Graphic design is a skill that can pay off dividends personally and professionally. Maybe you’ll need graphics for your blog, social media posts for your small business, or make a personalized presentation for work or school.
If you’re just starting out, though, graphic design can be overwhelming. There are a lot of tools to learn, and even more design principles to apply. From font choice to alignment, to color theory to balance and symmetry, to general designer advice, here are 13 graphic design tips that every beginner can apply right away.
With hundreds of thousands of free fonts at your disposal, it’s easy to lose yourself in a downloading frenzy and use 10 different typefaces on a single graphic. However, using more than two or three fonts on a design will make it look unprofessional at best, and chaotic at worst.
Consider using one striking font for titles and headings and a simple one for bodies of text.
Fonts.com define kerning as the “the adjustment of space between two specific characters”. The spacing between characters in text impacts how it looks and should always be considered when including typography in any design. Improved letter spacing letters creates a more pleasing, readable text.
One pro tip is not let your font kern for you. Some fonts (especially the free ones) have uneven spacing between letters that make them look unprofessional. Adjust the kerning using your graphic design software to have a smooth typography finish.
Keeping elements aligned adds a sophisticated look to any design. Good alignment makes even pages that are busy with text and graphics look presentable. Thankfully, today’s design softwares have built-in guidelines that can help ensure the correct placement and alignment of elements on a piece of graphic. All you have to do is follow them so your end product looks like it was created by a pro.
Balance makes a design look stable and helps the eye of the viewer move smoothly between elements. It’s about distributing elements evenly throughout the design so that it looks attractive and not messy. It’s important to note that balance doesn’t necessarily mean everything needs to be the same size or perfectly aligned.
To balance, start with evenly loading your design is on the left and right, as well as upwards and downwards. You can try breaking the symmetry afterwards by moving your elements around, if you feel that your design can look better with some unevenness.
One way to achieve balance and symmetry is to use a grid-based approach. When starting a design, most seasoned designers use some kind of grid to organize the elements. This helps them maintain structural balance in their art, while also enabling them to see where they can break the rules.
If you’re working with lots of typography, say a magazine article page or a poster, try applying a baseline grid. Set up 10 columns and 10 rows of grids evenly distributed around your page. Use the grid as a basis for where you will place your texts and design elements, then adjust them as you see fit for your design.
Novice designers tend to fill their documents with too many elements. What separates the experts are their advanced use of white space.
White space, or negative space, is the area in designs not occupied by any visual or written element. It provides visual breathing room for the eye, increases legibility, and improves the overall visual layout.
Incorporate enough white space in your designs to make them look clean and increase their legibility and comprehensibility. You could even make creative use of your negative space, such as in the example above where it was used to form the number “2.”
Elements throughout a page or a set of artworks should look consistent. From fonts to images to brush strokes, every little detail should be in sync with each other so your design can send a unified message.
One way to be consistent is by deciding on one or two typefaces and a set of colors (more on this on the next tip) before you work on your design.
Color theory explains how humans perceive color as well as the effect of colors mixing, matching, and contrasting with each other. As a designer, it’s important to know how to make statements and set moods using color. The proper use of color can attract attention and increase the impact of any design.
There’s a lot to learn about color if you’re just starting out with design, but one way to keep your designs looking like a pro is to use color palettes, which is essentially a set of colors. Check out websites like Color Hunt and Colour Lovers to get inspiration on palettes. As a general rule of thumb, use light backgrounds with dark typography (or vice versa) for legibility.
Using separation lines adds impact to even the most minimalist of designs. Consider experimenting with different kinds of lines, such as solid, dotted, or dashed, and see which one is appropriate for the look you are going for.
In this design example, lines, as well as colors, were used to separate the different textual elements of the invitation. This style may also be applied to posters and other designs that may require some separation between elements.
As attention spans get shorter, you need to decide what is the most important element of your design and help your audience focus on that. One way to go about this is to use the concept of scale, i.e. increase in size, to text or any other feature of your design that you want to emphasize. The focal point of your design should be the most dominant at first glance.
As author Austin Kleon once said: “All creative work builds on what came before.” It’s important for every budding designer to start building a collection of work that they like. It can be as simple as saving images to a folder on your computer or smartphone, or pinning on Pinterest.
As you do this, you’ll start to learn about your own personal style, preferences, and even interests. If you look at your folder and you find that you’ve been saving a lot of infographics, then that might clue you in on the fact that you need to start learning how to make them.
Good designers look through the world with designer goggles on. Be intentional about looking at posters, logos, commercials, websites, and architecture around you with the eye of a designer. You might just find a kick of inspiration when you least expect it.
Put time in to create something every day. If you’re not feeling inspired to make something new, try reproducing a design that you love. Practicing every day will help you build your skills as a beginner designer, keep your creative juices flowing, and develop a personal style.
The ability to produce good designs takes theory, skill, and practice. May these graphic design tips start you on the path to creating beautiful and effective designs.
Nicole Mendoza is a freelance writer and work-at-home mom running on sugar and caffeine. She’s been trying to avoid the writer life for nearly 20 years now but still somehow ends up writing anyway.