple’s use of white space for its original HomePod page is extreme but effective. The stark emptiness of the design forces viewers to focus on the product, which is presented as a work of art.
In contrast, non-designers often itch to fill every inch of space with text, images, or other design elements, leaving no place for the eye to rest.
Here’s one of the top graphic design tips — take a less-is-more approach. Remove elements that don’t add value to your design. This gives more breathing room to the core elements.
Use wider margins around the design’s edges and expand the space between unrelated elements to clarify page structure.
Leaving unmarked space in a design can immediately improve its visual appeal and ability to communicate.
Always ask before you finish a design: Is there anything I can remove to improve this design?
Typography 101: Balance readability with style
Typography refers to the technique of positioning and styling type, but true typography aficionados say designing with type is both a science and an art.
A lot of technical knowledge is required to master type design, including:
- Anatomy of letterforms
- Rules for kerning, tracking, and leading
- Typestyle classifications.
Marketers and amateur designers can’t be expected to learn all these details. This is one of the most important graphic design tips for beginners when it comes to typography: Balance readability with style.
Every font brings something to the table in terms of readability and style. Typically, the more stylized a font, the harder it is to read.
Since the fundamental purpose of type is to communicate information, used highly stylized, hard-to-read fonts with caution.
That doesn’t mean, however, that type must be boring. An easy way to balance readability and style is to use stylized fonts for large header text and minimal, traditional fonts for body text.
The combination allows you to inject your brand’s flair or taste into the graphics without forgetting the graphic’s purpose: communication.
Oh, and don’t go overboard with fonts, either. Stick with a maximum of two to three fonts per graphic. Any more, and you’ll have trouble creating a cohesive design.
Any professional designer will tell you there’s a lot more to the process of choosing fonts than balancing style with readability, but this simple rule serves as a great entry point into the complex world of typography.
Color 101: Use contrast to focus attention
Color is tough to get right. Even some full-time designers struggle to use color effectively in their designs.
At the same time, because color is innately intertwined with emotion, color choices have an immense influence on a viewer’s perception of a design.
How do you make great color choices? Try these tips and tricks for using color in your visuals.
Use simple, high-contrast color schemes to focus attention on elements of the design. Use contrast to add visual interest and, more importantly, to direct the viewer’s eye toward important information like keywords, icons, or data points.
What is a high contrast color scheme?
High contrast schemes use colors found across from each other on the color wheel. Traditionally, these schemes are referred to as complementary and split complementary.
Complementary color schemes feature two colors with the highest possible contrast. Check out how FinancesOnline uses a variation on a split complementary color scheme for a visual in its digital marketing statistics post:
The bright, bold “200%” jumps out. The stat catches the eye because it’s featured in the warmer, more saturated color.
This is a strategic decision by a clever designer who knows research shows that humans react to warm, saturated colors, while cool, desaturated colors recede into the background.
When picking colors for your next project, keep in mind that strategically used high contrast color schemes create visual impact and highlight the most important information.
I don’t recommend creating a color scheme from scratch – even seasoned designers struggle with this tricky task.
Use a free app like Color Hunt for inspiration. It gives you access to user-made color schemes from designers across the world, and its “popular” filter is great for getting an idea of what palettes work well.
If you start thinking like a designer, you can produce more beautiful graphics that do the job more effectively.
Keep these three graphic design tips in mind to take your visual content to the next level:
- White space: Use the unmarked areas of the page to balance your design for a polished, professional look.
- Typography: Use a stylized header font and readable body font to strike the right balance between personality and clarity.
- Color: Use a high contrast color scheme to draw attention to key information.
Are you ready to create some DIY visual content? Let me know in the comments.
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools (from your company or ones that you have used) in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute