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How to Drastically Improve Your Designs


Design is everywhere. We see it in on billboards as we drive down the street. When we go to a restaurant and look at the menus, we see it. When we sit down on our couch and watch television, it’s visible on the commercials, advertisements, and even the movies and TV shows.

It is all around us and it stimulates and motivates much of our decisions subconsciously every day. The encyclopedia refers to graphic design as,

“the process of communicating visually using text and images to present information. Graphic design practice embraces a range of cognitive skills, aesthetics and crafts, including typography, visual arts and page layout. Like other forms of design, graphic design often refers to both the process (designing) by which the communication is created and the products (designs) which are generated.”


What is design? Link

What is design? To design is much more than assembling, ordering, or editing. To design is to add value and meaning to something, whether it be a menu or a magazine cover. It simplifies, emphasizes, influences, and even impacts. Design is both a verb and noun. It is an integral part of everyday life, especially in America. Almost everything we do is impacted by design. Let me illustrate my point. When most Americans go to the supermarket to buy toothpaste, they typically buy the package that has the most eye-catching and appealing design. Why is that? It is because the design of the product inspired and motivated them to buy the item. This is why design is such a crucial part of advertising. Here’s1 a great article on AIGA about what is graphic design.

What is a graphic designer? Link

Now that we know about the basic definition of design, I would like to talk about graphic designers now. A graphic designer is basically a communicator. Just like a motivational speaker communicates his message to his audience, the job of the graphic designer is also to communicate and send the message to the buyer or to the viewer.

A graphic designer is not only a communicator, but he is also a translator. He translates the idea into a picture that allows people to see and understand the message. For example, if a magazine was just all text, it would not be as interesting and the message that it conveys would not really interest the reader.

We have talked about the concept of design and what is a graphic designer. I will now give you six pointers on how to improve your designs drastically. By the way, these are all alliterated and they all start with the letter "C" so they are easy to remember.

Concept Link


When you start off in Photoshop, you already need to have a concept of what you are going to create. The best artists always have that in mind. Does that stifle your creativity? NO! It definitely helps to have a plan of attack when using your software. Instead of wasting your time creating a concept, why don’t you have one before you even start designing? If there is no concept, message, no idea, no story behind a design, then it is not graphic design. Good design stirs the reader to action. By the way, that is what good design is all about. When I create a flyer or a brochure, I want the person who receives it to not simply put it in the trash when he gets it from the mail, but I want him to look at it, read it, and respond to it. That should be your goal as well.


By the way, I would recommend to start off with a pencil and paper. Some people might say that it’s old-fashioned, but it definitely works. I’ve interview some great designers and every time I have asked them about where designs start, they say that it starts with a concept and that concept starts on a piece of paper. You don’t have to be great at sketching and drawing as this is just the first step. Drawing is simply a means to an end. It helps you to quickly visualize your ideas without wasting too much time on the details.

Communicate – Don’t Just Decorate Link


“Designers can create normalcy out of chaos; they can clearly communicate ideas through the organising and manipulating of words and pictures.”
— Jeffrey Veen

Some people think that graphic design is just throwing pictures and words on a digital canvas and making it look good. These people are ignorant and they completely miss the mark when it comes to good design. A graphic designer must not use an element in his design if it has no purpose. A real graphic designer would be able to explain, if asked, the purpose of everything that he has done in his artwork. This area is where most amateur designers fail and show their lack of knowledge in the field of design.

There is a simple design rule that I have learned over the years; just because you learn how to recreate or to make a certain effect (such as gradients, shadows, etc.), that does not mean that you have to try to impress everyone by applying those effects to all your designs. In most cases, the simpler the design, the better it is visually and the more it attracts readers. If you will learn to be conservative and creative with your designs, you will experience greater results.

“You cannot not communicate.”
— Paul Watzlawik

Choose Fonts Wisely Link


Too Many Fonts

Nothing is more annoying than a page filled with 30 different fonts. Most people would not even read a page that has too much going on. I personally look at different pieces of junk mail and it’s amazing how unprofessional some of the designs are. If you are going to spend money advertising, you might as well get it right. Hire the right designer. Make sure that he understands typography and fonts.

