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Top 5 graphic design tips

iPad with inforgaphic information

This blog post was written by one of our graphic designers – Johanna Wheeler. In this post, Jo takes us through her top five graphic design tips when developing learning materials:

  • Typography
  • Graphics
  • Content
  • Colour
  • Accessibility.

Tip 1 – TYPOGRAPHY

Typography and fonts are one of the most important aspects of any design.

Without a clear, readable font, it can be difficult to portray the message or intention of the design. Breaking up blocks of body text with titles, interesting fonts or bullet points can help your audience remember key points to prevent the audience from getting bored.

BODY TEXT
Generally speaking, there are 2 types of fonts: serif and sans serif.

Illustrating serif vs sans serif fonts

Choosing a legible and readable font is vital in ensuring your audience is able to interact with your content.

Sans serif fonts, literally meaning “without serif” or without a stroke, are a good choice for body text as they are clean and simple typefaces making them easier to read.

Serif fonts are also usable and can present a more traditional feel to your design. Popular sans serif body text fonts include Helvetica, Avenir, Arial and Gill Sans. While popular body text serif fonts include Garamond, Didot, Georgia and Times New Roman.

HIERARCHY
Implementing a hierarchy of headings and text can help to break up your document and ensure that your design is clear and readable.

showing hierarchy of text

It is good practice to establish the following:

  • Heading 1
  • Heading 2
  • Heading 3
  • Body text
  • List styles
  • Call out or quote
  • Headers and footers

These styles can be distinctive based on their aspects such as boldness, size or colour.

It is common to use the same font for both the heading and body text. However, to add extra style and contrast to your text, you can use a complementary font or stylistic font for the headings. Font pairing such as Garamond and Helvetica are common as the contrast between the serif and sans serif creates a level of interest. Likewise, using Futura as a heading text and pairing it with Georgia, Garamond or Avenir can create a nice clear contrast between the bold heading text and the legible body text.

It is important to keep this hierarchy consistent throughout the document. Adding this hierarchy can help to enhance the look and feel of the document, and create overall professionalism.

Examples of font pairings

KERNING AND SPACING
It is also important to pay attention to the spacing and kerning of your text, especially the body text. Increasing the spacing between lines and the kerning between letters can help increase the legibility and readability of the overall document.

Although a minor adjustment, it can make a major difference and take your design from average to professional.

COLOURS
Another minor detail that can take your design from average to professional or design-conscious, is the colour of your font.

Rather than use the common black text, consider using a dark grey or even navy. These colours are less harsh than straight black. Additionally, ensure your text, especially the body text, is placed on a background that does not make it difficult to read. Consider checking the colour of the background and text against an accessibility checker to ensure there is enough contrast for everybody to be able to read it.

Tip 2 – GRAPHICS

Adding graphics, such as images, charts and illustrations, can help to add interest and value to your materials.

RESOLUTION AND MODIFYING
It is important to choose graphics that have an adequate resolution, as blurry graphics can bring down the whole feel and professionalism of a project. Never stretch, distort or squish your graphics. Instead, crop or modify them. If you don’t have graphic software such as the Adobe Creative Suite or Pixelmator, consider using Microsoft PowerPoint to crop and resize your images as it allows much more control that Microsoft Word.

Most images come in JPEGs or PNGs. PNGs are most suitable for flat areas of colour, logos and icons, transparent or semi-transparent images; while JPEGS are suitable for images and highly detailed, quality photographs.

CONSISTENCY
When choosing graphics, it is also important to consider your overall design colour palette. Choosing graphics that tie into your colour scheme will ensure consistency throughout your design.

Tip 3 – CONTENT

HIERARCHY
Like font hierarchy, it is vital to establish a hierarchy of the information you are presenting in your design. This is especially important when creating learning materials.

Ask yourself: What is the most important piece of information you want to portray? Is it clear? Does it stand out or is it overpowered by another piece of information?

SPACE
Furthermore, be questioning and analytical when designing. Ask yourself: Is the piece of text or graphic serving its purpose, reflecting the overall design theme or just taking up unnecessary space?

Infographic (content in text)

If it is not working, remove it. Remember that ‘white’ or negative space is important in design. The contrast between black and white, negative and positive, and simple and complicated space are all important aspects of design that help to create balance.

The use of white or negative space is demonstrated in our infographic, ‘The success oriented approach to digital learning’. The use of white space in contrast to the graphics helps to balance the design as a whole, meaning it does not feel cluttered.

Tip 4 – COLOUR

A pastel and a professional colour palette

When designing anything, it is important to choose a colour scheme.

Once again, hierarchy plays a large role when using colour. Choosing a main colour and two or three complimentary colours can help create consistency throughout your design.

Adobe Color (http://color.adobe.com) is a useful tool to help establish a colour palette. Picking a colour palette that reflects your theme is also important. Using pastel or bright colours for a professional business design for example is probably not a good choice, instead opt for darker, natural colours.

EFFECTS
If you are using any effects or elements, ensure that they are consistent and repetitive across the whole design. This will help tie the design together. Furthermore, add depth to your design to help add contrast and interest. This can be established through a slight shadow, tonal contrast in the background or simply through the use of layering.

The creation of depth is evident in one of our client projects (Pathfinder). The illusion of depth was created through the layering of the arrows over the white boxes, as well as a drop shadow behind the white boxes to make them stand out against the background.

Example of branding

Tip 5 – ACCESSIBILITY

Once your colour palette has been picked, it is vital to check the accessibility of each colour against the background colour of the design, especially if you are using it for text. This will aid in creating an accessible design.

WebAIM is a good website tool for checking (https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/) especially for designs that will be on the web.

TOP 3 TIPS TO TAKE AWAY:
• Always pick a clear readable font for the body text
• Hierarchy, hierarchy, hierarchy – follow a hierarchy in your text, content and colour palette
• Consistency and accessibility are key

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