If you’re like most people, you know good design when you see it.
There’s something about it that draws you in and inspires you to take the next step.
But when it comes to creating your business’s website or marketing materials, you’re not always sure how to produce that same effect for your customers.
These six design principles can help you do just that, better reaching and serving customers with your website, business cards and more.
1. Line it up.
One of the most important elements of design is alignment. This means text, images and other design elements line up with each other.
It’s a simple, but powerful, principle because alignment creates an unconscious visual guide for viewers. It introduces order into the design and then also leads the customer’s eye through the material so they can easily digest the information.
Ads, websites or marketing materials without alignment have the opposite effect, resulting in a viewer’s eyes bouncing around the design, unsure of where to look first.
Take a look at the ads below. The first ad, which we ran a few years ago in Central Penn Business Journal, provides clear alignment that naturally draws the eye down the left side of the advertisement so your eye quickly processes all of the information.
The second ad causes your eye to bounce back and forth on the design. It takes longer to read, longer to digest and, for the viewer, can communicate a slightly disordered and chaotic feeling.
2. Be consistent.
One of the biggest issues our team often encounters with businesses is inconsistent brand portrayal.
For example, a website uses one set of colors, fonts and overall design. But the colors, fonts and overall feel of imagery on social media, print and digital ads, and other marketing materials are quite different.
Inconsistencies like this dilute the power of a business’s marketing because the brand becomes fragmented for the customer. In essence, each different medium introduces a new brand rather than reinforcing the original brand.
Only through the use of consistency will a customer be able to form associations between design elements and branding, allowing viewers to recognize a brand easily and quickly.
That’s why businesses must use the same type of backgrounds, colors and font choices regardless of the medium.
Think of the Golden Arches. Whether you spot them on a billboard, a display ad, a magazine article or a commercial, you immediately think of McDonald’s because of the red colors, the golden arch logo and, if there’s a tagline, the font choice.
This allows each ad to build on the power of previous campaigns, thus increasing awareness of the fast-food chain’s latest food offerings and specials and positioning it as a top choice the next time you need to grab a meal quickly.
3. Choose the right imagery.
A lackluster design almost always starts with lackluster imagery. Remember, it takes less than 50 milliseconds for a customer to form a first impression. The right image makes those milliseconds count.
If you don’t have the budget for a full on-location photo shoot, investing in stock photography can be helpful. But you should never settle for a random stock photo that only vaguely fits your company’s messaging.
Here are a few tips from HubSpot to make sure you’re using stock photos wisely:
- Don’t use a random image just to fill space.
- Do modify the image to make sense with your specific content.
- Consider cropping the image or removing elements from it.
- Don’t use stock photos for every single photo on your website or marketing material.
- Always optimize the images on your website for search engines.
However, while stock photos can be helpful, we always recommend investing in professional photography if you’d like to showcase photos with people in them. Otherwise, you may end up using a photo that’s been used way too often already, like what happened with the Everywhere Girl, whose photo was used by thousands of businesses after one shoot in 1996.
4. Embrace white space.
A common issue our creative team spots with websites and advertisements is a lack of white space or negative space, meaning the empty space that exists between design elements.
Because of the desire to communicate detailed information, businesses sometimes cram every square inch of a website, brochure or ad with text or images.
Unfortunately, this type of design often leads to information overload and frustrates customers.
Correctly using white space gives a customer’s mind time to breathe and digest the information that they’ve just read, particularly when they’re digesting it online.
In fact, one study evaluating online behavior found that good use of white space between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increased reader comprehension by almost 20%.
So while it can be difficult to cut down on the information included in marketing materials, white space is a necessity to make any of that information stick with your customer.
5. Stay Balanced
This design principle encompasses the arrangement of all of the elements and the white space. At its essence, well-executed balance results in a website, digital ad or other marketing material feeling right because each element has a counterbalancing element.
Art Director Shelley considers balance one of the most important design principles and shares some examples below.
6. What’s behind the design?
Even the best website, catalog or display ad campaign will fall short if it doesn’t support the mission and purpose of the business it’s promoting.
That’s why it’s important to answer a few questions before undertaking any design, like:
- What is your business model?
- What are some goals for the upcoming year?
- What type of designs have been used in the past?
- What businesses do you admire for their website, ads, etc.?
Delving into the nitty-gritty of a company ensures that the finished design will reinforce the feel of the brand and further your company’s purpose.
For example, Target’s design aesthetics convey an attitude, as well as the hip items it offers for the individual and home. When a competitor tries to imitate this style, the consumer often thinks first of Target.
That’s why Walmart has never tried to imitate Target. Instead, their ads, commercials and even website have a different design and feel even though the companies have similar inventories.
The designs supporting your business must remain true to your business and its mission.
What does your design say about you?
Good design should look good and work for you, not leave your customers wanting.
Take a moment to examine your marketing content and ask yourself how the principles are being implemented. Are you creating designs with:
- The right imagery?
- White space and balance?
- Support for the purpose and mission of your business?
You know good design when you see it. Don’t let your business’s marketing materials fall short of that ideal.