10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Designs
Which I guess means I get to keep my job for awhile. But it also means more and more people are having to jump into a field they never knew they would need/have to jump into. More and more people are designing on social media, for their latest business endeavor, for their churches, at work, and beyond. I’m sure I don’t have to try too hard to convince you of this. As this has happened, people ask me more frequently about design, how I approach design for Harris Creek, and general design questions.
This post was prompted by just that.
I know I am merely skimming the surface, but this is a great place to start for people with little design experience. I do this not just for a self-help post, but I’m hoping you put it to good use. People are attracted to good design. I believe design is a great tool for the church to use and a way to communicate God’s story in a compelling, fresh way.
(This is not an exhaustive list, I’m not saying these are the ONLY way to do this type, these are merely examples of the rule I am suggesting. I understand design is subjective and these are just my design opinions.)
Here are 10 simple ways to improve your design:
1. Use only 1 or 2 fonts at a time, or at max 3 members of one font “family.
Too many fonts can complicate your message. Ideally, choose one font that has a lot of different options such as bold, italics, regular, light, etc. Then use up to three of those. The top example below is all Brandon Grotesque font, but the title is bold, the subtitle is light and the body is regular. The bad example has all three completely different fonts and they are all different serif fonts which conflict with each other. If you mix completely different fonts, make sure they contrast each other (serif and a sans serif) rather than compete with each other (serif and a serif).
2. “Embrace the negative space.”
This was one of my design teacher’s favorite sayings in class. It means, let things breathe! Don’t be afraid of space that has nothing in it. Don’t feel like you have to fill every inch of your space with words or images. Just let it be blank! It’ll guide your viewer’s eye WAY easier. Check out the example below — the bad example is ALLLLL the way over to the sides. Way harder to read than the top one. The top one has room on all sides, breathe easy.
3. Use contrasting colors, but don’t go overboard.
Colors can be your friend, or they can ruin a design. You are going for readability, not just colors you think look pretty. The bad example below is a little crazier than I think people might take it, but obviously to prove a point. Doesn’t it just make your eyes hurt? The top example has enough contrast, easy to read, and the title is the first thing that stands out, which is what you want! Normally I don’t apply too much color to body text, that makes it difficult to read.
4. Don’t stretch anything. Ever.
This is a lot of people’s problem and their solution to it: When it doesn’t fit, just stretch it. Nothing pains me more than when I see images and type stretched. Look below at the examples and see the different. Always hold shift (it’ll constrain your proportions on most programs) when you’re moving those boxes around and making images larger. If it doesn’t fit, make it smaller proportionately to the original size, don’t stretch it. I beg you.
5. Ask questions such as “What purpose will this design serve?” and “Who am I creating this for?”
This is super important, and applies to everything I do at Harris Creek. When designing event posters for the Children’s ministry, they’ll look a lot different than posters I create for a college event. When I create the ministry plan each year, it probably won’t look the same as the handouts I created for youth the week before. Asking these questions BEFORE you start the project will save you time in the long run. It will keep you going around in circles.
6. Use the grid.
This is one of my favorite parts of graphic design. And one of the most vital, and overlooked. Looking at the examples below will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about. I won’t explain the whole thing, you can read about it here. Below, the “good example” I set up a three column grid system. On the “bad example” there is no system, no columns or way of organizing the information — meaning it makes it SUPER hard to read everything! Follow the grid–you won’t be disappointed.
7. Sketch it out.
Step one to any design project that they pound into your head in design school: sketch. Sketch it out, draw out thumbnails, try it out before you go to the computer. This is especially true if you’re starting out and aren’t familiar with the computer tools yet. Sketch out what you want THEN go to the computer for a design. They don’t have to be great, masterpiece drawings, just loose messy drawings work great!
8. Ask other people.
This is one of the hardest things to do. Lemme tell ya, art is hard mostly because it’s so vulnerable (another blog post coming soon on that, don’t worry). So to ask other people their opinion on something you made, can be exposing yourself to critique and others not liking what you’ve done. Cue: running the opposite direction. But this process of asking people their thoughts is so important to the design process. Try it, you’ll be surprised at the results!
9. Make sure to keep whats important, the most important.
Hierarchy. Make sure you’re telling your audience what they need to know, in the order they need to know it. If you look at the examples below, you can see basically the idea that if everything is bold, nothing is bold. You want to create a wide range of font “weights” (meaning bold, regular, light, etc) to create an order for your audience to read your message. The top example you see the title first because it is large and bold, then the subtitle, then the body text. The bad example shows everything the same bold weight meaning you can’t really distinguish what the title is or what the subtitle is. The body text is bold too, making it hard to read.
10. Rules are meant to be broken, right?
These are less rules and more suggestions. I personally follow these when I design things for Harris Creek and other projects, but like many rules — you can break them. (Kids hear me out — not every rule is meant to be broken. Parents, don’t hurt me for saying that.) With design rules, it’s a good idea to start using the rules, and once you have a solid handle on them, THEN you can break them ON PURPOSE. If you break a rule and don’t know you’re breaking it, in the design world, that isn’t a good thing.
I hope this list was helpful to you and whatever ministry you might be involved in! Keep on designing and creating!
Was this list helpful? Where do you put your designs to use? Have you had training or just picked it up yourself? What are fresh, creative ways you are communicating God’s story? Would you like to learn more? Did any one particular “rule” stand out to you? Do you agree/disagree?