Visual Design: 10 Rules for Non-Designers

Time for our very favorite topic at Commotion Art: visual design!

You probably already understand the value in hiring a professional designer for your business marketing — as using a DIY approach when you don’t have a design background can make for a poorly produced product.

In other words, cutting corners on things like branding design, advertising design, and marketing collateral is always a bad decision.

That said, you should absolutely know what makes a design great!

There is nothing worse than paying for something to be professionally designed, only to have the final product suffer from lack of design knowledge.

These 10 visual design rules will help you:

  • Improve how you communicate with designers,
  • Understand why your designer may make certain decisions, and
  • Help you make smarter decisions when you invest in a designer.

Some of these rules work 100% of the time, while others are good to throw in occasionally when putting the final touches on your visual design.

Regardless, it’s all about ensuring a beautifully and professionally designed product in the end!

Learn More About Custom Logo Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #1 — Use a Visual Hierarchy

visual hierarchy

The foundation of great design is called “visual hierarchy.”

It’s all about guiding your viewers through the design.

Whether it’s a piece of print advertising, or a landing page for your website, the design goal is to make it easy for your audience to identify the most important information.

Here’s why: people have a very limited attention span—especially when it comes to reading an advertisement.

You have to assume that most people will quickly scan what you have designed—not necessarily read the content word-for-word—so the information has to be easy to take in and digest.

Visual Hierarchy Through Typography (aka Copy Writing)

The rules for copy writing (sometimes referred to as “content writing”) differ from print to web, but the basic structure is the same:

  • Headline—the title or main heading of the document
  • Subheading—a sub-title
  • Body copy—the bulk of the content

The average person is only going to spend a few seconds looking at your content, so headlines are the best way to capture their attention.

In addition, headlines and subheadings can help you quickly communicate your intended message to the reader.

Other design/formatting elements you can use to highlight important information in your text may include:

  • Color
  • Alignment
  • Font weight and size

Pull quotes are also good examples to vary alignment and color, helping to attract your reader’s eye to certain information in your body copy.

Visual Hierarchy Through Imagery

Much like your typography, the imagery you use should guide your reader through the design.

Use color, scale and contrast to draw attention to a certain part of your design.

Most importantly, your imagery should be engaging and pull your reader’s attention to the page.

Our work for Solutions of North Texas illustrates visual hierarchy quite well.

Learn More About Custom Website Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #2 — Use Negative Space

negative space

Negative space may sound like a bad thing but trust me: it’s your best friend when it comes to design!

White space. Empty space. Negative space. Whatever you want to call it, it gives your readers’ eyes somewhere to rest.

It’s like visual breathing space.

The advertising campaign we designed for Woodard Furniture shows successful use of negative space.

As I mentioned before, people have a limited attention span. Nothing will drive them away from your marketing piece faster than a page packed full of information.

I get it though: advertising is expensive, and it’s tempting to pack in every bit of information possible into whatever space you’ve paid for.

But what good does it do you, if no one will read what you’re saying?

So, do your audience (and yourself!) a favor by using clean, open design with plenty of negative space.

Visual Design Rule #3 — Use Grids and Guidelines

alignment

Without ranting too much on the subject, messy design drives us nuts at Commotion Art!

There is nothing worse than looking at an unorganized layout, and nothing will drive a reader away from a page faster than a mess.

Visual design is somewhat logical — every element of a design should line up with another element. This approach makes it easy for the eye to:

  • Flow naturally through a design, and
  • Digest the message.

Expecting anyone to struggle through your marketing piece to figure out your message is a huge mistake.

But there is an easy solution for cleaning up any design: guidelines and grids!

Not every element in your design needs to fit exactly within a grid; however, formatting your text into columns is the best way to make your copy legible.

Learn More About Custom Logo Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #4 — Avoid Designing INSIDE The Page

break out

This is possibly the most powerful rule on the list.

Inexperienced designers seem to have this problem, where they try to fit together some text and an image on an empty page — and end up placing the image inside the bounding box  of the page, fitting the text around it.

Now don’t get me wrong: there is a time and place for this approach. For example, using negative space with minimal imagery and copy can be very powerful. But not always.

Designs that extend outside the borders of a page are far more engaging and interesting to look at.

Consider using large imagery that is moving into — or off — the page.

Let the edge of your design crop the image, giving the feeling that your design is larger than what your target audience can see. This approach can:

  • Breathe life into a design, and
  • Offer a flexibility to your design that can’t be achieved any other way.

Seemingly simple, but it’s incredibly effective! When you master this design element, your work will instantly stand out.

Visual Design Rule #5 — Integrate Images and Text

merge

Another rookie design mistake is treating images and text as two separate objects.