There are many factors that come into play when choosing fonts. I’m not going to go into too much details, but I’ve included a great list of articles below that you can read to expound more on the subject.

Colors – On Purpose Link


Don’t just grab some color out of the air. You need to know what the colors will do when you combine them and you also need to know what these colors will mean to the audience. For example, I would never use the color pink to design a flyer for a Law Enforcement Agency. Why? Because when people see that color, they typically associate it with being effeminate, soft, and girly. Certain colors like red usually attract readers and that is why that color is used for advertising reduced prices. If you have ever paid attention to the signage in the supermarket, you will never see a for sale sign that is in the color of blue. This is because blue is a calm color and it does not visually draw the eyes of the by-passer. Is it a coincidence that the cars that are stolen the most in the United States are red? I don’t think so. Color is very important when it comes to design and a good designer needs to realize this.

Are you having trouble with choosing color? I’ve also included a list of essential resources for you to further your knowledge about colors.

Contrast Link


Using contrast in your designs can have a great impact. Contrast is one the main principles of design. Contrast is defined as:

"A difference, especially a strong dissimilarity, between entities or objects compared."

Well, how is this useful in design? Contrast can be used to distinguish the important parts of the design from the regular information. Four of the most used ways of contrast are size, alignment, color, and type. Using contrast is very effective and you can see this design principle used not only in print design but in web design as well. Here’s a short excerpt about contrast from this great article11.

"Contrast adds interest to the page and provides a means of emphasizing what is important or directing the reader’s eye. On a page without contrast, the reader doesn’t know where to look first or what is important. Contrast makes a page more interesting so the reader is more apt to pay attention to what is on the page. Contrast aids in readability by making headlines and subheadings stand out. Contrast shows what is important by making smaller or lighter elements recede on the page to allow other elements to take center stage."

Extra resources: Link

Create Negative Space Link


Create negative space and don’t just fill it up. Negative space is often referred as ‘white space.’ Many designers claim that the white space is usually more important than the stuff that is in it. The content that is within the negative space always calls for people’s attention. This white space separates the unimportant objects to the focal point of the design. By the way, when a designer tries to fill up all the negative space, the design becomes too strong visually and it tends to push people away. Just like we don’t like to look at a page that is all text, most people also don’t like looking at designs where there are too many focal points and we can’t tell what to look at. Here are some articles that further explain negative space.

In conclusion, I would like to quote April Greiman, a famous graphic design artist. She said,

“If a design does not feel good in your heart, what the mind thinks doesn’t matter.”

Even though I mentioned those pointers to you, they are not really what graphic design is all about. Aside from graphic design being able to look good to the viewers, the design must also look good to the creator. Remember that the pointers that I gave you are just general guidelines to help you in your design, and not to hamper your creativity. I hope that reading this article has inspired and challenged you to be a better designer. I sincerely wish that you would apply the tips that I gave you.

Footnotes Link

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Former editor in chief of Designinformer.

  1. 1

    Hey man, this is an excellent article, thanks for a great read tonight :)

    For the Designer section, Chris Coyier had a funny-yet-serious list of just what a Designer is these days:

  2. 3

    I was waiting for your new article, Jad… as usual a perfect post. Thanks for your great help!
    .-= piervix´s latest Blog Entry – January 2010, Fresh Bookmarks To Collect The Best Of The Web =-.

  3. 5

    Some excellent tips, Jad. I couldn’t agree more with your negative space paragraph. I’ll have to use those key points when I finalise my design for @addtodesign.

    • 6

      Yes Matthew, definitely focus on the negative space while you are designing your site. By the way, I can’t wait to see it. Make sure to send me a link once it’s up. Good luck on your blogging endeavors.

  4. 7

    This is great!

    I like it when you said “Design is everywhere.” – that is very true.
    Love paying attention to details around me.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • 8

      You are welcome Marco. It’s very interesting to observe what’s around us. You can definitely learn many design lessons just by being observant of your surroundings.

