(Last updated on May 31st, 2021)
In this post, we will give you 17 powerful graphic design tips that will help you level up your work and become a better designer.
Whether you’re a beginner graphic designer or a pro with a solid portfolio, you want your works to “WOW,” not “meh” the audience, don’t you? And while it’s wrong to narrow down the diverse world of graphic design to a one-size-fits-all rulebook, there are some universal yet powerful tips every specialist should know.
These tips help specialists understand the industry and improve graphic design skills. In our fast-changing world, where trends come and go like a shot, it’s critical to remember the basics. It’s something we could go by to keep up with the times.
Graphic design is about turning an idea into a story that would resonate with the audience. As a designer, you tell this story with visual elements like colors, textures, fonts, and spaces. And while you can be creative and try new styles or trends, some graphic design aspects remain permanent, no matter if you create social media images or visuals for brochures, flyers, or infographics.
Top Graphic Design Tips and Best Practices
In this article, we will cover the 17 most powerful tips for graphic design every specialist to know.
1. Organize Your Design Process Like a Boss
A proper organization matters in every niche, and graphic design is not an exception. Professionals know it’s essential to stay organized and have all the assets ready beforehand: Therefore, you’ll save time, be able to focus on creative aspects of your job, and won’t worry about where to take this or that color, font, or line sample.
The ideal option would be to organize the whole design process end-to-end. With the collection of assets in your design tool, try to follow this strategy:
- First, brainstorm your ideas. Do your best to research before designing and write down all the insights. You never know where the inspiration strikes, so it would be a good idea to keep a notebook with you.
- Create a mood board with visual pieces, plan and outline your project, and try coming up with one design piece per day to practice.
- You can start with a template or scratch, add your content there, and then proofread it to achieve a balanced composition. Also, get feedback from colleagues to decide if you want to revise anything.
Another tip for proper organization of your design process:
Remember to take breaks from time to time. No matter how inspired and committed you are about work, your brain and eyes need a rest; otherwise, you’ll burn out. Relaxation and a change of sink is your chance to boost energy and productivity, so don’t ignore breaks and let your batteries recharge.
2. Make the Most Out of Graphic Design Software
Continuing on the topic of design process organization, why not use graphic design software as your work assistant? Not only will their templates save your time, but they can also become a great source of inspiration to find designs you love, customize them to your needs, or create your original layouts based on them.
Resources like Crello, Visme, BeFunky, Design Wizard and others provide you with hundreds of customizable templates and thousands of visual elements to try.
For beginner graphic designers, such tools are excellent helpers in generating ideas and growing skills with the “imitate and create” principle. For experienced pros, they can serve as time-savers and sources of some new features to try.
Another tip here:
Never ignore the inspiration graphic design resources such as 99designs, Behance, Design Week, Shillington, and others. They are perfect for discovering trends, researching the data and facts for projects, learning innovative approaches to design, and sharing your works with the community.
3. Embrace Simplicity
The #1 tip graphic designers find in most tutorials on the topic: “Keep it simple!” Indeed, overwhelming your works with tons of elements do more harm than good:
Such designs confuse users, are not eye-pleasing and -catching, and are difficult to understand. The message you’d like to communicate will get lost in the bunch of colors, fonts, and other elements you stuff into the project. And while some specialists are afraid of a minimalist design, considering it too plain, others claim it’s the only way to hook a user in today’s world of content shock and short attention span.
It’s that very moment when less is more. A good design is not about stuffing as many elements as possible but achieving a balance between communicating a message and aesthetic appeal.
So, embrace simplicity with your graphic designs: keep colors and font under control, don’t overplay with text, and keep all the visuals balanced. Remember the basics: Every element of your design should have a reason to be there.
4. Remember About Color Psychology
The color theory is a must for every graphic designer to understand. You work with color themes and color palettes, bother about contrast and visual hierarchy (more on that below), but you also need to know what mood and vibe you communicate with each color in your work.
With each color evoking different associations and inspiring different emotional reactions, you need to choose them respectively, depending on what you want to portray with your design. It’s of particular importance for specialists designing for marketing and sales.
So, ask yourself:
“What vibe or tone of voice do I want to communicate with my work?” Knowing the mood of your future design, you’ll decide on its core color and come up with a cohesive color palette for the perfect color harmony.
5. Respect Color Palette and Contrast
Color is your #1 weapon for communicating meanings via graphic design. It’s not that simple to choose the perfect color combination, and it’s a skill some specialists develop for years. While most design editing tools provide you with color themes pickers, it would help if you remembered two core principles of working with colors:
1) Use color palettes.
Consistency is a must in graphic design, and using a color palette throughout your whole project will help reach it. It’s eye-pleasing, and it evokes viewers’ interest.
How to choose color palettes for your designs?
First, you need to consider the color context. (Remember the tip on color psychology?) Once you choose a core color for your project, refer to a color wheel and identify analogous and complementary colors. You’ll need to focus on monochromatic colors of the same hue.
