A great message needs to be told well – make it better through design!
“I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”
How many times have you given up in despair while admiring that piece of brilliance created by another? The general perception is that design is for pros. If you’re too busy running your business, design is a challenge to take on.
In an increasingly visual focused landscape, can a career professional get away with not improvising how data, information or content is presented? Even the best creative minds are still on a quest for the holy grail of design, where beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and individual perception is very subjective.
So is there hope for the design amateurs?
Totally, Completely, Absolutely!
Here’s my 5 Point cheat sheet for non-Designers
Keep in mind these tips of visual expression as a start – your awareness, practice and curiosity will certainly give you a lift in the world of design.
Good design encourages a viewer to want to learn more.- Alexander Isley
Present data visually
When in doubt, draw it out!- Dan Roam
The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam is a fabulous example of this practice In it he illustrates how thinking with pictures can help one discover and develop new ideas, find unexpected solutions and improve the way we present ideas.
I witnessed the power of stick figures years ago while explaining the principle of electric grid and supply (or simply how electricity reaches our homes) to a pack of wide eyed elementary schoolers. Yes, I’m talking of the same stick figures that elementary school kids habitually/instinctively draw and most of us doodle during a boring presentation. So get creative, doodle your explanations and leverage them as a way to effectively detail processes.
This Infographic by Anna Vital of Funders and Founders shows a slew of visually interesting ways to present information (33 to be exact).
Certainly gives us food for thought, doesn’t it?
Why write data if you can draw it – visual representation makes it easier for the user to digest information. Not to mention fun!
Less is more. Embrace clarity. Dispel the noise.
Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann called it “Eliminating the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” And we achieve that by trimming the fluff to portray the core message of our offerings – in our visuals, message or choice of fonts.
Our initial tendency is to tell everything to our audience. With careful edits and some iterations, what can be eliminated becomes clear. Thanks to a great team, illustrated below is an example of how we progress to eliminate the excess from our visuals to drive the eye towards the essential message.
In image 1, reading the background text takes effort. In image 2, we tried to incorporate our logo too. By the third image, there was a balance between clarity and relevance.
For brevity in writing and content, I could write a blog asking you to cut out words to drive home the point that you can do with so much less. Or, I can show you this image from a post on editing which makes an impactful case.
A powerful point depicted simply.
Step back from your choice of typography and analyze against the most important measure – Simplicity in Readability. Much as they call out to you, avoid fancy fonts that diminish readability and limit the number of typefaces you use together.
For the rebranding of her business Steph and Home, Stephanie Seo did an interesting exercise on a Facebook group. To garner opinions from fellow creatives, she posted the following logo options created by her on Canva. She needed help in deciding a clean, crisp logo that would work for her brand in the long run and give it flexibility and longevity. Option 2 & 4 were popular choices.
Option 2, with its choice of color overlay and fonts definitely impacts readability. In my opinion, option 4 (but enlarged) is a great because the choice of font makes the name clear. The inverted V icon denotes a roof in clear association with her blog focus. The square dimensions allow it to be easily adapted to social platforms and future app usage where square images are required.
Can you guess which one she finally used?
Color, Contrast and Whiteness
Colors might not be your forte but chances are that you do need to occasionally work with them. Without getting into details of the types of color combinations, a cheat sheet recommendation for picking great colors that work well together is your trusted friend- the internet.
When you see a logo, presentation, picture or website that uses colors well together, save it for later. Even designers do that. We constantly take inspiration from nature, Pinterest, Google, paint stores etc. Create your inspiration bank for when you need it and then share it with your team or designers.
With great color choice, comes an important element- contrast. You need a stronger distinction in visual representation to create a focus and make your point quickly.
The example below is an actual one from a kids website. If these colors were used in kids pillows, I would gladly pair them in any way. But they are used in the menu bar of the website. Although color 1 and 2 look great side by side, but when fast impact is needed, example 2 with more contrast between colors 1 & 3 stands out.
In the same breadth, let’s also cover the importance of white spaces or negative space – a crucial component to holding your audience’s attention. The space around, between, as well as within elements that gives visual breathing room (e.g. space between letters in typography). It doesn’t have to be white. It’s just the space that holds no elements.
In the example below, spacing out letters and increasing the white space gives instant visual relief in image 2. Adding sub headings makes it easier to process the content. Providing skimmable information is critical in a world where people are increasingly scanning information.
Small tweaks in color, contrast and space can make a big difference in outcome. It’s also a good idea to limit the number of colors you work with. It’s easier on the eye and sometimes on the pocket too.
Balance & Alignment
Think about everyday examples. When we set the table, the spoon and fork are mostly parallel. The windows in your family room are perfectly in line with one another. What if they weren’t?
Planters on both sides of an entryway and a side table in the midst of two chairs provide balance. The door or the table are the focal points here. Plus, using the other decor items in symmetry draws the eye to them.
Balance in design elicits a strong positive emotional response while asymmetry disturbs, albeit silently.
Why then should we overlook these in our visual presentations?
To create balance, give equal weight to both sides of an intended centre. In image 2 below, just adding color to the circle made both elements on each side equally impactful.
Alignment can be achieved by anchoring elements to an invisible grid. Together, this reduces randomness and looks cohesive. Although this seems like a given, overlooking this reduces the professionalism and harmony in your presentations.
Direction and Hierarchy
Certain parts of your website, presentation or art will always be more important than the others. Organization is important for presenting visual information and paying attention to it will dramatically increase the quality of your work.
In a world with extremely diminishing attention spans, visual & purposeful hierarchy allows users to scan by prioritizing information and gives them a path to follow. Use color or scale – play with font sizes to determine where to lead the eye.
In the image below, color and size variation, helps draw the visual path.
Vary text sizes and colors to draw attention to the key elements. And use visuals to tie in both.
A good layout leverages the components of design such as style and form and enhances the relationship between the various elements.
People have more opportunities today than ever to harness their creative potential. Check out our free mini eBook on Design that gives you some of the best, easy to use Free Design Tools available to you today.
You might still not know where to start or what to do, but you will hopefully know what not to do.
Imagine yourself working with a designer, either as a team member or as a hire. Knowing what is not right is equally important to knowing what can be made better.
Understanding the why behind design decisions makes you more smarter and strategic in your dealings.
Don’t let your mindset limit you. Speak through the act of creation, not just the thought. Make fresh new connections with the same old ideas and share your work.
Creativity in design is a habit. Cultivate it.
You can’t use up creativity. The more you create, the more you have.
A Designer and Entrepreneur, Aditi graduated from a top design school and subsequently started her own design and merchandising business. Co-founder at Maroon Oak, she has over 17 years of business experience with Two Dotts, her design consulting company and an Etsy store which serves as an outlet for her gifts and patented product designs.
A mother to a teen and a tween, she enjoys running, dancing and raising her newest baby, a Bichon named Miltie.
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