Like many people on the Internet, I’m a self-taught graphic designer. I’ve never taken a graphic design course in my life, and in my opinion, it’s a strength. Design is something you can definitely learn yourself, and there’s a wealth of information available on the Internet to do it. This collection of graphic design tips especially for a beginner designer will shortcut a lot of learnings that I’ve picked up over the years through trial and error!
1. Never underestimate simplicity
A mistake many beginner designers make is to cram too much on their canvas. Too many colors, too many typefaces, too many elements. This creates a hectic feeling in their design and doesn’t allow the design to breathe on the page.
Regularly ask yourself: what would my work look like if I removed this element? Would it benefit? Of course, you’d never do this with a key focus point for your design, but for background or supporting elements, it’s good to always sense check.
2. Pair photography with color blocks
Cue hipster photo.
Photography and design go hand in hand. It’s something I’ll be covering thoroughly throughout this post, discussing how best to pair text and photos to achieve a great composition.
One of my favorite effects to do this is to pair a color block with a stunning shot. It’s simplistic, yet effective.
3. Stick to two typefaces…
And NEVER more than three per canvas.
If you’re working with text, one of the best ways to create a feeling of style and not of clutter is to keep a number of typefaces reduced to two. This is one of those examples where less definitely really is more.
4. … And make those typefaces fit like a glove
In the image example above, you can see that both the heading type and the supporting tagline both complement each other. Font pairing is a fantastic way to make your design ooze with class.
Play around with what fonts work with which, often you’ll find that a sans-serif body or supporting font will work well with a serif font for your header. It really is a case of trial and error.
Some resources on top notch typeface pairings:
5. Offset your dominant color
Using a strong color palette is one of the most important processes of graphic design. A good palette can make of break a piece of work, and every designer knows how frustrating working with a boring palette can be.
Whether you’re working with a great palette or a boring one though, offsetting your dominant color is a great way to add variety to your work whilst still keeping it simple. Here’s an example of colour offsetting:
Notice in this work by Dylan Casano, the colors of the eyes, instead of a harsh white, have been designed to complement the background color. This helps to keep the feeling of the piece relaxed.
6. Play around with typeface weights
Using variants of one font family in a design work will add a little variety and visual interest without creating a feeling of clutter.
Check to see which weights the typeface you’re using has available, and try to use a bold type for your design heading and a light or book variant for your copy. You could end up producing some much more interesting.
7. Stop boxing off your content
Ask yourself whether you need to put that thing you’re creating inside a box.
So much of modern web and app design is boxed off, that often magic can be achieved if you simply remove an element’s constraints and let it breathe. A fantastic animated example of this lies in one of InVision’s design tips videos that can be watched here.
8. Copy and repeat
Repetition is one of the only guaranteed methods of improving in anything in life, but it’s particularly true of design.
Find a piece of work you love, and try to recreate it.
You don’t necessarily have to do anything with that piece of work, in fact, it’s probably better not to if you’re copying something identically. However, the process of copying and iteration will speed up your learning more than anything else.
The question “I wonder how they made that” is one you should be asking yourself all the time.
9. White space is valuable and powerful
Do not underestimate the power of whitespace in your work. One of the best examples of whitespace in modern graphic design has to be Apple. Rarely are any of their product images hard-edged, instead, they use shadows and eons of empty space.
All of this is considered, none of it accidental. Apple is famous for its simplicity and minimalism, and its graphic design is no different.
Next time you’re working with text on a large canvas, choose a high-quality typeface and centralize your type. Leave the rest of the canvas white and have a look at the result, you might be surprised just how good it might look.
10. Make your colors pop
On the internet, you have on average 8 seconds to capture a viewer’s attention.
So you better make that design pop. Colour is one of the best ways to do this. Instead of choosing a muted color palette, try going for something with a bit more oomph!
High contrast palettes like red and black, yellow and black or whites with vibrant background colors will work great for this.
The color pop technique is a great idea if you have a short amount of text that you need to have as much impact as possible with.