Design is many things. It is a talent, a process, and a skill. Design is also a solution, a profession, and a department inside of an organization. 

Design is also subjective. And, even though some people are known to have a better eye for design than others, we can all practice a few techniques that will make our design better. Whether you are a designer yourself, or you’re curious what a designer looks for, here are 10 things you can do that will improve your creative design.

1. Use a Grid

A grid is a tried and true friend. As the famous designer Paul Rand says, “You can't criticize geometry. It's never wrong.” You’ll find a grid toggle in almost every design program. And, every magazine uses a grid system, even though some systems are more complex than others (i.e. 12 columns vs. 24 columns). Once a good grid is set up, it saves you from doing math (a designer’s worst fear); it helps you quickly align your page into columns; and, it suggests a good width for those columns to be in that is in harmony with the rest of page. Alignment and harmony are important because they are things we subconsciously notice. 

creative design

2. Keep consistent ratios (for different screens)

Grids are useful for static designs. However, grids are less relevant when we design for more dynamic pages – i.e. a responsive web design and designing for multiple devices. The practice I now adopt is to make sure the space between my sections is consistent. For example, every new section might have 60px between the last element (or, for you type design nerds, the baseline of text) and my new element (aka “H1”, for you web design nerds). And, titles will have 20px between their body copy.

Pro Tip: If the text or pictures are in a container, then (like framing a prized piece of art) I want to keep the “matte” (or border) the same amount of width around all of the content. If there must be extra white space (space without content or “negative space”), it should be at the bottom. This method works well for dynamic or fluid layouts because the proportions will stay the same. I find it easier to design with this method when working on a responsive page.

design creative 

3. Alignment, please (aka “window structure does not equal design”)

What’s one of the most common design changes I request from a developer who has developed my design? It’s, “please right align the content” or “please align the logo in the header with the content of the page.” I once worked with a product owner that had a development background and wanted me to design all hierarchy similar to a tree structure (like the way you look at the folders on your computer). While this layout is great for folder structures and code, it’s not great for design. In design, we typically have other ways of showing how things connect with one another. And, we have more options for showing what’s important (besides indenting the content). So, use those design methods and ALIGN YOUR COLUMNS and CONTENT so that you don’t look like a child who can’t control their handwriting. Nicely aligned edges help guide the eye and will give your design a polished and sophisticated look.

creative design alignment

4. Color

Rainbows are great, but your design should not look like a bowl of Fruit Loops.

One of the most important lessons I learned in my graphic design classes is that I must limit my palette to three colors. As much as I love colors, I’ve learned that if I use more than three colors then my designs will begin to look tacky. When selected colors for your palette, there are several scientific ways to choose colors that go well together based on color theory and the color wheel. I will cover the three most popular combinations.

a. Monochromatic

Monochromatic colors look chic, especially the color blue.  In a monochromatic palette, you pick one color and stay with it. That color can be lighter or darker (up and down on the color wheel), but it’s not a color of a different hue (right to left on the color wheel). 

creative design monochromatic 

b. Analogous

Analogous colors are colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Examples are blue and green (which are tranquil colors) or red and orange (which are energetic colors). This color scheme gives you some variety without having conflicting moods in the color set.

improving creative design 

c. Complimentary

Complimentary colors are colors on opposite sides of the color wheel. For example, red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow. Pro tip: blue and orange are a popular color combination. Just take a look at a few different movie posters and you’ll see what I mean.

creative design improvements

5. Contrast

Contrast is the value difference between colors. Black and white is the combination with the most contrast that you can get. Strong contrast can make an important element stand out while a design with little contrast helps elements blend. I often find designers with print backgrounds have too much contrast in their web design so that it’s hard for a user to look at for long periods of time. In print design, strong contrast is eye catching. But, for web design, subtle contrast helps your user view your page longer. 