  5. 9

    I was falling at sleep but was buzzed by this article!

    Great article Jad!
    .-= Lam Nguyen – AEXT.NET Mag´s latest Blog Entry – Four Common Steps Every New Blogger Would Face When Starting A Blog =-.

  6. 11

    Another great article! Really enjoyed reading this – thanks!

  7. 12

    Great article! I really like how you used the quotes in the article! Keep up the good work!

  8. 13

    Nice post Jad.

    I think it’s important to be reminded of these rules from time-to-time. The mechanics of great design are pretty critical to success in this industry. These are definitely the tools that every designer needs to be intimately familiar with.

    Of course, I also believe that sometimes a design can go from good to great by breaking one of these rules. Once a master has learned to use the tools of the trade, intentionally mis-using them can have a pretty striking impact as well.

    Lots to think about.

    • 14

      Well said Richard. There are definitely some times where breaking these rules can add that added impact. The only thing is that a designer must master and learn these rules first before he can know when to intentionally break them. :D

  9. 15

    Excellent read, great tips.
    I’m totally agreed with closing words: “Aside from graphic design being able to look good to the viewers, the design must also look good to the creator”!

    Thanks for sharing Jad!
    .-= Nikola Lazarevic´s latest Blog Entry – Free Wallpaper – Mount Everest 1952 =-.

    • 16

      Yes, that’s one of my favorite design quotes. It definitely makes it an enjoyable experience when the final design looks good to the client but even better if you like it as well.

  10. 17

    An excellent post Jad. Probably one of the best there is right now on the true dynamics of web design. I particularly agree with font choices, it is a factor which I have taken into serious account when re-designing Tripping Words. Design is definitely about effective communication and “reader-engagement”

    Another great article.

    .-= Josh´s latest Blog Entry – Content-Driven Design – Let’s Throw out Tradition =-.

  11. 19

    Great post Jad,

    I agree with the last quote:

    “If a design does not feel good in your heart, what the mind thinks doesn’t matter.”

    That is why I always let a design sink in for a day or so, before I send it to the customer. If it still feels right the next day, it usually stays right.
    .-= Vunky´s latest Blog Entry – Rounded Corners are Dead =-.

    • 20

      That’s a great technique Vunky and it’s one that I’ve used many times.

      Actually, even famous designers such as James White use that technique. It definitely helps to see your design with a fresh set of eyes.

  12. 21

    “If a design does not feel good in your heart, what the mind thinks doesn’t matter.” … a very wise woman indeed, that April! And an excellent read Jad! Thanks!
    .-= Sneh Roy´s latest Blog Entry – Project 365 Vector Characters – Rover For Day 35 =-.

  13. 23

    Hey there,

    really good article, I agree with your tips, but there is something you’ve missed. The experiment, the trial and error, I’ve recently wrote an article called Why you should never stop experimenting (sorry for the intervention).

    But in my opinion in order to improve your designs it’s not only needed to know the basics and the theory, because the design process is pretty individual.

    So in addition to your great tips I would add Experiment.


    • 24

      Hey Alexander, thanks for adding your thoughts. I read your article and you have a great point. We also wrote an article here on Design Informer about experimentation. It’s definitely something that all designers should be doing. I also wrote the article for Smashing Magazine about designing something everyday, which really is just all about experimentation with design. :D

      • 25

        Thanks for your good post but will love if links to both articles (if that is not a bother) Design Informer about experimentation and Smashing Magazine’s were provided.

        Thanks again for sharing, definitely valid points in there!

  14. 26

    Very good and helpful article Jad!

  15. 27

    Very inspiring article. :)
    .-= DesignFellow´s latest Blog Entry – CodeIgniter quick reference cheat sheet version 2.0 released =-.

  16. 28

    Great post! Particularly liked the section ‘Communicate – Don’t Just Decorate’. I think a great designer knows when not to add, but when to take away. The best designs are indeed often the simplest. Extra superfluous elements just detract from the message, and that’s really the difference between art and design, art is expression, but design should have a clear message.
    .-= Codesquid´s latest Blog Entry – Usable and accessible web design for the iPad =-.