Then, create high contrast and a split color scheme with the help of a triadic color scheme. Therefore, you’ll get a rich palette from just one color.
2) Use contrasting colors.
It’s your instrument to attract and engage viewers. It creates legibility and makes your works stand out. To make the most out of contrast, try this:
- a contrasting palette for backgrounds, graphics, and fonts
- photo filters for enhancing the space in images
- a light-colored background for dark fonts and vice versa
6. Consider Cohesive Design Elements
When working on multi-paged designs (websites, presentations, brochures, e-books, etc.), make sure you use a cohesive style between them. All graphic elements need to have the same look and mood: icons, font styles, color palette, animations, illustrations – everything matters for the professional look of your project.
Don’t mix line icons with 3D ones. If using rounded corners, consider combining them with other curved elements. Angled shapes look better with straight lines. Using the same features on every page makes your design consistent.
7. Bear Typography Rules in Mind
When working in the graphic design niche, you can’t ignore text elements. The need for constant choosing a typeface or fonts for logo slogans (taglines), headings, subtitles, and text body makes it a must for designers to know the basics of typography.
What fonts to choose for a particular design? How to pair fonts so the design would look cohesive? What about letter spacing and aligning the text in graphic design?
Here go the tips to follow:
- Consider easy-to-read fonts for better readability and user experience. It’s challenging for the eye to scan multiple typefaces when reading online, so stick to a simple font collection.
- When pairing a few fonts, consider those from one font family. Or, you can take one font but use its different heights and weights for headings, subheads, and regular text blocks.
- Remember about kerning typography when adjusting line spacing for your text elements. Increase or decrease spacing where applicable to give your text a good structure.
- Ensure to align all the text elements so they would look visually pleasing and easy to read.
- Forget about long sentences; don’t overload your design with text because the user attention span is short. Do your best to show, not tell: It’s the moment when a picture speaks a thousand words.
8. Remember About Font Families and Their Psychology
Another tip on fonts in graphic design:
To save time on finding fonts that work well together with your core one, consider those from the same font family. The leading font families are five (serif, sans serif, modern, script, display); and, as well as colors, fonts have a psychological aspect behind them.
Thus, fonts with rounded edges are “friendlier,” while hard-edged like sans serifs are more solid. Remember that when choosing a typeface that would convey your design message and evoke desired emotions and associations from viewers.
- Serif fonts are about tradition (Times New Roman), comfort (Georgia italic), and reliability (Baskerville).
- Sans serif family is for stability (Helvetica bold), cleanness (Calibri), and modernity (Myriad italic).
- Script is about elegance (Bickham) and creativity (Lavanderia).
- Modern is stylish (Didot), strong (Futura), and chic (Century Gothic).
- Display is friendly (Cooper), expressive (Valencia), and unique (Spaceage Round).
9. Respond to Visual Hierarchy
Visual hierarchy is about guiding a viewer through your design by prioritizing some elements over others. It provides people with visual cues on what’s more and less essential in your project. Hierarchy applies to all aspects: text, images, icons, graphics, and colors. Use it to specify what you want viewers to pay attention to in your design.
No matter what style or how many elements you use in design, some of them (the essential ones) should remain visually dominant. Such priority is easy to achieve through font size, space use, application of color, scale, contrast, and other tricks from your design arsenal.
With hierarchy in design, you create a visual balance and start an information flow for viewers: It’s your instrument to guide them on what to examine first. So it would help if you understood what elements of your graphic design make more sense than others.
Don’t be afraid of making your dominant objects larger than others. As well as headings are bigger than subheads, and subheads are bigger than body texts, larger objects attract attention: Viewers will notice them first. Feel free to scale different design elements: graphics, texts, buttons, etc.
10. Assure Readability
Another powerful graphic design tip to follow is about the scannability and readability of your work for viewers. When using textual content, ensure it’s easy to consume. Here go a few strategies on how to do that:
First, limit the number of fonts you use in one design. The magic number is three or less: Most specialists agree that using more than three fonts makes the design look unprofessional and unstructured. But sure, you can use bold or italic variations of the same font.
Second, adjust the size and height of your text accordingly. You are welcome to increase or decrease font size, line height, and spacing to make letters fit your design. Yet, ensure it’s symmetric and pleasant to read.
Third, don’t be afraid of contrasting fonts. If the goal is to draw attention and convey a specific message, visually different family fonts can be the best instrument.
Finally, adjust the brightness of your background or apply black or white text fields over images for better readability.
11. Befriend White Space
White space is not about color but an empty area of your design that lets all its elements “breathe.” It’s a space around texts, images, and any other graphics of your work. White space allows you to enhance readability and attract viewers’ attention to particular elements of your design.
Most graphic designers agree that it’s a must to use white space whenever you can. It looks simple yet elegant and sophisticated, attracting the audience more than a cluttered composition.