Your copy IS a design element — so, it should be treated that way!

Instead of placing your copy in one place, and your image in another, try working text into your imagery.

This can be accomplished by:

  • Using large headlines behind an image, or
  • Wrapping body copy around the edge of an image.

Working text into and around your images will give your layout a feeling of depth that can’t be accomplished any other way.

It also offers cohesiveness to any page that will draw readers in—and invite them to engage with your design!

Learn More About Custom Website Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #6 — The Three-Font Rule

three font rule

We call this “The Three-Font Rule” because it’s on literally every designer’s list (really, we’ve checked every list!).

And while we at Commotion Art strive to offer our own take on design, this rule absolutely cannot be ignored.

The common theme on this list is cohesiveness. That means every element in your design should seamlessly work together.

Color, shape, contrast, alignment and scale all apply to text as well as images.

Elements should not compete for attention, and using too many fonts will definitely create visual competition.

Once you view your text as just another design element, it’s easy to understand this rule.

A good rule of thumb is to combine one serif and one sans serif font for headline and body copy.

This will keep your page clean and easy to read — which is exactly what we’re going for!

Visual Design Rule #7 — Choose Fonts With Multiple Weights

font weights

An easy way to keep your font selection limited is to find typefaces with multiple “weights” (or options). Some examples include:

  • Bold
  • Semi-bold
  • Narrow
  • Condensed
  • Light
  • Heavy

The more options a typeface offers, the better!

Always remember: every typeface you use was meticulously designed by someone. Altering what they have created will lower the quality, and your design will suffer. Therefore:

  • If a font doesn’t offer a bolding option, manually forcing that bolding to happen is a bad move. (Obviously, most word processing programs give you this option, but a good designer isn’t going to use Microsoft Word…and neither should you!)
  • Avoid adding a stroke to a font to achieve a bold look. That’s because manually changing the weight of your font can alter the shape of the letters, creating unpredictable results. (This is especially apparent when stroking serif fonts.)
Learn More About Custom Logo Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #8 — Pay Attention to Letter Spacing

kerning

This rule is nit-picky, we’ll admit — but that’s what makes a good design great.

Kerning is the technical word for “space between characters.” Once you start talking about kerning, you’re instantly a pro!

This rule is especially vital for larger lettering, like for headlines and logos. The larger the font, the easier it is to see the spacing between your letters.

Proper kerning takes a little time and patience. You typically will need to adjust the distance between each individual letter in a headline, but it’s well worth the effort.

Meanwhile, the vertical spacing between lines of copy is referred to as leading.

Using a tighter leading is a good trick for fitting more copy into a tight space, but don’t get carried away. A good rule of thumb is to set your leading at least one point size larger than your font size for readability.

Visual Design Rule #9 — Page Balance

page balance

By now, you are looking at any design as one whole piece — not just separate elements.

Your text and imagery are integrated beautifully, and your visual hierarchy is helping readers digest your information easily.

Now it’s time to consider the overall balance of your design — specifically, where the “visual weight” is.

The eye naturally wants to work from the top of a page down. Therefore, keep the following in mind:

  • Pages with large areas of visual weight on top will appear unbalanced
  • Elements at the bottom of a page will appear visually more dominant than if they are on top; you can use this to your advantage by putting visually heavy design elements toward the bottom of your layout — it’s more visually pleasing and requires less effort for the eye to navigate
  • Steer away from being color-heavy on the top of the page, and avoid using lots of negative space on the bottom — neither help the design flow naturally (it also creates competing visual elements that are difficult for readers to navigate, pushing them away)
Learn More About Custom Website Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #10 — Define a Color Palette

color palette

Much like going overboard with fonts, a chaotic color palette will be visually unsettling, and drastically decrease the effectiveness of your design.

A highly effective way to integrate your copy and imagery is to sample colors directly from any image you use.

Selecting two or three colors from your image and working those into your headlines and subheads is a very subtle way to tie any design together.

For an added visual element, try using a solid block of sampled color with white text overlaid for block quotes.

Working With a Pro

Being an informed client who knows what “good design” is will make investing in a professional to design your marketing even more valuable.

Moreover, knowing how to communicate your ideas to a designer, and working within the rules of good design, will give you an edge that many people don’t have.

At Commotion Art, we understand that our clients like to have a say in how their marketing looks. We do our best to educate them on why we make design decisions, and work with them to achieve their vision in a way that will be beneficial to their marketing efforts.

Contact us today to get started marketing your small business!

 

Contact Commotion Art!

Contact Us!

469-713-9191

info@commotionart.com

Denton, TX + Vancouver, WA

© 2018 Commotion Art | 469-713-9191 | Privacy Policy

Visual Design: 10 Rules for Non-Designers

Time for our very favorite topic at Commotion Art: visual design!

