Pro Tips: Graphic Design for the Uninitiated

A piece of graphic design is more than just an embellishment.

One common misconception of design is that it’s all about beautification. Many people approach graphic designers with the customary task of making this and that look pretty. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, most people overlook the functionality of graphic design and focus on its aesthetic significance instead.

This idea has led many to avoid having a firsthand experience with graphic design. For instance, people whose right brains are not as keen as their left usually find it difficult and even intimidating to design because they feel that it has more to do with self-expression and beautification than it does with anything else. For them, being asked to design a simple poster could be tantamount to being commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Now although graphic design is a form of art – as it is a skill and an avenue to express beauty, emotion, and creativity – there is still more to it than just art for art’s sake.

Essentially, effective graphic design is grounded in its information architecture or the way it organizes and presents information. It concerns itself with guiding a particular audience to understanding a certain material and eventually producing a desired action. For example, street signs are designed to inform us of where and when to move without having to use a lot of brainpower. Imagine having to think about when you should take a left the same way you would process a math problem. This is why graphic design is meant to simplify things. It visualizes a particular message and makes it as accessible and digestible as possible.

In other words, one is only able to truly appreciate a piece of design when he is able to comprehend the message it wishes to convey.

This is why businesses use graphic design to help them develop their systems and reach out to their customers. Similar to product developers, graphic designers go through a meticulous planning process that involves identifying a problem, a target market and formulating and communicating a suitable solution.

By managing the appearance of products and promotional materials, it communicates what the business is all about and whom it is for.

Today’s modern age provides a wide audience with tools to enhance their skills and knowledge on design. Different software and mobile apps give virtually anyone the ability to experiment on design without the pressure of being in a professional environment. Thus, it isn’t so difficult for someone who doesn’t have a background in graphic (or any) design to experience it firsthand.

One need only keep in mind that in order to effectively communicate a particular message, a piece of design should have the following essential traits:


Legibility can be achieved by organizing information. Establishing a hierarchy of ideas is a fundamental step in this process. Identify which ideas need more emphasis and use simple techniques such as increasing the font size or changing the text color in order to achieve this. Likewise, structure content to enable fluid eye movement. Audiences won’t appreciate and comprehend a graphic if it gives them a migraine. Finally, resist the constant temptation to add ‘glitter’. Again, design is not all about making things look fancy.

There is logic behind every piece of design and too much embellishment could blind audiences from realizing this.

One program that can help you experiment with legibility is Quark DesignPad – a mobile app that enables users to create layout concepts and wireframes. While it’s not intended to create layouts for publishing, this app helps you focus on communicating your message and creating a clear structure for your layout. With this app, you don’t have to worry about making your work look fancy (yet). You just have to concentrate on building the framework and organizing the contents of your material.


Great design is a harmonious blend between the message and the graphic elements. From font choices to color palettes, design effectively communicates by coordinating its elements and determining what’s suitable for its audience.

The human brain is wired to anything visual and is heavily influenced by what the eye sees. This is where the aesthetic significance of design comes into play. Graphic elements need to be selected logically in order to avoid confusing (or worse, offending) people. Designers present information in a way that is attractive not only for them, but for their audiences. For instance, mixing all the colors of the rainbow for an ad on Men’s Health may not be the best way to gain your audience’s favor.

Coordinating design elements entail training your eye to have good taste. This isn’t the easiest thing to do, but luckily, your phone or tablet might have the perfect tool for you. Adobe Color CC is a mobile app that can help you capture practically any color combination you see with your camera. With a simple point and shoot, you get to save color palettes that can inspire you in your design work. Likewise, this app gives you an idea of what does and doesn’t look good out there. So when you spot something that repulses you, simply capture its colors to remind you what not to apply to your designs.

Now if you want to have a freer hand in practicing this trait, you can try programs like Adobe Ideas and Paper by FiftyThree. These apps enable you to sketch your ideas using more advanced tools like vectors, color wheels, and brushes. Think of them as digital sketchbooks, complete with all the materials you need to experiment on the visual expression of your designs.


Design doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact, design shouldn’t be complicated at all. With so much information out there, the goal of every design work should be to make its message stand out – something you can never achieve if there is clutter.

Again, too much embellishment is suicide. If your audience sees your design as merely ornamental, then your message is as good as gone.


Bottom line is, when it comes to designing information, start and stick with the basic goal of communicating a particular message to a specific market Always ask: Is my audience going to understand or like this? Are my designs going to produce the desired action? Are all these elements necessary to achieve my goal? Relying just on your personal preferences will often result in miscommunication because what may be clear to you won’t always be clear to others.


Gian Abaya is a Graphic Designer for Elevation Partners Inc.
Connect with Gian on Twitter



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