5 Rules of Designing for Non-Designers

When you make the decision to freelance, you end up having to learn skills they never taught you in school. The big one for me has to be graphic design. I’ve somehow avoided any formal education in it, thinking I could just knuckle down and specialize. It is the most nebulous and troublesome skill I’ve had to learn. What is good design? Is it typefaces? Swooshes? It doesn’t help that every so often on digg or reddit you find these snarky blog posts saying things like, “You used Kozuka Gothic Pro font over Deja Vu Sans Serif? How many other people have you killed with your stupidity?”

Graphic design is definitely a soft discipline. One decision that might be perfect for one document might be utter suicide for another. But take heart. Millions of people do graphic design every day. To let the opinions of few typeface snobs trip you up is no way to go through life. The guidelines listed here are probably “birds go tweet” propositions for more experienced designers, but nonetheless they should get you through any project.

1. Research

Yes, you can research graphic design projects. The human imagination is little more than a surreal mishmash of everything we experience through our senses. So, if you’re short on ideas about how to proceed with your logo or web page, look for visual elements that relate to your subject. This can take the form of searching other websites or going on a photo-hunt. This will help you narrow down the colors and shapes you’ll use with your project.

2. Clarity Beats Originality

If it’s not a generally accepted principle of graphic design, it should be. No one is going to appreciate how edgy or original your design is if they can’t read it. Use a heirarchy to arrange your elements in order of importance. A larger heading or body text means the element is more important. It sounds self explanatory, but it’s surprising how often it’s ignored.

3. Learn Your Software

Don’t limit yourself to what you already know about GIMP or Illustrator. Any sufficiently used piece of software will have scads of tutorials to help you do what you want to do. Google is your friend, use it early and often.

4. Know Your Audience

This is pure gospel for any product you are trying to unleash on the world. This doesn’t just benefit your clients. You can also mine a lot of inspiration by gathering information about who is going to be looking at your work.

5. When in doubt, test it out

There is no better way to test your work out than to get a fresh pair of eyes on it. You can recruit friends, parents, grandparents, or even random people off the street. The point of graphic design is to convey information. You can learn a lot from watching someone actually try to get information from your page.

2 thoughts on “5 Rules of Designing for Non-Designers

  1. Steve

    For point #5, you can also recruit random people off the tubes via Twitter, or use something like fivesecondtest.com to get some instant feedback.

  2. curtismchale

    User testing should be a staple of any design workflow if the client will actually pay for it. Many smaller clients just won’t put up the cash for the time it takes to properly test a user interface.

    For myself personally I run all my designs through a number or other freelancers that do the same for me.

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