How to Really Make It Beautiful: Five Rules for Aspiring Designers
Don’t judge a book by its cover? Yeah. Freaking. Right. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’m not the only aesthetic-driven millennial out there who plucks a book off the shelf because she sees a pretty typeface. Or really, who plucks anything off the shelf because it looks nice.
As much as we don’t want to admit, our world operates on the assumption that beauty attracts. And guess what? It works. We choose our makeup brands, clothing, bed sheets, friends, coffee shops, spouses, and furniture in part because we think they are beautiful, among other minor factors like, you know, functionality or whatever.
Now, I’m not here to argue what is beautiful, because that’s up to the individual and frankly, I don’t have the philosophical bandwidth for that. Instead, I’d like to humbly present to you my own short list of musts when it comes to good design. Or rather, the most common mistakes people make when they design their own you-know-what. Because if we’re honest, the graphic design arena’s got a whole lot of DIY action and I think it’s time someone stick up for the craft and the cardinal rules of what makes good design, well, good.
Let me asking you, would you go to an interview with a wrinkled pencil skirt? Or tack on 15 pieces of jewelry? Duh, no. I mean, maybe you have, but you likely didn’t get the job. It’s time to start thinking about your brand design like interview attire, and here’s why: If you’re a work from home-er or spend any time doing your own “thing” online, whatever that may be, let’s just assume you’re not wearing a pencil skirt. Heck, you’re probably not wearing anything but your undies and that’s okay. (Waist up is all that counts for those Google Hangouts, right?) So really, while we’re all crouched behind our computers, your online platform is the new pencil skirt. Is it pretty? Is it in style? Is it ironed out? Does it fit well? It’s your first impression, and the face of who you are and what you do online. Clients decide to hire you or not depending on if you have your act together, and brand design is a huge factor in deciding whether or not you do, or don’t, have your act together.
So, if you absolutely must design your own you-know-what, let me offer up some foolproof pieces of Art 101 advice. Number one being, hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Just kidding, but really. Okay, here we go:
1. Balance your typeface. Mixing two different font families well, design element placement, allowing for white space, and sizing. Mixing a big fat swirly font with a big fat sans serif? No. Using two different fat swirly fonts? Don’t make me cry. You might as well be wearing two mismatched pairs of dangly earrings to apply for a job in a law office. Without writing a textbook on this, try to match the personality of your platform with the style of your typeface. And hey, make sure you don’t marry a “personal-use only” font, unless you aren’t scared of nasty legal notes in your mailbox. If this all sounds like a new language to you, for the love of design, Google-educate yourself on typeface rules before creating your masterpiece. Deal? Deal.
2. Mind your colors. If you don’t know what a Pantone color is, get out. Okaaay, jokes aside, try to spend some time studying color. Figure out what goes well together, how to make up a palette that functions well, how to balance tones, and you know, the whole color psychology thing. Choosing brand colors isn’t just like picking your favorite Skittle flavor. Just because you like it doesn’t mean it has to be part of your palette. Spoiler alert, you don’t have to jam every color of your brand into your logo. In fact, please don’t.
3. Keep it simple. As is the case with almost any other department (food, fashion, words, house decor…) simple works better. The deer antlers, flower crown wreath, polkadots, and your chunky brush-lettered business name won’t all make the cut for your logo. When in doubt, less is more.
4. Don’t get too trendy. As tempting as it may be to shower every crack and crevice of your brand in gold confetti, show some restraint. Subtle use of trends is not only a smart design move, but it’ll create some longevity for your brand. It’s okay to choose design elements from what’s popular, but incorporate them in a more classic, toned-down way and you won’t find yourself rebranding in six months’ time.
5. Make it flexible. Anything you design for a business or a brand is likely going to end up on more than just the top of your website. Before you decide on your soulmate of a logo, consider how it may look on a business card, as an avatar, printed on a huge poster, or on stationery. Can you make variations? Can it be made into a stamp? Does it work in black and white? All I’m saying is give your design a few test runs before you go out and buy it a ring.
Up for a little DIY designing? Get after it. May your palettes be smart and your typeface be balanced. And if designing turns out to not be one of your spiritual gifts, maybe hiring the right professional (not a five dollar logo generator) would save you a lot of frustration and control z’s in your future. But let’s just rally around one truth together, shall we? Good design online will go farther than your pencil skirt ever will.
Erin Nausin is a professional graphic designer that lends mercy and goodness to those of us who happen to be a bit aesthetically tone-deaf. You can (and should) find out more about her work at Primavera Studio before you corrupt your laptop with an illegally ripped download of Adobe Creative Suite, trust me. Follow her work on Instagram @theprimaverastudio.