    • 29

      I think a great designer knows when not to add, but when to take away.

      Great point there! That’s why it’s often not wise to just copy somebody’s design or a technique because often times, by doing so, you might convey the wrong message. A designer knows not only how to do a certain technique but he also knows why he is using that particular technique.

  17. 30

    Bravo! Bravo!! Best piece I’ve read on the topic in recent times :) :)

  18. 32

    Another great article from Di. I agree with all the points which you mentioned above, specially Communicate – Don’t Just Decorate. Thanks Jad

  19. 33

    Awesome as usual, Jad. I love the way you challenge us all to greater quality design and blogging!
    .-= Brandon Cox´s latest Blog Entry – Sometimes I Wonder About My Son =-.

    • 34

      Thanks Brandon. That’s definitely what I’m trying to do and I’m not only challenging everyone but the person that I continually try to challenge the most and push the hardest is myself. ;)

  20. 35

    Very good article and thanks for including us!
    .-= Teylor Feliz´s latest Blog Entry – Super Bowl XLIV: From a Designer’s Perspective =-.

  21. 36

    Very cool article, love how you alliterated the pointers, these are some of the basic but most important things to remember when designing anything, Very Nice! :)
    .-= loswl´s latest Blog Entry – Recapturing Art And Design in The Church =-.

  22. 38

    Very cool article, I like the Communicate part most )
    .-= Waasys´s latest Blog Entry – Cartoon Character – Dexter =-.

  23. 39

    What a great writeup! Thanks Jad!
    .-= Catalin Zorzini´s latest Blog Entry – How to Fail at Your Design Business =-.

  24. 40

    Neat stuff! An enjoyable post.

  25. 41

    Brilliant article! and WOW, I really love how you style your posts. Thanks for sharing mate!

  26. 43

    Great article. I actually went over much of this same material with my Web site design students recently. I’ll have to link them over to check this out as well – will serve as a nice reinforcement for the messages I presented in the classroom.

  27. 45

    Consider this bookmarked. Great article!
    .-= Robert Bratcher´s latest Blog Entry – Designer or Artist, Maybe Both: Crossover Appeal =-.

  28. 46

    excellent article! Thanks for sharing your insight, keep up the great blogging!
    .-= Ben G´s latest Blog Entry – Experimental Design – Hip to the Hop =-.

  29. 47

    Great illustration of some common elements of good design.

    I would say you used all the elements in your post to show all of the elements of design.

    Thanks for the work dI.
    .-= bryan noel´s latest Blog Entry – Bryanjnoel: Crazy, and 14 – Gang directory on blog: =-.

  30. 49

    This is one of the best articles about graphic design I’ve read in a long time! I will undeniably refer to this regularly, and send the link to a few people I know (friends and colleagues). The points you’ve emphasized are quintessential to graphic design. Thanks!
    .-= Laurent JOUVIN´s latest Blog Entry – Letterheads And Personalized Notes For Your Business =-.

  31. 51

    This article should be a must-to-read for both students and professionals (even a clients too :D)

    Great job man!

  32. 52

    Great article! I learned a lot of these from a traditional print design education. It’s good to see basic design principles coming back to the web :)
    .-= Amber Weinberg´s latest Blog Entry – Cape Fear Commercial – XHTML/CSS, jQuery, PHP =-.

  33. 54

    This is a great article that I will definitely add to my bookmarks!

  34. 55

    As with everyone above, great post.

    Regarding the fonts, I learned early in my career to limit fonts to 2 or 3 per piece/project and use the variants (italics, bold, etc.) to add even more variety.

    As for the contrast and creating negative space, I find SO many blogs don’t follow those rules. They get jumbled together and I’m lost as soon as the page loads. This site is a great example of contrast and negative space.

    Thanks for the reminder; always good to come back to basics.

