5 graphic design hacks for marketers with no design skills

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Marketers tend to be inherently creative, but that doesn't always translate into graphic design skills. Unfortunately, most marketers need to include graphic design in their campaigns at some point. Here are some hacks to help you succeed.

Marketers tend to be very creative by nature, but this doesn’t always translate to the kind of creativeness needed to design marketing materials or develop eye-popping websites. While marketers are good at innovating big-picture campaigns, slogans, and ideas, the actual designs are generally reserved for, well, designers. And while you don’t want to let your design team go, there are a few simple things that can enhance your own design skills in no time at all.

Everyone needs some basic design skills

The clock is just about to strike 5 on Friday, and a VIP client sends an email requesting a rush order for a simple image to accompany a social media post going out tomorrow. You told your designers that they could start their weekend an hour early, so they’re all home with their families. In fact, it’s pretty much just you left in the office.

You begin to feel a cold sweat coming on and that pit in your stomach has now moved all the way up to your throat. What are you going to do? A failure to get this design request over to the client could create some unnecessary and unhealthy tension in your relationship with the client.

Well, if you have zero design skills, there aren’t very many options. You can either ignore the message until Monday morning, explain the truth and apologize or interrupt one of your designer’s weekends. None of these choices are quite optimal. 

This is just one hypothetical situation when it pays to have some basic design skills. If you understood how to design the basic image they were requesting, it might only take 15 or 20 minutes. Instead, you’re left stressing over what to do next.

Give these five graphic design hacks a try

The moral of the story is that you need some design skills. Thankfully, you don’t have to acquire a design degree or take some incredibly advanced course. With some simple hacks, like the following, you can become an amateur designer in no time at all.

1. Leverage the right tools and resources

Here’s an obvious, yet important tip: design tools and technologies are your friends. Even the best designers in the world rely on certain resources to consistently produce high quality results.

Here are a few free design tools you’ll want to keep bookmarked in your browser:

  • Shopify Logo Generator. Have you ever needed to create a simple logo mockup? Instead of fumbling through Photoshop or hiring someone, use this handy logo generator from Shopify. It’s simple to use and allows you to create a logo in as little as 60 seconds.
  • Type Genius. This simple tools packs a major punch. With Type Genius, you can find beautiful font combinations that can be used for websites, marketing campaigns, branding materials, and more. Best of all — it’s a breeze to use.
  • Pictaculous. As everyone knows, color palette is one of the most important elements of web design. You want to maintain consistency and clarity throughout the entirety of any project. With Pictaculous, you can upload a photo and then instantly get feedback and recommendations regarding which complimentary colors to use.

This is just a small sampling of some of the free tools out there. Do some research and find tools that fit your needs. Basically, if you don’t know how to do something, find a tool that can do it for you.

2. Take the “less is more” approach

“The thing about non-designers is that, due to their lack of graphic design skills and knowledge, they usually get anxious and try to apply everything they know to every single attempt to design anything,” says Christopher Pappas, entrepreneur and design instructor. “Don’t forget to follow the ‘less is more’ mantra. Effective design is clear cut and balanced, to help viewers focus on important information.”

Taking Pappas’ advice to heart, a few simple tips should help you produce minimalist designs that are visually appealing:

  • Let elements breathe. Overcrowding a design is the quickest way to lose your audience. Space out elements and let them breathe. Composition should be evenly spaced. Treat every shape, image, and text element as an entity that needs its own personal space.
  • Use simple backgrounds. Whether it’s a website homepage, event flyer, or anything in between, it’s important that you use simple backgrounds. Busy backgrounds will take away from the foreground elements, while subtle ones will help your message stand out.
  • Enjoy symmetry. While creative minds like to try new things, it’s best to follow simple rules of symmetry when designing basic graphics. Weight and proportion are very important. Leave the “out of the box” ideas to the pros.

Whenever you’re in doubt, follow the KISS mantra which says, “Keep it simple, stupid.” Minimalist designs are popular right now, so use this to your advantage.

3. Utilize typography

Designer Jeffery Zeldman famously said, “90 percent of design is typography. And the other 90 percent is whitespace.” The point he’s trying to make is that typography — while often overlooked — plays a much bigger role in the grand scheme of graphic design than the amateur will ever know. 

If you’re spending all of your time focusing on images and visuals — both of which are important — you aren’t giving typography the attention it deserves. Study up on the best practices for line height, fonts, white space, and more. You’ll gradually begin to see typography in an entirely new light.

4. Sharpen your knowledge of contrast

“Big and small, light and dark, strong and weak: Contrast is a fundamental principle of visual design, but too much contrast between sizes and colors can contribute to wrong visual quality,” Pappas points out.

“Consider enhancing your understanding of size (the physical dimension of an object), scale (the relative size of different objects), and proportion (the harmony of scale) by using the good old pen and paper method.”

As you progress in your knowledge of graphic design, your understanding of contrast will help you develop more complete, artistically accurate projects. It’s these little improvements that will make a world of difference.

5. Use the power of color theory

When was the last time you studied color theory? Have you ever studied color theory? Every graphic designer should have a basic understanding of color theory and the various emotions different tones evoke. You need to recognize these relationships, as well.

For example, did you know that red is related to passion, aggression and importance? Or that yellow is happy and friendly? Each color is directly tied to specific emotions and actions. Properly utilizing the right tones can make your designs much more powerful.

Putting it all together

You can’t become a professional graphic designer overnight. Anyone who claims this is lying. However, by gradually learning new techniques and steadily honing your skills, you can master some of the basics. With this knowledge, you no longer have to worry about getting stuck in precarious situations, like the hypothetical one referenced at the beginning of this article. Give these hacks a try today!

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