Full disclaimer: I am not an designer. Much like you, I sometimes have to create graphics for social media for my job, even though I have very little formal training in design. This can be a real challenge, especially when I want to maintain a professional look for our company’s posts.
More than once, I’ve found myself staring at something I’ve designed, trying to figure out how to make it look…well, better. Without professional training or a thorough understanding of design, I sometimes have a hard time knowing why my design doesn’t look as nice as I would like it to.
So I decided to do some thorough research and discover what makes some designs look great and some look sort of “meh.” With the help of some great online resources and real life designers, I’ve learned to use some basic design principles to improve my designs, and now I’m sharing them with you! Here are some great tips and tricks to help you take your designs to the next level.
[Related reading: 7 Essential Free Online Design Tools for Veterinary Practices]
Choosing a color scheme
The first challenge is actually picking a color scheme. Rather than just adding any colors you like to your graphic, try to be deliberate about what colors you’re using and how they work together. A color scheme is an important way to create cohesion in your design, and even across all your designs. If you use the same color scheme repeatedly, you’ll actually create recognition, where clients can tell that a graphic comes from your practice, based solely on the familiar color scheme.
So how do you choose a color scheme? There is no set way: you have several different options. However, one of the keys to a good color scheme is to keep it simple. Too many colors can overwhelm the viewer, look ugly, or compete for attention. Professional designers can create beautiful designs from a large range of colors, like this one. But that takes skill and practice.The best rule of thumb for beginners is to pick no more than 1-3 primary colors to base your design around. These colors do not include the neutral tones of black, white, and grey, but consist of any other colors. I personally try to stick to no more than two colors in a scheme; even three seems like a bit much for my amateur eye. You can decide for yourself what you find most manageable, but this rule of thumb will help keep your designs looking clean and attractive.
Using tones, tints, and shades
You might feel limited by the 1-3 colors rule, but you don’t have to be. The colors are the base, but you can use different shades, tones, and tints of the same color to create variety. For example, I used a single color (plus white) for this graphic, but by using different shades of the same purple, I was still able to create variety and contrast.
The colors you pick are entirely up to you. You might choose colors based on your current practice logo or your practice website’s color scheme. If you’re creating a seasonal design, you might be inclined to select colors for that season, such as red and green for the holidays. If you’re like me and you find it challenging to select colors that look good together, try a tool like Adobe Kuler, where people create and share their own color schemes.
Using an eye dropper
One excellent tool that I use on a regular basis for designs is a browser eye dropper. My browser of choice is Google Chrome, and this is my go-to browser eye dropper. It allows me to hover over any part of a web page or image and discover the information necessary to replicate that color exactly. You can use the eye dropper to select colors you really like from any web page, or if you’re using a picture in your design, you may want to choose colors that are featured prominently in that image, like I did here, using a color from the image for the circle that the text is on:
Limiting the number of fonts
I understand the temptation to use a lot of fonts. With so many beautiful fonts to choose from, how can you possibly just pick one? But if you take a look at most popular and functional designs, they consistently use only one or two fonts, with perhaps an accent font for a headline. The reality is that too many fonts can hinder the legibility, and even the attractiveness, of your design.
Consider these two designs. Which one is easier to read and looks better?
Using formatting to create variety
If you do want to accentuate or make certain words stand out, consider altering the font instead of changing it completely. For example, in the water balloon design, I only used two fonts, but I bolded the Open Sans font for the “June 29, from 6-8pm” copy, and I italicized it for the “Balloons and water provided” text. Keep your design looking cohesive while also creating variety and emphasis by changing the formatting of the fonts you already have.
Contrast is a striking difference between or the juxtaposition of two elements. Colors are frequently used to create contrast, but different shapes or sizes can also create contrast in a design.
Contrast and text
Contrast is used to ensure the legibility of text in designs. It’s essential to have high contrast between your text and your background, or you risk making your graphic too hard to read. My general rule of thumb is to place only white or black text on colorful backgrounds, to really ensure legibility. However, if I’m using a white or black background, a colorful text can stand out or draw attention, as in this graphic:
Creating contrast using shapes
Another trick I used in the above graphic is one of my favorites – the shape trick. I may be guilty of overusing this, but I find that when text doesn’t show up clearly on an image, adding a shape of another color and placing the text over that shape creates a higher contrast and increases legibility.
Creating contrast using size
Another form of contrast is contrast in size. By contrasting the size of images or text, you can draw attention to specific elements or text. For the information you most want to draw attention to, use larger and bolder text, and for more detailed info, use thinner and smaller text.
This is probably my favorite guideline for designing. It’s quite simple, but it can make such a powerful difference in a design. Aligning objects and elements within a design with each other can make a graphic look much more organized and clean. Professional designers use alignment extensively, creating intricate grids that align all the elements on the page. This is probably too much for beginners like you and me. However, many great basic design programs will help you create some basic alignment with dotted lines like these purple ones in Canva:
Those dotted lines help you see when your elements are lining up with each other, and they help you add some alignment to your designs.
A really simple way to employ alignment to create better looking designs is through the use of grids. For example, when you place multiple images into a graphic, line them up in a grid to create a cleaner image, like so:
You can create a grid like this was as few as two images, or as many as you want. You can also align other elements with the grid, such as texts or shapes. The key is to try and have as many of your elements as possible align with each other somehow, so that you create a sense of order and cohesion within your designs.
With the help of these basic design guidelines, you’ll be taking your graphics for your practice website and social media accounts to the next level in no time! Just remember that while these rules can be helpful, don’t be afraid of experimenting, and keep in mind that rules are meant to be broken!