I recently designed a new postcard for my jewelry business. I think it turned out really nice, and it’s not obvious that it was DIY. A friend saw the piece and said, “where did you learn how to do that?” Hmmm… where did I learn to do that? Well, I’ve been in the marketing and design world for my entire career, but I don’t have any formal training. I think what makes it possible for me to produce something that looks pretty darned good is that I rely on a few basic concepts. I use repetition in colors, fonts, shapes and other elements. And I think carefully about the alignment of text and graphics. Some of this stuff I just sort of picked up over the years, but it all made more sense to me after reading three particular books.
The Non-Designer’s Design & Type Books by Robin Williams demystifies the basic components of design. She identifies four design principles: proximity, alignment, repetition and contrast, and explains each one and how they work together. She touches on color theory and creating a total graphic package to support a brand. In the second half of the book, she goes in-depth on designing with type.
Now, I strongly recommend that you work with a graphic designer. Even if you just use them for your logo and to help you establish a graphics package for your brand, it will be money well spent. But, I still think you should understand these design concepts, even if you don’t do it yourself. You will be a better client to that designer and you’ll get better results if you train your eye and can articulate why you like or dislike some element of the design.
The Non-Designer’s Web Book by Robin Williams and John Tollett also covers some of the basic design concepts from the first book, but applies them to the web. I’m not sure if this book has been updated, so some of the details might be a bit dated in terms of technology. However, the design concepts are universal and timeless.
And finally, a book that should be required reading for anyone that does anything on the internet, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. This guy is a web usability expert, and he just makes so darned much sense! After reading this book, you’ll have a whole new perspective on how users view your website. You’ll be in a better position to think about who they are, what they’re looking for, and how you can lead them there painlessly.
Before I close, I must give a word of warning. After reading any of these books, you might find your tolerance level dropping for any nonsensical design or website navigation choices. The next time you see Papyrus font used for a long paragraph of text (that will surely be centered and floating on the page), you will cringe. When you click on a navigation button only to find completely unexpected content lurking behind it, you will think of bashing your fist through your monitor. Fear not. This is a small price to pay for having the knowledge to help you do better. You can rise above!