How to master the use of white space? Consider studying minimalist design principles, where “less is more,” and remember about the technique we all know as negative space: It’s an art of telling more of a story via empty spaces than other elements or backgrounds.
Space in graphic design is not about the absence of content but a tool for creating balanced compositions and achieving the principles of contrast and hierarchy. You can do that via spaces between lines, shapes, words, paragraphs, and letters.
12. Take Advantage of Flat Design
Despite the 3D design being in trend this year, it doesn’t mean you have to spend days and nights creating complicated elements. Take advantage of flat design: It’s also popular, visually appealing, and easy for the audience to “read.” Make it your friend, especially if you’re a newbie designer and aren’t yet ready to deal with heavy-structured graphics that look super-challenging to replicate.
Start with such a popular graphic design element as icons. When flat, not only do they represent things, emotions, or actions, but they can also convey meanings faster and easier than words. Flat design takes up less space but serves the same purposes, enhancing the user experience extensively.
13. Celebrate Symmetry and Alignment
Alignment is a principle of lining up your design elements (texts, graphics, etc.) on a page. Left or right, vertical, center, or justified, it serves to create order and organize your work for a more appealing look and better readability.
Why is alignment critical?
- It helps arrange elements so they would match how people naturally scan a page.
- It allows balancing an image for visual appeal.
- It serves to create a visual connection between all the related elements.
So the tip here is to consider alignment in all your graphic design works for better order and symmetry. One trick to highlight it is the use of a line to the left or the right of your text: It mimics a margin and balances the composition.
14. Be Aesthetic with Transparence
Aesthetics comes into place, continuing on the topic with alignment. For your graphic design to look balanced and visually pleasing, align all its objects and shapes accordingly. The aesthetic is not only about aligning text or visual elements in a row; it’s also about aligning them with background images so everything would suit the whole composition.
Using transparent fonts is among the tricks to achieve that. If you don’t want text elements to stand out too much, but you still need to add some words, feel free to change the opacity level of your chosen font for the viewers to see both an image and a message.
Your reasons to try transparency in graphic design:
- to blend color and image for it to look softer yet deeper
- to overlay multiple exposures of the same subject
- to create additional contrast and layers
- to showcase what’s inside (behind letters or graphics)
- to attract a viewer’s attention to a specific element
15. Use Conscious Design
After 2020, when we all felt the need for changes, graphic designers don’t wait on the sidelines:
Urgent movements like BLM, environmentalism, pandemic issues, diversity, and others, together with the customer’s request for socially responsible businesses, result in a new trend of 2021: conscious design. It’s about contributing your design talent to resonate with all the changes and support social activism.
This year, designers speak with bold, iconic visuals to represent what they stand up for. So, stay tuned for ongoing events to react quickly and create strong visuals that send a message of solidarity and support, communicating meanings with diverse and inclusive voices.
16. Always Consider the Audience
It’s OK to follow design trends, but it’s more important to know your target audience inside out and consider their interests when creating your works. Always think about who you design for, and don’t be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone to make them happy.
Design trends exist for you to understand the market. Study them, get inspired by them, but do your best to think outside the box and ask yourself, “How can I use those trends to develop my own design style to stand out of the crowd?” Don’t be afraid of getting creative to have recognizable content your viewers will love.
17. Break Rules If Required
As a graphic designer, you have the right to be authentic. With trends and basic rules in the pocket, feel free to break them if required for achieving original graphics. Become your personal rule maker and don’t be afraid of experiments:
Combine different filters and typefaces, avoid typical symbols or icons if you see them everywhere, and use your creative abilities to come up with designs that correspond with your unique style and communicate with your audience.
The world of graphic design is vast, diverse, and versatile. Technologies grow, new tendencies appear, trends come and go, but something remains the same: straightforward principles both newbies and industry giants follow for their design to do the job.
From color and font psychology to white space, from symmetry and alignment to transparency and aestheticism – every detail matters for those willing to create a design that speaks for itself. And while skills take time to sharpen, practice does marvels:
With the above 17 graphic design tips in the pocket, even beginners can grow and (who knows?) maybe get the better of Massimo Vignelli or Alan Fletcher one day.
It’s your turn now:
Be creative, don’t be afraid to break some rules for innovative ideas, but remember the basics for further experimentation and a graphic design breakthrough.
Chris is an LA-based filmmaker and video editor who has a passion for writing and creating video content. He has produced and edited a wide variety of projects, most notably his documentary series “Off the Cuf,” which explores the world’s most fascinating and obscure communities. He has over 10 years of experience under his belt and is known for explaining complex concepts in simple, easy-to-understand way.
He is extremely familiar with all the top video editing software out there such as the Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Final Cut Pro, iMovie, Adobe Animate, and DaVinci Resolve. Chris also has extensive know-how of top graphic design & photo-editing tools, including Photoshop, GIMP, Canva, Snappa, and more.