Design For Non-Designers: A Guide For Small Business Owners

Written by Lana Wessels (PICHA Marketing Director) Image credit: Emmanuel Obuobi – OBE / PICHA

The world of design can be an intimidating one – there are so many different processes, best practises and confusing terminology. While the best course of action is to hire a professional graphic designer, many small businesses simply do not have the budget for that. That’s where this basic guide comes in. 

Please keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive guide to graphic design but it will introduce you to a few important concepts and pro tips that will help you create designs that look professional and polished. 

Defining Your Visual Brand
When it comes to creating your visual brand identity, it can be as simple as defining your logo, your brand colours and fonts. A simple mood board reflecting this as well as the general tone of your brand will really go a long way in helping you create designs that successfully portray your brand. 

A brand identity is important because it builds rapport with your audience. They learn to recognise posts on social media or advertising as your brand immediately without needing to see a logo first. Consistency in brand identity and design will build trust with your audience which makes them a lot more likely to become a subscriber or client in the long run. 

Actionable step: Create a Brand Style Guide

A brand style guide will outline every visual element of your branding as well as the meaning behind it. It’s a very useful reference material for yourself and anyone you may hire in the future. We highly recommend Canva as our preferred tool because it’s so versatile, user friendly and has a free version available. 

First, include your logo and variations of your logo with a brief explanation of the thought process behind it and when different variations should be used. Then, include your fonts of choice. Outline the fonts you’d like to use for headings, subtitles and body text. Make a note of the font name, whether it’s bold/italic and what kerning (space between the letters) you prefer. You can also include an accent font with a bit more flair. Next, your colour palette should include 2-3 primary brand colours with 3-4 secondary colours. Lastly, use a full page in the style guide to create your brand mood board. You can use stock images, textures, colours, graphic quotes, etc to showcase the type of visual aesthetic you feel best represents your brand.

Marketing Asset Design

Image credit: Emmanuel Obuobi – OBE / PICHA

Once you have your brand style guide, you would use it to help you create marketing assets that are consistent and cohesive. This includes images for social media, email banners, website banners, flyers, posters, letterheads, presentations and so much more. 

At this point, it is important to note that the images you use in your design are just as important as the font, colours and layout. People connect with imagery. We always advise small business owners to take their own images, commission a professional photographer to do so or buy the correct image licenses on stock photos. This protects you and your brand from lawsuits resulting from the use of images without permission which is a very real risk when downloading images from free stock sites (these often do not have the necessary model/property releases and may contain trademarks) or directly from a search engine.

Pro Tips for Non-Designers

  • Have a Clear Objective: Before you begin working on any design you need to know what you are trying to achieve with it. Are you trying to increase sales? Drive brand awareness? Every part of a design should be created with a clear purpose for optimal success.
  • Simplicity & Meaning: All the best designers know that the most effective designs are simple, clear and meaningful. A good way to know if your design meets this criteria is to ask yourself what can be taken away from the design once you think you’ve completed it? When you simplify things, you amplify your message. Learn to embrace white space and study good design principles used by the bigger brands like Nike and Apple for example.  
  • Use Icons: People are used to interacting with icons – we do so daily when looking at maps, road signs and websites. You can use icons to help people interpret and process the message you are trying to communicate quickly and efficiently. Even if they do not read the text in your design, the icons will make sure that your message is received.

What some of the best design advice you’ve ever received? Comment below to help other small business owners navigate the design process!

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