Fundamentals of Graphic Design: Tips for Non-Designers

With so many brands vying for customer attention in a sea of digital content, it’s more important than ever to use effective images that draw attention to your message and brand. But having Photoshop loaded on your work laptop doesn’t automatically make you a designer, and a bad visual annoys viewers (at best) and can attract the wrong kind of attention (at worst). 

Good design is not something you can master overnight. There's simply too much to learn: the principles of brand identity, layout and white space, use of color and typography, how to clearly convey a message — not to mention complex design software. So how do you, as a non-designer, avoid common mistakes and navigate a suite of design applications to create eye-catching visuals, without enrolling in a slew of training courses?

We've collected a library of quick tips and cheat sheets to help you master the basics and design beautiful creative assets for your business.

Basic Design Fundamentals Everyone Should Know


Your choice of typeface gives your design character, in addition to legible text. A stylish font is pointless if it’s unreadable, and using too many different fonts can be overwhelming to the eye. In general, limiting yourself to 2-3 complementary fonts in your design is recommended.

Color Theory

Achieving harmony with color is essential for an eye-pleasing design. You don’t want your design to be either too bland, or too chaotic. Some basic formulas for color harmony include using analogous colors (three colors that appear side-by-side on a 12-part color wheel), complementary colors (any two colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel), and a color scheme based on nature. 


What’s the most important element of your design? Don’t overwhelm your headline by overlaying it on a bright, bold image, for instance. Prioritize each of your design elements and keep that priority in mind when placing them, determining size and color, etc. 

Grids & Balance

Grids create guidelines for how visual elements should be positioned within your design layout, and help determine proper proportion and balance. The golden ratio, or the ‘rule of thirds,’ is commonly used with grids to create an eye-pleasing result. And by placing certain elements outside of the grid, designers can naturally draw the viewer’s eye to these break-outs. 

Study Others' Work

Start a collection of designs that you like, taking the time to define what you like about them and why. By analyzing successful designs and adopting certain elements into your own creative assets (without copying the design outright, of course), you can learn what works and quickly improve your visuals. 

Some common design mistakes to avoid: not using enough white space, placing too much text on one line, and using too many fonts and colors. 

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Photoshop Tips for Beginners

Crop your images to create the best composition. If you find the horizon is off, you can level it by dragging any corner of the image box to rotate your photo. 

Use the Healing Brush to erase any spots on your image left from specks of dust or scratches on the camera lens. 

Bump up the contrast by brightening highlights and deepening shadows using the Levels window.

Go easy on the color saturation. You can boost saturation to make your image more colorful, but too much can make it look glaring and overwrought. 

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Illustrator Tips for Beginners

Illustrator is used to create vector graphics. Vector graphics can be enlarged without compromising the integrity of the original image, so you get a crisp image no matter the final size (unlike bitmap graphics created by Photoshop, which can look jagged and blurry when scaled up). 

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InDesign Tips for Beginners

InDesign is built for designing printed materials, including brochures, ads, business cards, books, etc. It’s the tool you use to put the visual elements you create in Photoshop and Illustrator together into one place or publication. One of the trickiest aspects of print design is being artistic, while also making sure your work can be printed without any technical issues messing things up. You'll need to understand things like bleed, file format, image resolution, measurements, and more. 

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Take Your Creative Campaigns to the Next Level

Using collaborative campaign management software helps ensure that everyone in your organization is using the latest, approved creative assets and that what’s produced is in line with brand guidelines. It’ll save you hours (and headaches) and result in a better finished product. 

Wrike’s all-in-one solution for creative teams streamlines the administrative side of creative projects, and includes Proofing & Approvals and an extension for Adobe Creative Cloud. Start your free trial to give it a try, with nothing to download or install. 

Headed to Adobe MAX? Stop by booth #306 to say hi and get a personalized demo of Wrike, along with a chance to win some awesome prizes. See you in San Diego!

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