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If you’re like so many business owners, there are times where you need to get a project done sooner than an experienced graphic designer can get to it.

Or maybe it’s a small project that you don’t feel requires the investment in professional design.

And yet.

You want the project to look professional and credible, because you know how your promotional materials look directly relates to whether or not potential customers will even consider what you’re asking them to do. (According to Adobe, 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if it’s not well designed – and those numbers can be translated to print as well.)

So, here are 5 tips for helping you create better – and more effective – designs for your advertising and marketing on your own using the tools you have:

1. Make It Flow – Establish a Hierarchy

Hierarchy in design is basically what it is in a business sense – there’s a “top” and “bottom” to everything and you can control where and how the viewer’s attention flows through the page by using hierarchy.

Prior to laying out your design, think about what all you need to include and do a quick sketch (no matter how rough) envisioning how you’d like to lay out the design. This will help you decide what should go where and eliminate what you don’t need text- and design-wise. Be sure to include only the most important text and design elements.

Hierarchy & Grid Sketch

This is seriously how roughly I sketch out things – you don’t have to be good at drawing to create them!

As you’re working up your sketch, think about what’s most important for the viewer to read first – usually the headline. This will likely be only a few words and very large at the top of your page.

Then, figure out what you want them to read second – sometimes that can be more details about an event or product, other times it might be the call to action (i.e. “Call to Reserve Your Space”) at the bottom of the page. The second element is usually the second largest thing on the page and in an accent color.

After that, fill in brief details for personality types who want to read a bit before they take action. This body of text is usually the smallest thing on the page and a color that doesn’t confuse the user as to what they should be reading (i.e. black or grey).

And don’t forget images! Oftentimes, they are paired with a headline to draw a viewers attention. More on images below…

2. Create a Structure – Grids & the Rule of 3s

Once you have an idea for how you’d like to lay out your project, you can go ahead and get started.

Using whatever tools you have, whether it’s professional-level design software like Adobe Illustrator, or just Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, you can do what you need. (Though Word is a bear to design in, I’ll forewarn you… but it’s possible to use it… in fact, I designed my wedding invitations in Word before I was in design school!)

One thing to step up the level of professionalism in your design is to create a structure, or use a grid.

It’s a great idea to keep the “Rule of 3s” in mind – establish three unseen columns or rows to determine how much space to give each element in a design.

Grid Sketch Outline

This sketch already has a grid in consideration, though it will need to be tweaked a bit once laying out the project.

Your headline and main photo might get the top third of space, your body copy might get the second, and your call to action may get the remaining portion.

3. Limit to 2 Fonts

Although it’s super fun to get creative with fonts and introduce new ones to each project you design, don’t.

Stick with two fonts (three as an absolute max) in anything you create – I recommend pulling from your logo for at least one of the fonts, if not both.

Font Usage Design Tips for Non-Designers

Brands have to remain consistent in order to be recognized, so even though it can feel boring to work with just two fonts over and over and over (and over) again, it helps establish and maintain your brand from the viewpoint of your prospects.

Not to mention, using only two fonts helps maintain your hierarchy – multiple fonts can cause confusion and “pull” the eye to less important text before they read what you really want them to.

Changing fonts or using too many of them is confusing to potential buyers, which reduces the potential someone will do business with you.

Just say no to the desire to get “creative” with them!

4. Use Photos of Smiling “Customers”

Photos tell stories visually and there’s no better way to convey the benefit of doing business with your company than through photography of people after they’ve done business with you.

Happy, successful, and stress-free business owners

Using professional-level photography in every design is a sure-fire way to set your designs above the rest.

And although I’m all for hiring a professional photographer to really capture the essence of what you do and the benefits your customers experience, business owners that are on very tight budgets may have to do with stock imagery until they can get that done.

Stock photos can be pretty easily found and inexpensively acquired through a variety of websites.

Personally, I use Thinkstock. You can buy “image packs” where you pre-buy a certain amount of images then use your credits as you need them. And the credits only expire if you don’t use them within a year. I’ve yet to find a comparable option that works this way… but there are hundreds of places to source good photography, just Google it (or ask your friends).

5. Use 2 Colors, 3 Max

Although it’s way more fun to design with a bunch colors, rather than your standard branding colors, if you add too many colors, it detracts from your message and, like too many fonts, can confuse viewers and sabotage your message.

Good Color Usage Example

Even if you hate this color, I think we can agree it’s better than the mix of colors below!

Color Usage Example to Avoid

This is a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture

There you have it, 5 quick and easy tips for making your in-house designed marketing and advertising projects more beautiful and effective!

Did you like this post? Would you like to see more like it? Or, are there any other questions you have that you’d like me to answer? If so, email me!