Design is about more than just creating something beautiful. Great graphic design summarizes an idea with consistent imagery and branding that resonates with its audience.
What thoughts, ideas, or call to action would you like to present to the public? Great design summarizes these ideas and brand in a way that’s pleasing to the eye. Your audience may not be willing to read a document that is trying to recruit new students or call attention to a new research speaker, but they will be willing to have a look at images and design that serves the same purpose and is done in a consistent (branded) way.
The guidelines of good design should be considered when placing type and graphics in a layout so the resulting design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also technically accurate and effective. When done well, design will amplify your reach, clarify your message, and garner more attention from your audience. All representations of our brand should be visually similar to build trust and to ensure that our brand is recognizable.
Consider these guidelines when beginning the design process:
Whom do you want your message to reach? What is the group or type of person you most want to hear your message? What graphics, colors, images and text will appeal to them and be consistent with your messaging? As with all marketing strategies, your design should fit with your target market. A good practice is to use language that is easily understandable by your target market.
Call to action
Each piece should have a clear and concise purpose, a “call to action.” What do you want your audience to do after viewing your piece? What is the next step? You’ve asked for their attention, now what? If awareness is the only discernible goal of a piece, reconsider the messaging and elements of the design.
Keeping elements in your design aligned is crucial. If your design is left-justified or right-justified, check to make sure all of the elements align to that imaginary vertical line. If your elements are centered, make sure they are not only centered on the page, but centered relative to each other, as well. Use guides and margins as aids in keeping things aligned.
Don’t place text or other elements too close to the edge of the page. The exception is when you want a graphic element or photo to “bleed” off the edge of the page, that is, to extend beyond the trim edge and leave no white margin.
When batch printing materials, cutting each individually cannot be fully accurate. Always keep important information away from the edges to avoid accidental trimming. Rule of thumb: allow 1/8” (.125) bleed when necessary, and for an average margin allow a minimum ¼” (.25) to 1” depending on materials you are trying to produce.
Limit the number of different fonts on a single piece. One font is often enough. Consider using the different sizes, weights, and variations of a font (font family) to bring emphasis and rhythm to a design. Use larger or heavier type for more important information and smaller or lighter type for secondary information. Two complementary fonts can be used effectively if done well. Using multiple fonts often makes your design visually cluttered. Additionally, choose fonts that are easy to read, even from a distance.
Avoid drop shadows on text. Typical drop shadows are outdated as a design tool and often make text harder to read.
Use high-resolution photos
It is easier to reduce a large photo file (hi-res) than enlarge a low resolution photo file. Blurry and jagged photos can turn off any reader. Worse, readers may equate low-resolution images to unprofessional services and lack of attention to detail. Always use crisp and clear photos for your collateral material.
Limit your color palette to one to three primary colors and one or two accent colors. Our primary colors are Blue and Red, and those colors should always make up the majority of your graphic elements. See the Color section of this brand style guide for more information.
Make sure there is enough contrast between your text and the background. Using a bold graphic, color or photo behind your text can make it harder to read. NOTE: For posting designs online there are some accessibility compliance issues to keep in mind. See Accessibility section of the branding site for more information.
Keep your content brief. Take into account the design and the size of your project, whether a brochure, flyer, postcard or a digital ad, the area where you could write or place content is limited. Don’t overwhelm your audience by squeezing in a lot of information. Write your content in a concise way. Leave only the essentials.
Divide copy into digestible sections by using white space.
The appearance of your text can affect your reader’s interest. It is tempting to try to use every available space to place text or other elements. At first glance, long paragraphs look like giant walls of text that could turn off your audience. White space (the area around a certain design element) helps alleviate this strain. Allowing your design to “breathe” with appropriate amounts of white space will create a stronger design that is more enticing to view, easier to understand, and more effective at connecting with your audience.
When in doubt, remove. Distill your designs down to the most essential elements. Cut text. Reduce the number of photos. Use graphics that are simple and clean. Again keep in mind branding – your design piece should represent the university’s brand.
Things like wrong or missing logos, spelling or grammar mistakes could steal the attention of your audience from the information itself. So always proofread your design and its content before posting or submitting to printer.