Graphic Design Tips for Beginners

Whether you’re creating a presentation, a document, or an e-learning course, graphic design is what brings your content to life. The importance of graphic design can’t be understated—good graphics can take an otherwise boring piece of content and turn it into something that is both engaging and memorable.

Of course, this is easier said than done. We’d all love to be master graphic designers, but the truth is most us never anticipated needing a graphic design skill set. However, here’s some good news: most graphic design principles are extremely simple.

This last week, I hosted a free graphic design webinar for non-graphic designers. Here are the main three graphic design tips I covered during my webinar.

Tip 1: Use More Than One Font

One of the easiest and most impactful graphic design changes you can make is diversifying your fonts. This means doing away with the default fonts you’ve become accustomed to using and selecting new fonts that communicate a sense of personality and design.

Selecting new fonts is easy. I tend to follow a three-font rule, selecting specific fonts for titles, headings, and body content. On occasion, I will also select a fourth font for emphasis. The key to using the three- (or four-) font rule correctly is to use the fonts consistently. Title fonts are only to be used for titles, heading fonts for headers, and body fonts for body content. If you step outside these boundaries (even when it’s intentional), you run the risk of it looking like a mistake.

Here are some examples of the three-font rule in action:

I can’t talk about fonts without talking about the emotion of fonts. Have you ever thought about how different fonts communicate different meanings? Whether you realize it or not, you have an emotional response to different types of fonts. This emotional response either support or contradict the tone of your content.

When selecting fonts, think about the emotions they create. If they complement the meaning of your content, you’re doing it right.

font emotion

Tip 2: Use Cohesive Images in a Consistent Way

Images, graphics, diagrams, and illustrations are a great way to help your audience visualize the meaning of your content. The truth is, a perfectly selected image can provide more meaning to your content than a thousand words ever could.

Selecting quality images shouldn’t be decided on a page-by-page or slide-by-slide basis. When images are selected in this manner, the quality and style of those images can appear inconsistent throughout your content. For example, combining professional images purchased from a stock photo vendor with photos you’ve taken yourself will show clear inconsistencies. This lack of consistency can affect the credibility of your course. To avoid this, select images from the same “image family.” This means using images with consistent lighting, style, framing, proportions, and quality.

image families

Even when images are selected from the same image family, treating those images with different effects and embellishments can affect the overall consistency. Just as images shouldn’t be selected on a page-by-page or slide-by-slide basis, the effects applied to those images should be consistent throughout the content.

image treatments

Tip 3: Select the Right Colors

Just as fonts can add character and emotion to your content, the use of color can take it even further. Look at the packaging for your favorite products or the cover of the last magazine you read. Are the colors bright and exciting or dark and somber? Do the colors match the personality of the brand or message? Whatever the case, this is how color is used to provide additional meaning and emotion to the content. Here’s what these colors mean for me:

color emotions

I select colors the same way I select fonts, using a three-color rule: one color to act as a primary color, another as a secondary color, and a third as an accent color. Additionally, I proportion the use of these three colors throughout my content. When combined with the three-font rule, the use of color adds an additional sense of personality to the content.

color rule 2

Selecting colors can be an art form in itself. Even when working within the confines of a color scheme provided by an organization, understanding how colors work together can be a challenge for some. Luckily for us, there are plenty of tools to help us out. In addition to the coloring tools built into most programs, tools like Adobe Color can help you build a variety of custom color schemes. You can even upload photos to Adobe Color, which will analyze the photo to create a custom color scheme.

Practicing graphic design is like learning how to play a new instrument—it takes dedication and regular practice. Your graphic design skills will only grow as often as you use them. Once you’ve mastered the techniques I’ve covered, continue expanding your horizons and learn more challenging techniques.

Tim Slade

14 Responses to “Graphic Design Tips for Beginners

  • BrettRock
    5 years ago

    Very nice Tim. I’ve always liked your work. For beginners I can never forget to point out Robin Williams’ CRAP process: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Understanding and applying those will take even a beginner to the next level.

    • Hey Brett! I totally agree. That’s another great tip for beginners! Thanks for sharing.

  • Joyce Nelson-Avila
    5 years ago

    Thank you so much Tim!

  • Liat Behr
    5 years ago

    Not being a graphic designer, this post is super-helpful. I’m going to definitely keep in mind your great tips and incorporate them into the way that I use my favorite image generating tools. You can see them here: http://goo.gl/x48LRl

  • Really awesome post!

  • DR PAPPU SARMA
    3 years ago

    very useful

  • I have always been really interested in graphic design.These tips help me
    thank you.

  • I just scheduled this post to publish on my social media spaces. I found your tips very helpful & think others will benefit from them as well. Good luck to you!

  • Awesome graphic design tips. A graphic designer can pinpoint the first pixels you see on the screen the moment your favorite web page loads. Graphic designers know why one photo is better than another, and that’s not just based on actual PPI vs effective PPI. Designers are aware of the emotions created by imagery and colour. At Chilli, our graphic designers work closely with our digital marketing experts to produce not only high-quality advertisements, but imagery that cuts across any specific digital platform being used to promote the business.

  • Great article. Thanks for the tips. I find that choosing more than one font is a challenge to keep the emotion / tone cohesive. Are there any general tips you can recommend?

    • William Everhart
      24 hours ago

      Hi Brenda, thank you for your question. While there are no rules governing your font selection, I tend to find that the contrast between serif and sans-serif fonts creates a nice look. I use the serif fonts for my headings and the sans-serif font for body copy. I also typically use the same weight fonts for both as well as the same horizontal scale. For example, if my heading font is condensed or compressed I use a condensed or compressed font for my body copy as well.

      I also look at the letter forms in both fonts. I pay attention to letters like a, e, t, q, B, F, and R to see what their shapes look like. The shapes of these letters really capture the “look” of the font and I want this look paralleled in all my font choices.

      I hope that this helps. Finding and coordinating fonts can be a challenge but it can also be a lot of creative fun. Check out this link for more insight on selecting fonts.

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