You probably already understand the value in hiring a professional designer for your business marketing — as using a DIY approach when you don’t have a design background can make for a poorly produced product.

In other words, cutting corners on things like branding design, advertising design, and marketing collateral is always a bad decision.

That said, you should absolutely know what makes a design great!

There is nothing worse than paying for something to be professionally designed, only to have the final product suffer from lack of design knowledge.

These 10 visual design rules will help you:

  • Improve how you communicate with designers,
  • Understand why your designer may make certain decisions, and
  • Help you make smarter decisions when you invest in a designer.

Some of these rules work 100% of the time, while others are good to throw in occasionally when putting the final touches on your visual design.

Regardless, it’s all about ensuring a beautifully and professionally designed product in the end!

Learn More About Custom Logo Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #1 — Use a Visual Hierarchy

visual hierarchy

The foundation of great design is called “visual hierarchy.”

It’s all about guiding your viewers through the design.

Whether it’s a piece of print advertising, or a landing page for your website, the design goal is to make it easy for your audience to identify the most important information.

Here’s why: people have a very limited attention span—especially when it comes to reading an advertisement.

You have to assume that most people will quickly scan what you have designed—not necessarily read the content word-for-word—so the information has to be easy to take in and digest.

Visual Hierarchy Through Typography (aka Copy Writing)

The rules for copy writing (sometimes referred to as “content writing”) differ from print to web, but the basic structure is the same:

  • Headline—the title or main heading of the document
  • Subheading—a sub-title
  • Body copy—the bulk of the content

The average person is only going to spend a few seconds looking at your content, so headlines are the best way to capture their attention.

In addition, headlines and subheadings can help you quickly communicate your intended message to the reader.

Other design/formatting elements you can use to highlight important information in your text may include:

  • Color
  • Alignment
  • Font weight and size

Pull quotes are also good examples to vary alignment and color, helping to attract your reader’s eye to certain information in your body copy.

Visual Hierarchy Through Imagery

Much like your typography, the imagery you use should guide your reader through the design.

Use color, scale and contrast to draw attention to a certain part of your design.

Most importantly, your imagery should be engaging and pull your reader’s attention to the page.

Our work for Solutions of North Texas illustrates visual hierarchy quite well.

Learn More About Custom Website Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #2 — Use Negative Space

negative space

Negative space may sound like a bad thing but trust me: it’s your best friend when it comes to design!

White space. Empty space. Negative space. Whatever you want to call it, it gives your readers’ eyes somewhere to rest.

It’s like visual breathing space.

The advertising campaign we designed for Woodard Furniture shows successful use of negative space.

As I mentioned before, people have a limited attention span. Nothing will drive them away from your marketing piece faster than a page packed full of information.

I get it though: advertising is expensive, and it’s tempting to pack in every bit of information possible into whatever space you’ve paid for.

But what good does it do you, if no one will read what you’re saying?

So, do your audience (and yourself!) a favor by using clean, open design with plenty of negative space.

Visual Design Rule #3 — Use Grids and Guidelines

alignment

Without ranting too much on the subject, messy design drives us nuts at Commotion Art!

There is nothing worse than looking at an unorganized layout, and nothing will drive a reader away from a page faster than a mess.

Visual design is somewhat logical — every element of a design should line up with another element. This approach makes it easy for the eye to:

  • Flow naturally through a design, and
  • Digest the message.

Expecting anyone to struggle through your marketing piece to figure out your message is a huge mistake.

But there is an easy solution for cleaning up any design: guidelines and grids!

Not every element in your design needs to fit exactly within a grid; however, formatting your text into columns is the best way to make your copy legible.

Learn More About Custom Logo Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #4 — Avoid Designing INSIDE The Page

break out

This is possibly the most powerful rule on the list.

Inexperienced designers seem to have this problem, where they try to fit together some text and an image on an empty page — and end up placing the image inside the bounding box  of the page, fitting the text around it.

Now don’t get me wrong: there is a time and place for this approach. For example, using negative space with minimal imagery and copy can be very powerful. But not always.

Designs that extend outside the borders of a page are far more engaging and interesting to look at.

Consider using large imagery that is moving into — or off — the page.

Let the edge of your design crop the image, giving the feeling that your design is larger than what your target audience can see. This approach can:

  • Breathe life into a design, and
  • Offer a flexibility to your design that can’t be achieved any other way.

Seemingly simple, but it’s incredibly effective! When you master this design element, your work will instantly stand out.

Visual Design Rule #5 — Integrate Images and Text

merge

Another rookie design mistake is treating images and text as two separate objects.

