Plain and simple, with a bit of pizzaz!

I often see ads for writing courses and conferences on various social media platforms, and it really surprises me that many of them are so visually unappealing. Weird colours and strange font combinations don’t make me want to sign up, and let’s face it, I’m probably their target audience.

I appreciate that the fine folks promoting these events are writers and not graphic designers, and they probably don’t have any money to spare, but I really think that design matters if you are trying to attract new readers, clients or customers.

I know I’ve written about this before, but for those of you who’ve missed it, here are three reasons why I think that you should care about your visual design.

  1. Good design makes you look professional and reassures your customers that you know what you are doing. If you are offering courses or promoting a conference, you want people to be confident that it is safe to spend their money. One way you can do this is by investing some time and effort into making sure your website is well organised, clean and attractive, and that your ads are informative and not laden with unnecessary information.
  2. Good visual design helps you tell a story about who you are and what you stand for without you having to use a lot of words. I love words, but I’m also a busy person so I don’t have time to read a lot of waffly stuff on your website or in your ad. Cut to the chase. People want to know when it’s happening and how much it costs. They also want to know a bit about you, so a photo of yourself is a good idea.
  3. Good design also makes your content more user-friendly. A nice uncluttered design is easy to read, and your visitors won’t have to search for the information they need.

I’m definitely not an expert, but here are a few tips that you can apply to any kind of graphic design.

  • Use a limited colour palette. Use one or two main colours and a third to highlight any really important information. Avoid using red unless it’s part of your branding. Red text, in particular, is very alarming and shouts warning, warning, so be very cautious about using it.
  • If you’re unsure about what colour combinations work, look to nature for inspiration. I’ve used the beautiful image of the blue kingfisher by Vincent van Zalinge as a header for this post as an example of how mother nature always seems to get the colours right.
  • Don’t use more than two fonts. Ever. And make them different, not similar. There are some classic font pairings if you’re not sure what to choose, but in general, choose one bold font and one lighter font.
  • Line things up neatly. Don’t plonk things all over the place. Don’t be afraid of being tidy, it’s very soothing and people like it.
  • Don’t centre justify your body text, it makes it very hard to read. If you aren’t sure what to do, just align everything left and use columns if necessary.
  • Use lots of negative space. This is sometimes called white space, but it doesn’t have to be white. Just make sure you have a bit of room around your words. They need to breathe.

You can be quirky, you don’t have to be boring. Let your personality shine through but don’t go mad with colours and fonts. In general, good design is about making careful choices. Everything needs to be there for a reason.

If this still seems all too hard, there’s plenty of help at hand. There are lots of graphic design apps that are free or very inexpensive and Shutterstock has a free online photo editor that helps you design Instagram ads and other social media posts. They want you to use their photos (which costs money) but you can also upload your own photos and just use their templates which are excellent. You can look more professional in no time at all.

If in doubt, make it plain and simple and use some nice images. It always works.

2 thoughts on “Plain and simple, with a bit of pizzaz!

  1. Well said! I’ve taught a design class for mass communication majors and each one of your bullet points is 100 percent true! People’s first tendency is to overdo things, I’ve noticed. Keep it simple and it’s hard to go wrong!

    1. I suppose people get excited and just want to throw everything in. It can be hard to convince people that less is more.

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