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The Basic Design Skills You Need
to Make Your Content Look Legit
I know you follow some pretty amazing self-care influencers and artists on social media. You always feel so pumped up when you see those cute quotes and empowering women drawings. Their content says just what you need to hear.
You think about how cool it would be to have that look on your Instagram grid for your business. Your audience would freakin love it!!
But then the reality sets in.
Even when you use a template your designs just don’t look like what you see in your favorite examples.
If you run an online business it’s probably clear to you already how visual the online world really is. You have less than 15 secs to get your ideal clients attention and most of the platforms are picture heavy (Pinterest, Instagram, advertisements, etc).
Because you’ve noticed this, you may spend a ton of time in Canva or searching through stock photography on Unsplash to find the perfect image to represent your offering.
Or you save and reshare what you found like you were surfing through images on Instagram. But your audience starts to see that illustration everywhere too, and they aren’t reposting it from you.
Now you’re wishing you were fancy or techie enough to make those images happen.
Well… bipity bopity boo:
Designing for Business: Foundations
The goal of good design is to make sure it’s helping your audience find what they need to make a decision.
And what they need to know to make a good decision is: The content, the direction and the vibe.
Don’t worry this post shares my step by step process for finding the content, direction and vibe.
Once you’ve decided those three main pieces of your content there are a few basic design rules to help your audience see your content in the order they need to read it with the feelings they need to feel.
All designers learn them and you can learn them too. You don’t have to have an artistic eye for these action items. All you need is the ability to understand your audience and remember some simple scientific facts about human eyes.
So, let’s dig in!
Step 1: Your Star Content
Collect the basic content you need for the project. This is the information you would tell someone in the first 10 seconds after they ask about it. I usually write it down on a piece of paper and circle the most important piece of information. You know, what they NEED to know if they quickly glance at the piece.
In the example I give in today’s lesson video, I’m creating a quote graphic with the purpose of helping people know what I’m about when they land on my grid.
That means it needs:
1. The Quote that relates to my brand values (quote graphic)
2. My Brand vibe and colors (know what I’m about)
3. An eye-catcher (land on my grid)
If what you’re creating is just because someone told you you needed to make one but you don’t know the purpose, save yourself some time and mark that off of your to-do list.
No one has time for that.
You can just direct message people or write a tweet. You need a reason for making a visual or it’s a waste of time.
DESIGN TIP: Keep it simple. The hardest part of the design process is simplifying. We are actually taught to write out everything we think we need, simplify, then simplify again and then simplify yet again, until the project is in its simplest form. It’s one of those tricks for keeping your audience’s attention.
This star content section is a great place to cut out information that could be somewhere else (like after they click a graphic or when they read your caption, etc). If I’m making something for a visual platform, the less explainer words the better.
My graphic can just be a quote it doesn’t also have to have a call to action to read the comments or a description of why this quote exists.
Step 2: Hierarchy & Direction
WHAT DO THEY CARE ABOUT
After I figure out what information I want to share I need to create a list of what order I want people to see the content.
This is based on what we think our visitor is looking for and how they want to get information.
You’ve already done client research in last week’s email and you have an idea now of what kind of information draws in their attention. You also know what is important to them.
So to use my video example: I am creating a quote for people who value making change in the world. That’s who my audience is and my dream client so I want to put that out into the world so they know they are in a place online where I understand them. That also means they don’t have time to read a huge long cluttered quote. They need something quick, empowering and that helps them get back up on their feet after their social check-in.
Knowing that information, here’s the order I want my content to show up when someone looks at the post:
1. I want to give them the feeling of empowerment and encouragement
2. I want them to read the quote
3. I want them to save it for later or follow me for more quotes (I have time to think more about which one is highest priority)
When you’re creating a graphic you’ll want to think about where you will use that graphic and how your audience will interact with it. Here are some examples:
- If it’s on Pinterest, you want them to pin it (top right corner red button)
- If it’s a Facebook Page Cover you’ll want them to click the (button in the bottom right corner)
- If it’s an Instagram Post you want them to slow down, (open your caption) and then engage with your content
- Or you may want an Instagram post that collects new followers
- If it’s an Instagram Story you want them to direct message you or open your profile (bottom bar)
- If it’s a business card you want them to add your contact info into their database to contact you (clear contact info)
This is a list to get you thinking about what part of the design has the action associated with it. The action is where you want to escort their eyes in your graphic.
DESIGN TIP: People read in a page in the same shape as a “6” They start in the top left corner, run their eyes down the left of the page, swoop along the bottom of what they see and then come back around to center. Anything you put in the top right corner should be lower on the order list.
Designers take a look at the pieces of the puzzle from most important to least important and they make sure the design supports that priority list. There are a few ways to make something a bigger priority visually and the three easiest ones to use are:
- Size – the biggest type or image in a design will always grab attention first
- Color – the brighter, bolder or darker contrast a color is in the graphic the more it will draw attention
- Order – adding bullets or a numbered list shows hierarchy
*notice how when you looked at this section your eyes did a little dance and wiggled between the word “size” and the word “color” they weren’t consistent with showing something as a priority, so your eyes weren’t sure what to look at first
Step 3: Declutter and Give Space
Once you have the information you need in the right hierarchy, the next step is to make sure everything has space to breathe.
Your cheat sheet has some great visuals for this but here are my basic tips for space.
- Don’t cram everything against the edge of the graphic. Leave space around the border unless you have an image going off of the side. But don’t dont that with words.
- Don’t let words cram into photos and images. If you want to do some kind of overlapping it’s best to use a template or to put a shape behind the words so it looks like an overlap rather than a run away word.
- Imagine there is a little white space train that needs to be able to move through your graphic between word blocks. This will help you keep the spacing consistent.
- Keep to a simple color palette. Too many colors can confuse the eye.
- Only use photos/illustrations as needed. If the information is clear as text then you can add a border around it or a colored background or some textures (like shapes/patterns/lines/etc) But make the text the star content.
- Use 1 or 2 fonts. Too many fonts looks cluttered and confusing.
There are A LOT of rules in design that we can leave to the experts, but these tips will help you create simple and effective graphics.
Most importantly just have fun. Moving through the process can feel a bit confusing at first, but the more you practice the more natural it will become. Here’s the simple formula again to get professional graphics every time:
- Collect your content
- Decide the hierarchy / priority
- Make the most important thing stand out
- Add in the other pieces
- Take away what doesn’t really need to be there
- Make sure you use only a few colors, fonts, images
- Check to see if your spacing train can travel around your text
- Release it to the world!
A Note from the Illustrator:
If you are working on making more professional looking designs and come across a specific question for designing your graphics feel free to shoot me an email or comment below. I’m happy to help! And if you’re ready for some custom illustrations for your graphics, you can set up a vision mapping session with me. I’d love to chat with you and sort out your goals for the best return on illustration.