Your copy IS a design element — so, it should be treated that way!

Instead of placing your copy in one place, and your image in another, try working text into your imagery.

This can be accomplished by:

  • Using large headlines behind an image, or
  • Wrapping body copy around the edge of an image.

Working text into and around your images will give your layout a feeling of depth that can’t be accomplished any other way.

It also offers cohesiveness to any page that will draw readers in—and invite them to engage with your design!

Learn More About Custom Website Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #6 — The Three-Font Rule

three font rule

We call this “The Three-Font Rule” because it’s on literally every designer’s list (really, we’ve checked every list!).

And while we at Commotion Art strive to offer our own take on design, this rule absolutely cannot be ignored.

The common theme on this list is cohesiveness. That means every element in your design should seamlessly work together.

Color, shape, contrast, alignment and scale all apply to text as well as images.

Elements should not compete for attention, and using too many fonts will definitely create visual competition.

Once you view your text as just another design element, it’s easy to understand this rule.

A good rule of thumb is to combine one serif and one sans serif font for headline and body copy.

This will keep your page clean and easy to read — which is exactly what we’re going for!

Visual Design Rule #7 — Choose Fonts With Multiple Weights

font weights

An easy way to keep your font selection limited is to find typefaces with multiple “weights” (or options). Some examples include:

  • Bold
  • Semi-bold
  • Narrow
  • Condensed
  • Light
  • Heavy

The more options a typeface offers, the better!

Always remember: every typeface you use was meticulously designed by someone. Altering what they have created will lower the quality, and your design will suffer. Therefore:

  • If a font doesn’t offer a bolding option, manually forcing that bolding to happen is a bad move. (Obviously, most word processing programs give you this option, but a good designer isn’t going to use Microsoft Word…and neither should you!)
  • Avoid adding a stroke to a font to achieve a bold look. That’s because manually changing the weight of your font can alter the shape of the letters, creating unpredictable results. (This is especially apparent when stroking serif fonts.)
Learn More About Custom Logo Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #8 — Pay Attention to Letter Spacing

kerning

This rule is nit-picky, we’ll admit — but that’s what makes a good design great.

Kerning is the technical word for “space between characters.” Once you start talking about kerning, you’re instantly a pro!

This rule is especially vital for larger lettering, like for headlines and logos. The larger the font, the easier it is to see the spacing between your letters.

Proper kerning takes a little time and patience. You typically will need to adjust the distance between each individual letter in a headline, but it’s well worth the effort.

Meanwhile, the vertical spacing between lines of copy is referred to as leading.

Using a tighter leading is a good trick for fitting more copy into a tight space, but don’t get carried away. A good rule of thumb is to set your leading at least one point size larger than your font size for readability.

Visual Design Rule #9 — Page Balance

page balance

By now, you are looking at any design as one whole piece — not just separate elements.

Your text and imagery are integrated beautifully, and your visual hierarchy is helping readers digest your information easily.

Now it’s time to consider the overall balance of your design — specifically, where the “visual weight” is.

The eye naturally wants to work from the top of a page down. Therefore, keep the following in mind:

  • Pages with large areas of visual weight on top will appear unbalanced
  • Elements at the bottom of a page will appear visually more dominant than if they are on top; you can use this to your advantage by putting visually heavy design elements toward the bottom of your layout — it’s more visually pleasing and requires less effort for the eye to navigate
  • Steer away from being color-heavy on the top of the page, and avoid using lots of negative space on the bottom — neither help the design flow naturally (it also creates competing visual elements that are difficult for readers to navigate, pushing them away)
Learn More About Custom Website Design Services

 

Visual Design Rule #10 — Define a Color Palette

color palette

Much like going overboard with fonts, a chaotic color palette will be visually unsettling, and drastically decrease the effectiveness of your design.

A highly effective way to integrate your copy and imagery is to sample colors directly from any image you use.

Selecting two or three colors from your image and working those into your headlines and subheads is a very subtle way to tie any design together.

For an added visual element, try using a solid block of sampled color with white text overlaid for block quotes.

Working With a Pro

Being an informed client who knows what “good design” is will make investing in a professional to design your marketing even more valuable.

Moreover, knowing how to communicate your ideas to a designer, and working within the rules of good design, will give you an edge that many people don’t have.

At Commotion Art, we understand that our clients like to have a say in how their marketing looks. We do our best to educate them on why we make design decisions, and work with them to achieve their vision in a way that will be beneficial to their marketing efforts.

Contact us today to get started marketing your small business!

 

Contact Commotion Art!
Visual Design: 10 Rules for Non-Designers
Visual Design: 10 Rules for Non-Designers
Visual Design: 10 Rules for Non-Designers