Graphic Design Essentials for Non-Designers: 10 Key Principles to Create Visual Content

When it comes to books on graphic design, some of my favorites are surprisingly those geared toward non-designers. After working in design for several decades, I find it useful to go back to the basics sometimes.

Below is a list of design books I’ve chosen that are perfect for anyone who may be new to design principles. Let’s get started!

Jim Krause of Pixelfly Creative provides aspiring creatives with an indispensable, one-stop method for reviewing and selecting color palettes for their creative projects.

Jim is an engaging speaker and his personality shines through in his books. This book has been a staple in my collection for many years and I browse through it every time I start a logo or branding project.

Graphic design is an invaluable skill for communicating ideas and engaging audiences visually. While graphic designers have years of specialized training, even non-designers can utilize fundamental graphic design principles to produce professional, polished visual content.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore 10 essential graphic design concepts and techniques for beginners. Whether you need to create a flyer, social media post, presentation slides, infographic or any other visual, these core principles will elevate your work. Let’s get started!

1. Simplicity

The hallmark of brilliant design is simplicity Effective visual communication relies on stripping away unnecessary elements to highlight the core message Follow these tips

  • Avoid clutter. Remove any components that don’t directly support your key message.
  • Use minimal text. Let images and graphics convey information visually.
  • Limit color palette. Stick to 1-3 complementary colors.
  • Use white space intentionally. Blank space focuses attention on key content.

By mastering simplicity, your designs will be clean, intuitive and impactful.

2. Consistency

Consistency creates cohesion across design projects through repetitive visual elements. Utilize:

  • Consistent fonts, sizes, colors
  • Aligned layouts, positioning, spacing
  • Uniform style for images, icons and illustrations

A consistent style makes diverse content feel part of a unified whole. Branding kits help maintain consistency

3. Harmony

Harmonious designs have a unified aesthetic where all elements work together seamlessly Strategies include

  • Complementary color schemes
  • Aligned compositional layout
  • Matching or compatible fonts
  • Consistent image style and filters

Harmony results from intentional design choices applied holistically across the project.

4. Emotion

Great design evokes emotion. Use graphic design strategically to make the audience feel something.

  • Warm, bright colors convey energy, cheerfulness
  • Cool, dark tones create sophisticated, elegant moods
  • Hard edges and contrast suggest edginess, intensity
  • Soft focus and pastels imply calmness, gentleness

Consider both the emotion you want to express and elicit in the viewer.

5. Hierarchy

Hierarchy creates order by organizing elements by importance. Techniques include:

  • Strategic placement (top left is prominent)
  • Visual weight through size, color intensity
  • Dividing space into dominant and subordinate areas
  • Progressively lesser emphasis down page/screen

Clear hierarchy draws attention first to the most significant information.

6. Proximity

Group related elements through proximity. Strategies include:

  • Clustering related content blocks
  • Aligning text to relevant graphics
  • Keeping headings near corresponding text
  • Using white space to define groups

Proximity establishes relationships, connections and flow.

7. Balance

Balance lends stability and structure through evenly distributed visual weight. Types include:

Symmetrical: Mirror image on both sides

Asymmetrical: Unequal visual elements balanced through position, size and color

Radial: Elements radiating out from a central point

A balanced composition feels harmonious, grounded and intentional.

8. Contrast

Contrast creates visual interest by distinguishing elements through opposing qualities, including:

  • Complementary colors
  • Varied textures and shapes
  • Mixing serif and sans serif fonts
  • Varying line thicknesses
  • Dark and light colors

Judicious use of contrast focuses attention on key points.

9. Alignment

Alignment creates order through positioning elements along common axes. Types include:

Flush left: Text lines up vertically on the left

Flush right: Text lines up vertically on the right

Center: Elements center on the middle axis

Justified: Text lines up on right and left margins

Alignment makes content systematic, formal and polished.

10. Grids

Grid systems organize content using columns, margins and spacing. Benefits include:

  • Consistent structure
  • Intuitive layouts
  • Flexibility within a framework
  • Visual connections between elements

Grids lend designs cleanliness, order and cohesion.

By mastering these 10 core principles, even non-designers can take their visual communication skills to the next level. Analyze inspiring designs and deliberately apply these graphic design fundamentals in your own creations. With practice, they will become intuitive!

