inspire! Graphic Design for Non-designers

Submitted by Sarah Rodrigues, IMC 2014 Candidate

I had the pleasure of attending the Communicate and Howe! inspire! event on March 7. James Howe has organized several of these seminars, largely aimed at not-for-profit and charity organizations, where he brings in local experts in the seminar topic.

The topic of this seminar was “Graphic design for non-designers.” Our experts, experienced graphic designers Amy Allen-Muncey (CuteGecko), Nathaniel Robertson (Communitech), and Brendan Waller (dsgn network) gave us some tips to help improve the quality of our designs.

Amy touted the importance of using grids when setting up a design. No one will ever see them or know they were there, but they help create a precise, clean look without any guesswork. People may not consciously notice that everything is exactly lined up on the right or that each section is the same distance apart, but they will unconsciously find the design more appealing.

She also discussed brand consistency; using the same logo, fonts, and colours on all materials creates a professional image for the brand. She suggested that if you’re not sure where to start, mimic the placement style of a brand you love; they’ve spent millions of dollars researching where things should go, so it makes sense to do something similar.

Nathaniel talked first about images. Absolutely NO clip art! Use high-quality photography. If you are able to take high-quality images on your own or hire a photographer, do so. If your funds are limited, there are many stock photography websites that sell images fairly cheaply. If there are two or three images that particularly represent your brand, invest in them and use them on all your marketing materials.  He also suggested creating infographics to represent numerical data – particularly money, percentages, and ratios – to increase visual appeal.

Next he discussed the importance of fonts. First, limit your materials to two fonts; this is usually a sans serif font for headers, and a serif font for body copy. Free online fonts are a good place to start if funds are limited, and there is a wide selection available online. Using the same fonts in all pieces is important for consistency.

Brendan believes that marketing design doesn’t have to be complicated. Using .png files for your images means you can use them online and in print (at 72 and 300 dpi respectively) and incorporate them into your Word document headers for quick letterhead. He highly recommends the .png format for its versatility, colour-savviness, and transparency options.

He also suggests that in-office printing can be made easier by matching your print material to your office printer’s margins. That way, if you need to print something in a pinch for a client, you know it is already set up. When printing in-office isn’t an option, trust your local professional printers (as opposed to a copy shop). They are professionals for a reason, and the quality is worth paying for.

Overall the event was highly informative, and gave me greater confidence that I can design reasonably-attractive pieces myself without hiring a professional. That said, if finances allow, I would still go the pro route!

Check out the CRAWL method referenced in this article for some more great tips:

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