Design beautiful social media graphics and documents: a guide to the best design tools for non-designers

In the last post I waxed lyrical about Snappa, a great tool to create engaging graphics quickly and easily. This week we’ll see a few more useful design tools for non-designers that will help you with your daily design needs.

Not a designer? No problem.

Entrepreneurs who are serious about growing their business make sure their social media accounts get frequently updated with engaging graphics. Running a business also requires the creation of presentations, infographics and other pieces of communication.

Someone needs to create all these materials. If you can afford to hire a designer, then great: I am a designer and I value my profession very much. Your time will be better spent focusing on your business.

But if you can’t afford a designer, you can still produce social messages, presentations, infographics and other documents with minimum hassle. How? By using one of the many cloud-based design tools for non-designers that exist today to help entrepreneurs and small business owners.

 

Only tried and tested design tools for non-designers.

As usual, I don’t randomly group together a list of resources just for the sake of creating a blog post. I only list the apps that I have tried and tested and really like.

The first part of the post looks at design tools for non-designers that are good for creating more complex designs and that allow for the creation of layouts and multi-page documents.

The second part focuses on simpler applications that mainly help create social media graphics.

1. Tools for layouts.

Canva

The Canva dashboard, with dozens of templates and types of documents to chose from.
The Canva dashboard, with dozens of templates and types of documents to chose from.

Of course, Canva is the grandaddy of all design tools for non-designers. And it is indeed a fantastic tool: it will allow you to create complex multi-page documents and publications, either for print or online. It’s also cheap, considering all that it does: upgrading costs $12.95 monthly and $9.95 annually.

Its versatility can also be its downfall: so don’t let yourself get a little bit confused over the countless options Canva offers. Canva does, without a doubt, a great job of enabling non-designers to create ebooks, magazines, books, marketing materials, flyers and just about anything that can be designed. All with the aid of beautiful templates.

At any rate, it still doesn’t make you a designer, so use with caution and again, only if you are  willing to face the learning curve.

Having said this: the power of Canva as a tool to enable non-designers to create great designs is truly staggering. it also comes with a large stock library of images and vectors.

USE INSTEAD OF: InDesign.

GOOD FOR: Creating size-specific designs and documents. Fantastic for multi-page documents, magazines, books, ebooks, flyers, brochures, marketing materials: like a cheap, lesser, online Indesign.

NOT SO GOOD FOR: Again, perhaps best not to use Canva if all you need is a simple solution for a one-page type of document or post. In that case, my favourite remains Snappa. Don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices and options.

Piktochart

Piktochart, a truly easy-to-use infographics and presentation maker.
Piktochart, a truly easy-to-use infographics and presentation maker.

Piktochart is a cloud-based application that allows non-designers to create, share and print 3 categories of documents: infographics, presentations and simple printables, potentially for free.

I love the fact that you can very quickly set up an account and play around as much as you like, without ever having to fork out for a subscription. You can even create and save your work, either using one of the free templates or just starting from scratch.

The dashboard interface is extremely simple: it lets you choose which type of document you want to create, and whether you would like to use a blank template (start from scratch), a free template or a pro template, in which case you will be asked to upgrade to a paid subscription. The free templates, however, offer a lot in terms of layouts and designs so if you are on a budget you can still produce a good-looking document.

Design tools for non-designers. The Piktochard dashboard, with a wide choice of free templates to chose from.
The Piktochard dashboard, with a wide choice of free templates to chose from.

Once you’ve picked your type of template you get taken to the editing dashboard, which is very user-friendly and apparently bug-free as far as my own playing around went.  You can upload your own graphics or use the existing ones. There is also a good choice of typography even though it doesn’t seem to be the complete set of Google fonts, but still, you will be spoilt for choice.

When you are finished, it is easy to share your document. With the free plan, your sharing is limited to the generation of a lin. More sophisticated forms of sharing require the upgrade to a paid plan. Exporting is limited to the paid plans. The only platforms served seem to be Slideshare and Evernote, although from what I gather PDF export is also possible.

USE INSTEAD OF: Powerpoint; Keynote; InDesign; Illustrator.

GOOD FOR: Piktochart is one of the most brilliant design tools for non-designers when you need to create an infographic with many different pieces of information; when you need a quick solution for a multi-page presentation; or when you need to quickly create a printable invite or other type of 1-page printed document.

NOT SO GOOD FOR: More sophisticated types of presentations that need interactivity. Definitely not the right tool for social media messages, it’s not what it was created for. You can create multi-page documents but you won’t be able to create a printable book or brochure with a binding.

 

Easel.ly

The dashboard on Easelly, an online tool for the creation of infographics.
The dashboard on Easelly, an online tool for the creation of infographics.

Easel.ly has been around since 2012, and is a free design tool for non-designers that allows the creation of informational graphics to be shared on the web. The features on offer are comparable to those of Canva or Piktochart, although the interface looks a bit less sleek to me or to other design-obsessed types like me.

As usual, the free account has extremely limited capabilities: only 60 images, 10 fonts and only a handful of templates. However, if budget is an issue you will get along  splendidly with Easel.ly. The paid version, at only $3 per month, is hardly going to break the bank though: it may well be worth it if you need to create loads of infographics.

USE INSTEAD OF: InDesign; Illustrator.

GOOD FOR: If all you need are infographics then Easel.ly is great. I would even suggest to splash out on the paid version.