Graphic Design Tools for Beginners

While knowledge of design principles is crucial, you also need the right tools to bring your vision to life! Here are top graphic design software picks for non-designers:

Canva: Easy drag-and-drop interface, thousands of templates, huge media library

Adobe Spark: Intuitive visual content maker with ready-made templates

Figma: Powerful yet beginner-friendly design and prototyping tool

InDesign: Top publishing software for multi-page documents like reports, brochures

Photopea: Basic photo editor similar to Photoshop but free to use online

With these beginner-oriented tools, anyone can start applying graphic design techniques!

Design Inspiration for Non-Designers

One of the best ways to sharpen your graphic design skills is to immerse yourself in beautiful visual content. Here are pro tips for finding design inspiration:

  • Curate a “inspiration folder” of designs you love. Analyze what makes them effective.

  • Browse graphic design showcase sites like Behance, Dribbble and Awwwards.

  • Follow leading companies and brands on Instagram and Pinterest to see their latest visuals.

  • Read graphic design blogs and publications like CreativeBloq.

  • Expand your creative perspective by learning about art history movements and styles.

  • Check out graphic design books from masters like Gail Anderson.

By internalizing excellent, innovative examples of design, you’ll intuitively start implementing those ideas in your own work.

Simple Design Projects to Practice

Hands-on application reinforces graphic design knowledge. Try these beginner-friendly projects:

  • Design a stylish personal logo

  • Create visual social media posts for a brand

  • Style a professional resume template

  • Make a visually engaging presentation slide deck

  • Produce an infographic about a topic you love

  • Modify free website themes with custom graphics

  • Develop icons and illustrations that express your unique style

Don’t be afraid to experiment, get feedback and refine your work iteratively. With sustained practice, your graphic design skills and confidence will flourish!

Graphic Design Mistakes for Beginners To Avoid

While absorbing design best practices, also be aware of these common gaffes:

✘ Using too many fonts, colors, styles at once

✘ Overly busy, cluttered compositions

✘ Text overlaid haphazardly on images

✘ Lack of visual consistency across a project

✘ Important information buried, lacking hierarchy

✘ Images cropped awkwardly, low resolution

✘ Colors that clash, don’t complement each other

✘ Misaligned, uneven, unbalanced layout

✘ Hard-to-read text combinations like yellow on white

Paying attention to these fundamentals will help you avoid design pitfalls as you hone your skills.

With this comprehensive introduction to graphic design principles, even total beginners can start creating stellar visual content. Follow these techniques and tools to clearly convey ideas, make an impact and wow any audience. Remember to stay inspired, get hands-on practice and your design skills will flourish!

graphic design essentials for non designers

D30: Exercises for Designers

D30 is called a “workout book:” in addition to tips, tricks and informational tidbits, it contains 30 exercises designed to develop and strengthen your creative powers.

Jim is known for his practical and fun-to-read books and this is no exception. If you are looking to stretch your creativity in design, this book will give you a “workout.”

Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design

In Go, renowned graphic designer Chip Kidd explains not just the elements of design, including form, line, color, scale, typography, and more, but most important, how to use those elements in creative ways.

I checked out this book from the library for my kids, but I fell in love with it. The design is bold and the book includes 10 design projects that both kids and adults can have fun with.

Side note: I met Chip Kidd at a HOW Design Conference and he was funny and gracious, writing a clever note for my son on the poster he signed for me.

Product Design Essentials: A Practical Guide for Non-Designers

What are the best design tips for non-designers?

The no. 1 and most important design tip for non-designers and beginner designers is to keep it simple. There’s nothing worse than an overwhelming design that is difficult to understand. To keep things simple, tap into your inner minimalist. Use the minimum amount of text and fonts, keep the colors under control and the visuals balanced.

How to become a good graphic designer?

The amount of work you put into it depends if you want to work as a graphic designer or become adept at creating graphics for marketing. To further improve your design skills, follow video and text tutorials. These will help you learn how to use design tools and also how to get better at design.

Are graphic designers self-taught?

Many graphic designers out there, both beginner and professional, are self-taught. Nowadays with the amount of readily available design courses, it’s easy to be a self-taught designer. All you have to do is find courses and tutorials that will teach you both design fundamentals and detailed techniques. Never stop practicing. Q6.

What can I learn in graphic design?

Discover techniques for working and communicating with graphic designers and other creative professionals. In this hands-on specialization, you will explore basic graphic design elements, color theory, images, publication design and techniques for creating effective layouts.

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