    • 56

      Hi Nikki, good suggestions. I also try to keep it to a limit of 2-3 fonts and I also try to vary the style of those fonts. For instance, A Sans Serif font would not be mixed with another Sans Serif font.

  35. 57

    great list, it really gets you thinking.
    .-= Matthew Heidenreich´s latest Blog Entry – Simplistic Black and White Portfolio Layout in Photoshop =-.

  36. 58

    Excellent article, Jad. This might be your best one yet. I agree with you on all the points.

    Well, i must admit, even though you gave an appropriate finish to the article, we know that these Big ‘C’s are the golden rules for improving your designs. Everything else, i believe is secondary.

    I would like to add one – Never Confuse your Clients with Complex designs… Simplicity is the Key. Especially, some of the ads from Coco Cola. Sometimes, “Words speak louder than the design”.

    I loved reading this and I am very thankful to you for spending so much time on preparing this article.
    .-= Richie´s latest Blog Entry – Interview with Photomanipulation Master, Erik Johansson =-.

    • 59

      Thanks Richie. Glad you liked the article. I understand what you are trying to say about complex designs, but I do believe that you can use complex designs as well. You just have to know when the right time is to use them. :D

  37. 60

    Great post again!
    Thanks for sharing with us!

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    Hey Jad, thank you for posting your thoughts on the design process. However I feel you missed off the very first step of a design process – the hybrid area of where a copywriter/ideas person & a designer can trade off ideas in a brain storm or idea slamming process.

    The problem with getting straight into sketching is that you’re already implementing and not thinking outside of the box. Why is a trainer the most important implementation to use? What about sandals, boots… Etc. I’ve chatted with lots of web designers in interviews and outside and this is the most important step which holds people back from being creative as sketching directly forces repetition of what we’re most comfortable with and have done before.

    Otherwise I really liked it and would love to see your thoughts on the above in your article.
    .-= Kai Chan Vong´s latest Blog Entry – More redesigning =-.

    • 63

      Hey Kai. Great point! I should have talked about that more in the “Concept” section. I agree with you though. I definitely don’t start sketching first.

      These are actually just some of the points. I think this might be a series. There are definitely some more points that I didn’t add to this article that I could have added.

  40. 64

    An excellent post Jad…
    I truly agree that concepts should be first thought of in detail rather than directly executing it on the computer.

  41. 65

    Intresting post. Thanks
    .-= SM´s latest Blog Entry – Новые возможности Blogger (Blogger in Draft) =-.

  42. 66

    One of the best articles I’ve ever read. Great Job!!

  43. 67

    hey JAD, how you do these, the way you described here is very well and register in mind forever, and authentic. !!
    .-= sriganesh´s latest Blog Entry – Giveaway – 250 stickers from Uprinting =-.

    • 68

      Hey! Well, I tried to convey it as simple as possible so everyone can understand it. I know that DI has many readers from different countries so I try to make the article easy to read for everyone. :D

  44. 69

    Great article to read for designers, even if I learned a lot of these from a traditional print design education.
    .-= DJaVuPixel´s latest Blog Entry – 100 Social Media Icon Set of 32 pixel =-.

  45. 70

    Very nice post about the design process. I made this one one of my three links today on my Design Thought for the Day blog:

    All the best, Ted

  46. 72

    Brilliant post. Can’t wait to get though all the different links. Thanks!

    • 73

      Thanks Martin! By the way, when I saw your gravatar, it immediately jumped out at me that you are the owner of Icon Finder. Keep up the great work man! I visit the site on almost every project that I have to use for some icons that I can use. Definitely a great site!

  47. 74

    The “Choose Fonts Wisely” section was very useful for me,
    .-= bractus´s latest Blog Entry – welcome =-.

  48. 75

    Great info and well organized. Will post this on my project board to keep me focused and inspired. I especially liked the “Create Negative Space” point. Too often, I’ve come across many sites that cram as much info they can into every nook and cranny of a page.


  49. 77

    nice article, negative space is one of my favourites… certainly were too may fonts on the sign, hurt my brain deciding what to focus on first!

  50. 78

    Great article! Good tips and nice layed out.


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