I’ve dabbled in design throughout different phases of my life. In elementary school I used WordArt to create a fake newspaper for imaginary readers, in high-school I discovered InDesign and spent hours playing on the computer and now I own a business that relies on design.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to help your designs go from ‘well-intentioned’ to sleek and professional.
1. Be a copy cat
The top-designers create innovative, creative, unique designs that often revolutionize how we think of the industry. But in order to get there, you need to understand the basics (technically speaking) and how elements fit together to create a bigger picture.
The best way to do that is to search magazine designs and recreate them. You can recreate the entire design, or you can simply recreate certain elements.
Obviously, don’t publish said recreations, but take what you’ve learned (and you will learn) and apply them to your own designs. Eventually — after copying the best — you’ll find your own, unique voice.
2. Learn the color wheel
Close your eyes and think of the color yellow.
How do you feel: Happy? Excited? Energized?
Colors evoke emotion and when properly paired together a color scheme can establish mood.
Certain colors look incredible together, while others… well, anyone can tell when colors clash. One way to find color schemes that won’t look cartoonish, or just plain wrong, is to learn about analogous, monochromatic, triad, complimentary and compound colors. Adobe can help with that.
Visit Adobe's Color Wheel and play with the wheel until you have a feel for how colors work together. Bonus — anytime you need to create a color scheme you can create and save a palette right on the website.
3. Pay attention to fonts
Fonts create a brand. Think Coke. Think Disney. Think Starbucks.
Like color fonts also create feeling, which can create a certain aesthetic and mood to your project or brand. San-serif fonts (fonts without little ‘feet’ at the end of letters or characters) are modern and sleek, while script fonts can create a retro vibe.
Fonts can also play off one another — you can use a san-serif font and script in the same title to bring attention to the word or concept it is you want to be highlighted. You can use a serif font within a body of text and a san-serif font in any sub-titles to differentiate between the two.
There are thousands of free-fonts available on the internet (just Google it). Download a few and see what works… Which brings us to our next tip.
Pro-tip: Remember, a design is a way to showcase ideas. Don’t go too overboard with a font that it becomes unreadable and the meaning of your product is lost.
4. Play, fail, delete and repeat
When I open a blank InDesign document I usually have an idea of what I want my design to be (and some awful drawings on scrap paper). Five hours and one hand cramp later and my design looks nothing like I envisioned.
I spent the bulk of that time creating elements, moving them, switching it around and deleting them until, finally, I stumble onto something that works; something that combines my original idea, with all the new concepts I created while playing.
So play — don’t be afraid to spend a day working, only to delete everything the next day. The skills, the creativity you learned are invaluable. Your finished creation will be all the better for it.
5. Revise, revise, revise
In the writing world, we stress the importance of the “sh**ty first draft.” The SFD is exactly what it sounds like — you throw-up words on the page only to tighten your verbs, clean your excess adverbs and highlight the strongest ideas later.
The same concept needs to be applied to your designs. The best way to revise is to let your design sit for a few days, then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll notice the little mistakes you missed while focusing on the bigger picture.