How to rock your social images with these basic graphic design tips

You’ve got the tools, but have you got the rules? Non-designers who need to create their own social media graphics often think that they need a graphic design degree to be able to do a good job.

That’s not the case: all you need is a few, simple, solid graphic design tips to live by. Here are a few of the absolutely essential, vital, basic design tips for non designers.

Start here, for an immediate improvement of your graphics.

#1 Graphic design tips: Start from typography.

Social media messages are all about persistence and consistency. Don’t dilute the message by always using a different typeface.

Choose 2 typefaces: one for your headings and one for your body copy.

When I started designing books in the early 90s, I was taught that body copy, for long chunks of text, should always be in a serif font. Now that we know more about the need to be accessible on the web, the best practice is to use sans serif fonts for body copy: they are more legible for people with reading disabilities such as dyslexia.

This is a case where form follows function. There is always a reason behind good design!

Example of different fonts for heading and body copy.

Make sure that you use your typefaces consistently and in a way that makes sense.

If you are into scripts (i.e. typefaces imitating handwriting), then you may choose a script too. But only if you are confident that you can achieve a good result when mixing 3 typefaces.

Don’t use a flowery script (or, god forbid, Comic Sans) for a stark, dramatic message on a serious issue. Typefaces set the tone of a written message, so think about what you are saying and choose the right typeface to say it.

Choose a font that sets the right visual tone for the content. Or break the rules, and go for contrast. Oh, and colour affects the tone of the message, too.

For a great tutorial on basic typography and font combinations, check out this post on the Snappa blog.

Unless you are committed to becoming a font whiz, I wholeheartedly recommend sticking to Google fonts. These days, the variety and quality is astounding. If you want help or inspiration, check out Typewolf’s compilation of the best Google Fonts.

A pro tip for free from me to you: if you see a font that you love and want to know what it is, just run it by WhatTheFont.

#2 Graphic design tips: Choose a colour palette.

As with typefaces, you need to be consistent with your colours. If you haven’t yet worked on your branding and decided on your colours, now’s a good time to start.

Colours, like typefaces, communicate moods, set the tone of your message and have a time and place.

Blue, for instance, tends to be a corporate colour, used by financial institutions to inspire trust; a cold orange is often used by technology brands; and pastel pinks and greens (with a sprinkling of polka dots) seem to be all the rage for female brands at the moment.

However, always consider your target market before settling on a colour: colour meanings are very tied to local culture. White, for instance, is purity in the west, but it’s the colour of death in the east.

Colour symbolism is a huge subject. I am fascinated by it, and a post on it is in the works.

A COLOUR PALETTE CREATED FROM A PHOTOGRAPH IN ADOBE COLOUR.
A COLOUR PALETTE CREATED FROM A PHOTOGRAPH IN ADOBE COLOUR.

There is a whole art to colour, but there are also many tools to help you navigate your way around a colour palette. On this very same blog, we’ve already written a number of posts on colour, each with their downloadable resources. Here’s the post that deals specifically with how to create a colour palette.

And if you need a little bit of help with how to choose colour but don’t have the time go through all the posts, download this comprehensive cheat sheet on colour harmony.

#3 Graphic design tips: basic layout.

When scouting the web for free or cheap images to use in your social media or blog, you should keep a few criteria in mind.

One is the meaning, or emotion, of course. The other is the layout.

Professional photographers are used to composing images in a way that allows for copy to be laid on top, especially if they know a publication might use it. So there will be a ‘copy space’ area of the image, where negative space provides a perfect placement for text.

When you look for an image, think about where you want to place your message. Some images lend themselves better than others. Choose wisely.

If the main action and key significance of the image is in the centre of the image, make sure that there is enough room at the top or at the bottom for you to place your message.

Don’t make the message too big or too small. The idea is to make text and image work together, so that neither is overwhelmed.

#4 Graphic design tips: Space your lines correctly.

Be nice to your message. Don’t make the lines float on your image, far away from one another, lost and forlorn. The distance between paragraphs or lines (line-height in CSS, leading in old-school typesetting) has a reason to exist and a meaning, and it will affect your message.

The second example clearly doesn’t work. No self-respecting typesetter would ever have spaced a paragraph quite like this.

Graphic design tips: old style leading.

#5 Graphic design tips: make it legible.

When you place a text message on top of an image, the #1 concern for you must be: is it legible?

Fairground attraction
I don’t call this legible.

There are at least 2 problems with the image above.

Problem #1: the spacing between the lines is way too wide. The eye has to jump too much of a distance from line to line. So the line spacing needs tightening up.

Problem #2: the background is too busy and varied. Too many colours at the same time. Even though the type is bold, white and capitalised, it is still not legible.

See what I’ve done here?

I’ve tightened the space between the lines. I have used an even bolder font. And I have considerably darkened the background. The message is now much more legible.

If you look at the underground image above, you will also see that I have made it lighter, in order to make the message more legible.

Most online design tools that we’ve looked at will allow you to easily darken or brighten your images by adjusting the levels, or even by placing a colour overlay and tweaking its opacity.

#6 Graphic design tips: alignment matters.

When you place text over an image, you should consider how you want to align it: both in relation to itself, and to the image. For instance, in the fairground image above, the text is centre-aligned, and aligned to the centre of the image.

Centred alignment usually works best with text that is placed in the centre of the image, and aligned to it. Most design programs usually have tools that let you align your objects and your text. Use them!

If you place your message to the left or to the right of an image, where there is negative space in the form of a blurred or solid colour area, then you should align the text to the right or to the left.

Always check the alignment again before pressing the button on a message. Make sure that all text boxes are aligned with one another and that there are no ugly gaps. Even the smallest misalignment can show on an image.

#7 Graphic design tips: using panels.

Sometimes darkening or brightening an image won’t seem the right thing to do, or it might not be enough to make the message legible.

Or perhaps you like the image a lot and you don’t want to make it too dark or too bright in order to make it the text overlay legible. In this case, the best thing to do is to use a panel.

And sometimes, even when legibility isn’t so much of an issue, a panel just makes everything look better. Tidier, clearer.

An aside on typography: note how, on this Underground image, I have used my sans serif typeface instead of the serif heading.

This is because with this type of image, modern, dynamic, suggesting speed and a busy urban life, the serif typeface would have looked out of place and visually wrong. The serif typeface that I have used in the headings of the other images in this post is a classic, retro typeface that looks better on another type of image.

#8 Graphic design tips: Keep It Simple.

When in doubt: take it away. In design, less is (almost always) MORE. Especially if you are a non-designer, this is the best piece of advice that you can take away. Simplicity wins the communication context. When in doubt: think of Apple. Think of Nike. Could it be any simpler?

Conclusion.

We can, and we will, say a whole lot more on the subject. But this is a very good start for non-designers who want to improve their social media and blog graphics.

What do you think of these tips? I’d love to know if they’ve helped. And please, do let me know where you think I should go with the next post on the topic.

Until the next one!

7 thoughts on “How to rock your social images with these basic graphic design tips”

  1. This is fantastic! I’ve been working a lot at improving my photography, for my blog and my business, and for social media for them both! Thanks for the tips so I can use those pictures well!

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