NOT SO GOOD FOR: Anything beyond a one-page infographic, so not for presentations, multi-page documents or social media graphics.

2. Tools for image editing and type overlay

PicMonkey

Home page of PicMonkey, a photo editor and design tool.
PicMonkey, a photo editor and design tool.

PicMonkey is an old favourite design tool for non-designers who need to create social media graphics. More than a desktop tool, it’s a great app to use on the move when you need to send out a social media message from a photo you’ve just taken, or from various other online sources.

PicMonkey has a nice arsenal of photo retouching and editing tools to change the mood of your image, or improve on it. It also comes with a good set of overlays, frames, textures and themes. Personally, I think that all these tools often lead non-designers to totally overdo it: just remember to keep it simple. In design, less is often more.

PicMonkey can be for free; however, as is often the case with this type of app, certain features need the upgrade to a paid plan. It’s cheap, anyway, with prices starting at €5.50 a month.

USE INSTEAD OF: Photoshop, Illustrator.

GOOD FOR: Posting to Instagram on the move, as well as to other social media platforms.

NOT SO GOOD FOR: Don’t expect too much from PicMonkey. Social posting is what it does best, but you won’t be able to design anything that needs a specific size such as a Facebook page banner or things like that. For those, you will need a more sophisticated tool like Canva or Snappa.

Pixlr

The interface of Pixlr, an online photo editor that can be used on all platforms on mobile as well as desktops.
Pixlr, an online photo editor that can be used on all platforms on mobile as well as desktops.

Pixlr is another online photo editor that also comes as a mobile app on all platforms. It is much more sophisticated than PicMonkey: if you have ever opened an Adobe Creative Suite program, you will recognise the interface. As a consequence, there is a little bit of a learning curve:  you will need to get familiar with layers and you will need to learn a little bit of the jargon in order to find yourself completely at ease around Pixlr. It’s a great tool though!

Prices are very contained: you can buy a whole year for €14.99.

USE INSTEAD OF: Photoshop.

GOOD FOR: Editing and creating images on the move, as well as creating size-specific banners and other graphics for Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, or anywhere pixel dimensions are important. Great for sophisticated photo editing and text layering, like a cheap, lesser, online Photoshop.

NOT SO GOOD FOR: Avoid if all you are looking for is a super-simple editor. Pixlr is a brilliant tool but, as said above, it’s more complex than PicMonkey and you should only use it if you are willing to spend time to learn photo manipulation and if your needs go beyond basic editing. The Pixlr Express version, on the other hand, provides a quick fix that’s nowhere near as good as PicMonkey.

 

Pablo

Pablo, an image editor from Buffer.
Pablo, an image editor from Buffer.

Pablo is an image editor that will appeal mostly to those who use Buffer for their social scheduling, as it’s part of the same family. Pablo is very simple and easy to use. So if you use Buffer and are looking for the path of least resistance, by all means just get Pablo and be done with it. It won’t do anything more sophisticated than a social media post, but in some cases simplicity means strength.

Pablo is available on desktop as well as a mobile app. So good for designing on the move as well as from the comfort of a bigger screen (my personal preference).

USE INSTEAD OF: Photoshop or InDesign.

GOOD FOR: Simple, hassle-free social media image creation for those who already use Buffer. Those who don’t may well want to try out the magical world of social media scheduling tools (a whole other post!).

NOT SO GOOD FOR: Pablo’s  USP is simplicity and Buffer connection, so don’t use if you need to design something a bit more complex or even just more creative.

Over

Over, a mobile app to overlay quirky images with inspiring quotes.
Over, a mobile app to overlay quirky images with inspiring quotes.

If your social media strategy is all about typographical quotes over quirky images, then you should really check Over out. Among design tools for non-designers, Over is great if you don’t have many more design needs than the creation of text over image graphics.

Over is a mobile-only app with no desktop version that allows you to overlay words on images creatively, with dramatic or scripted typography. So if this is your style, Over is for you.

The app download is free but there are a lot of in-app purchases. My impression is, from reading the reviews, that it’s become more complicated in recent times. It seems easy to rake up a big bill with all the necessary add-ons.

I haven’t used Over personally but it comes recommended to me from a known, direct and reliable source.

USE INSTEAD OF: Photoshop or InDesign.

GOOD FOR: Social media graphics on the move, with quotes set in beautiful and quirky typography over images.

NOT SO GOOD FOR: Anything beyond the above, including desktop editing, will need a different tool.

Conclusions

There are, of course, many more design tools for non-designers beyond these. My aim is to try, test and select for you, in order to spare you time.

Have you tried any of these design tools for non-designers yet? I would be very curious to hear what you think. Do you agree with my suggestions? Please feel free to comment below to share your experience.

8 thoughts on “Design beautiful social media graphics and documents: a guide to the best design tools for non-designers”

  1. Great post! Thanks. I use the free Canva right now but was thinking of upgrading – I think I will take another look at Snappa based on your review. I also use Easel.ly (paid version) and it is very good for Infographics, but it has limitations that they are currently working on.

    • Thanks Bev, really glad it helped. Canva is brilliant but Snappa seems simpler to me. They are both great tools. I also very much like Easel.ly, although as you say it does have limitations. All in all, they are all very useful design tools that make non-designers’ life much easier.

  2. Hi there this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually
    code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience.
    Any help would be enormously appreciated!

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