Pro Tip: I use dark grays for my text instead of black. Also, you’ll see subtle variations of white on many websites to distinguish different areas of content. It’s like painting your house off-white, you may not see that it’s not white until you put white with it. This is a general rule of thumb to help reduce your web page’s contrast - using subtle variations of white for backgrounds and dark grays for text. 

 creative design help

6. Font

Choosing the right type of font is important because this is your text’s tone. Font conveys a personality, much like the sound of our voice conveys our personality. One of the reasons Helvetica is a popular font is because it is authoritative yet open and friendly, all at the same time. Also, something to keep in mind is that if a font costs money it’s probably worth paying for it. For example, Adobe Typekit is a great service that gives you access to a variety of well-designed fonts.

Pro Tip: If you need free fonts for the web, Google Fonts, and  Font Squirrel are great places to look. Depending on the project, Lost Type is a good font resource for your print project.

Regardless of where you find your font, limit yourself to one or two fonts – moderation is key. If you decide to use two fonts, pick two that compliment each other. To help you, here are two blogs I recommend that help determine how to pick matching fonts: Font Pair, Just My Type, and Canva's Design School. Typically, you should pick a good serif font with a good sans-serif font (unless your boss hates serifed fonts because it reminds them of something that happened in the past. If this happens, then pick two nice san serif fonts or see if you can get away with slab serif).

font for creative design 

7. Weight

Font weight adds interest to your message and helps the reader quickly scan the message for important content. Varying the font size helps the reader, too. The convention is bold for emphasis like in titles (or a point you are trying to drive home). You can also use italics for emphasis because it stands out in a paragraph of text. When italicized text is on it’s own however, it’s used for copy less important than the body copy. I love italic serifed fonts. There’s a whispered charm to them like they are telling me a posh secret. 

Pro Tip: A popular trend is to use lightweight fonts for titles (aka H1 and H2 headers). A large font in a lightweight font just oozes sophistication and elegance. A trend I like using is choosing a small font with a bold weight and in all caps for titles, paired with a light font and a bigger size for the content. I like using this pairing a lot when the content isn’t substantial (and the content needs more emphasis than the title is).

creative design font

8. Hierarchy

Hierarchy helps us scan faster. It also helps us understand what is important and what is not. To determine if your hierarchy is suffering, have someone look at your design for 30 seconds and then ask them what they remember when you take the design away. If your primary message, or the first thing you wanted them to notice, isn’t mentioned, then you have hierarchy issues. If this happens, then examine your design and try to determine how you can make the important things more important (try making them bigger, bolder, or a different color) and work on making the unimportant things less prominent (try making them smaller, lighter, or put them in italics).

creative design hierarchy 

9. Clear call to action

We are all busy people doing multiple things at once, so if you don’t design with a clear call-to-action on the page, then you're making your design difficult to understand. You should only have one primary button on your web page. Usually, adding a color to your primary button will make it stand out. If you have a secondary call-to-action, make sure it doesn’t have as much contrast. Try outlining it so that it doesn’t compete in the hierarchy with the primary call-to-action.

At a glance, anyone should know what to do on your page and what the next step is. If this isn’t obvious, then you’ve confused your audience. If you confuse your audience, then they won’t know what to do next or how to use your app.

 calltoAction for creative designs

10. Real Content

Lorem ipsum is excellent if you need filler content to help finish your design. I especially like the site Meet the Ipsums if you need to find a fake copy to use. But, if you can get some real content (like real numbers or category names) to use, then I highly recommend using it. Several times, I’ve run into the issue where the design looks great, but it doesn’t work when implemented because the product names turn out to be longer than expected, or the actual content doesn’t work with the layout. 

creative design

If your creative design has a strong layout, chic color palette, charismatic type, a clear sense of importance, and real content, then it will have strong legs to stand on.  And, with all of these principles in place, you will have better communicated your content to your audience and have provided them with a good user experience.

As Paul Rand said, “‘Don’t try to be original. Just try to be good.” Meaning, you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Use the principles that you work well and begin to apply these as your own. After you’ve created your style, talk about your work and share why it is successful so others can learn.

To learn more about how we approach problem-solving for our customers, including our software development process, click the image below.

Get Farther Faster with a free copy of our Guide to New Product Development Process for Software

Click to Comment