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Design 101: Fundamentals for Beginners

August 18, 2016 Bradford Group Administrator

Design matters, y’all. In the culinary world, they say “you eat with your eyes first,” and that same principle applies to visual marketing content. Before anyone reads the text in your email, brochure, flyer or otherwise, they see the design.

Poor design can be off-putting and confusing to your readers. Just ask Steve Harvey who, at the Miss Universe 2015 pageant, announced the wrong contestant as the winner. Following the show and subsequent media firestorm, radio host Charlamagne Tha God took to Instagram to defend his friend, posting a photo of the Miss Universe announcement card and calling out its poor design.


Though a poorly designed e-blast won’t make headlines, it might be enough to deter recipients from taking the time to read your message. Luckily, by implementing a few design fundamentals, you can be well on your way to creating aesthetically pleasing flyers, emails, brochures and more.

Here are a few pointers to help you create more effective marketing materials:

1.) Don’t go crazy with color.  

Though it is possible to incorporate 10 different colors in one design, it’s not easy to do well. Instead, choose three colors for your design—a primary color, a secondary color and an accent color— and use them at a 60:30:10 ratio.

Using colors from your company’s palette is generally a pretty good bet. But, if you’re creating unbranded materials or want to jazz it up, consider using a triadic color scheme, which combines colors that are evenly spaced out around the color wheel. Pairing a triadic color scheme with the aforementioned ratio will help you achieve a vibrant yet balanced design.


2.) Pick a pair of fonts.

Choosing fonts is tricky because there are literally hundreds of choices. For most designs, it’s best to narrow it down to two fonts—one sans serif font and one serif font.

Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, have a small line or “serif” attached to the end of each stroke or letter. The eye uses those small lines as a guide, increasing the readability of text, so serif fonts are often used for body copy. Sans serif fonts, such as Arial, do not have the small line at the end of each stroke and are best used for headers and subheaders. Before adding a third font into your mix, consider using different weights or styles of the two fonts you’ve already chosen.  

Also, please never use Comic Sans.

3.) Befriend your space bar.

White space, or negative space, refers to the blank space between design elements, and it’s necessary to keep your design clean, organized and readable. In text-heavy projects, inserting white space keeps your readers reading, naturally moving the eye down the page and eliminating the risk that they’ll get lost in the middle of huge blocks of text. White space can also be used to designate different “sections” on the page, creating order in your design.

4.) Get in formation.

Before putting pen to paper (or hand to mouse), consider the alignment of your project. Randomly placing things on the page without a plan is a one-way ticket on the hot mess express. Instead, think about different ways your “canvas” can be broken up, and design accordingly. Proper alignment of your text and photos will create order and organization in your design, making it cleaner and easier to read.

For text, left alignment is the best alignment, because it’s how we naturally read. This does not mean that all of your content should be piled up on the left side of the page. Instead, apply it within each individual section of your design. For example, if your brochure is divided into three columns, left aligning each will create a piece that is easier on the eyes, rather than choosing different alignments for each column.

alignment nope

Exhibit A: Nope.

alignment yes

Exhibit B: Yaaasss.

One comment on “Design 101: Fundamentals for Beginners
  1. Sharon Fitzgerald says:

    Well done!

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