Crossroads Communications

Better Design with Simple Principles

July 13, 2020

In today’s technology-driven office, everyone is expected to wear multiple hats and produce work outside their professional skill set. Are you regularly tasked with creating flyers, social media graphics, or other materials even though design classes were never part of your degree program?

With programs like Microsoft® Office, there are design tools at everyone’s fingertips. However, having a hammer doesn’t make me capable of building a house and having a program filled with shapes, colors, fonts, and endless possibilities doesn’t make you a designer.

As a professional designer, I can offer some basic direction that will take your creations from average to dynamic and become more effective tools of communication.

Below, I’ve created two flyers as an example; one showcases a basic content design and the other is an enhanced design, with the same information, following a few simple principles. Keep in mind that design considerations should always be secondary to the message being conveyed. My desire to show off wonderful design skills are always secondary to making sure the viewer can easily find key information (what, where, when, why) and what action is required on their part.

Here are simple steps you can follow to elevate your designs and make your message more effective:

  1. Assess your content.
    • Is the message concise? Eliminate unnecessary fluff words and information.
    • Is the information organized and easy to understand?
    • Is anything missing? This includes key information like a phone number, website link, associated costs, what the viewer needs to do to respond or attend, etc.
    • Are there blocks of copy that should be grouped together? In the example above, copy related to graduating seniors and their parents are separated.
  2. Choose your color palette.
    • Are there branding elements (e.g., logo, artwork, color scheme) that should be followed for your organization? A brand is more than just a logo and you have a responsibility for all communications to follow brand guidelines.
    • Limit the colors to two predominant colors and possibly a third accent color (excluding items like photos and artwork). That will keep the focus on the information rather than trying to dazzle the eye. Your primary color could have different shades, such as a dark blue for a background and a light blue for copy.
    • Be sure colored text has enough contrast with any background colors for maximum readability.
  3. Make it easy on the eyes.
    • Keep it to two fonts. Bolder, more decorative fonts are better for key headlines and a simpler, more readable font is better for body copy. A font family that has several options for weight (e.g., light, medium, bold, heavy), style, and condensed options are effective in these cases.
    • Make sure the two font families are different. Generally, I will select one that is serif and one that is sans serif. Readability is always important.
    • Separate key details from general information and emphasize them with size, color, and typeface so the eye finds those details first. Minimize the use of different text sizes. Make the headline and key details the most prominent elements on the page or post.
    • No matter how hard you try you cannot emphasize everything, the result will be emphasizing nothing.
    • Use ALL CAPS judiciously. The longer the sentence or copy block, the harder it is on the eyes to read items in all caps. If you need to highlight a word, try using italics, an accent color, or both.
  4. Let it breathe.
    • White space, or areas without content, are an asset to any design. Use it to help the viewer differentiate between groups of information. Which of the examples above is easier on the eyes? Using gaps between groups of art or information makes it easier for the viewer to sort information.
    • Establish a healthy margin and keep to it. This is especially helpful if the piece is likely to be printed.
  5. Use graphic elements to enhance the message.
    • Photos, illustrations, stock art, color blocks and more are all effective elements when used to communicate the message. They are not the message itself, but tools to help tell the story.
    • Be a good visual editor. If the graphics are supplemental to the story rather than part of it, consider eliminating them.
    • Use these elements to your advantage. Notice in the example above that the color-blocked areas separate key information blocks. The angles make it more dynamic, but still create areas to feature information.
  6. Align groups to minimize visual clutter.
    • The goal of good design is to lead the viewer’s eye where you want it to land first and then progress to more information. In western countries, the eye will naturally begin in the upper left corner of the page.
    • Reduce visual clutter by aligning elements with each other and the margins. Visualize each group as a block with four sides (see green blocks overlaid on layout below). When you align those blocks to each other and/or the margins it minimizes the lines the eye has to follow. This significantly reduces the clutter on the page.

When used effectively, design is a powerful tool to better connect with your audience and amplifies the message. Enhance the story you need to tell and aid your viewer’s understanding by following these simple, yet effective design principles in flyers, brochures, graphics, blog posts, and more.

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