Let’s start by saying that design is definitely not something you want to go halves on. It’s a vital part of marketing and great design requires professional work.

But we also need to be realistic. Even though professional design is ideal, we all know it’s not always possible. When it comes to a quick social post or maybe a last-minute PowerPoint presentation, if you don’t have an internal designer or outsourced design service (or time enough to find one), a DIY job can sometimes be enough. With tools like Canva at our fingertips, more and more people are able to take on smaller jobs themselves.

But a template and a stock photo does not a designer make.

Have you ever wondered why a professional designer can take something as simple as a logo or a slideshow and make it look like you never could?

Beyond the years of experience, there are some simple design tips that help them achieve this. They’re small things that come second nature to the pros but don’t even occur to non-designers – and they make a huge difference.

Here’s some tips if you’re trying to make some art.

Five steps to better design

1. Limit your colours

When building your brand, you want to stick to minimal colours – and then stick to these when you’re creating any collateral that represents your brand. Two or three colours is an ideal number, as it’s just enough to give you options. Once you start going over that, your design becomes muddled, and there’s no longer an identifiable brand. Remember, less is more.

2. Don’t be afraid of white space

When faced with white space, many people feel a compulsion to fill in gaps with more colour, more pictures, more SOMETHING. This is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to design. White space is your friend, not your enemy. It helps make what you do have stand out as clear, noticeable and important. No need to make your audience work to understand your message.

3. Always ask why

Design isn’t just there to look pretty. One of the most common request designers get is to make something ‘stand out’. But design is like any other tactic; we need to know the end goal in order to meet it. Hence, the need to ask why. Why does something need to stand out? Why is each aspect in the design? And before you make something the centre of attention, ask “is that the most important part of copy that viewers need to read?” Always build to that need.

4. Pay attention to hierarchy

Always think of your audience as stupid. No, really. The biggest crime in design (or any marketing collateral) is assuming your audience will understand something. Don’t take the risk – make things really clear, and always put the most important information first. Give away the whole enchilada! A pretty design will get you nowhere if your message doesn’t resonate, or there’s no clear call to action. You control where your audience look – draw the eye to the most important spots.

5. SVG is better than PNG for web

For those unfamiliar with SVG, it’s a file format used to define vector-based graphics for web. It’s what we call a pixel perfect image, and it trumps png’s and jpeg’s because no matter how you scale and resize an SVG image, it won’t lose its quality.

It takes an excruciatingly short amount of time for an audience to make a judgement on a website. 50 milliseconds actually. And one of the most immediately noticeable flaws on a website is image defects – that little fuzz around a logo or icon is an instant giveaway the wrong image format has been used. SVG will keep images looking crisp no matter how far you zoom in.

Your design outcomes depend on the resources you put into them

While these tips won’t turn you into a graphic designer extraordinaire over night, they will make it easier to create clean, clear and effective DIY marketing designs.

Ultimately, design comes down to the time, effort and dollars you’re willing to put into it. Are you happy with the look (and results) of a quick self-done Canva job? Then go for it. But if you want expert results, you need expert work.

It’s easy to forget how important design is – until you try making marketing work without it. While a small DIY design here or there is fine, bigger jobs – and foundational tasks like branding – are best left to a professional.

Design needs to tie it in to your overall marketing strategy, ensuring it all works together. That’s why it can be helpful to have all your marketing in one place. If you want to pull your marketing together (including professional design), get in touch about outsourced B2B marketing services.