7 Graphic Design Rules for Non-Graphic Designers

7 Graphic Design Rules for Non-Graphic Designers


Hannah McClung
Hannah McClung

As a Social Media Specialist I spend a lot of time looking at and finding content for our brand as well as all of our clients. So when I stumbled on an article last week titled “10 rules for easy graphic designing” I instantly opened the article and started reading. Twenty minutes later I clicked out of the article and had no idea what I had read.

Thank goodness I have two graphic designers sitting within earshot of me who are always willing to help — as long as they hear me holler for help over their earbuds! Hahaha! — and answered my questions about the article I just read. But some people aren’t lucky enough to have two graphic designers to help with print pieces, website graphics, posters or even things as simple as social media graphics.

Kory Kohlhof, graphic designer
Kory Kohlhof
Jodi Heisz, graphic designer
Jodi Heisz

So I’m (btw my name is Hannah!) bringing the expertise of my graphic design coworkers – Jodi Heisz and Kory Kohlhof — to you in terms all of us non-graphic designers can understand! I’d like to introduce to you – the Signalfire 7! [In no particular order except No. 1…that one is for sure the No. 1 rule!]


Here’s the main reason to use white space: White space gives breathing room in the design for people to process what they’re looking at, Jodi said.

Kory’s immediate response was, “Ditto! You don’t need to use every inch of the page. It’s white space!”

“You use white space to simplify the layout, so the main message stands out,” Jodi said.

Use White Space

But then I asked some clarifying questions and finally figured out that white space doesn’t actually have to be white.

“Backgrounds, solid colors and patterns can be white space too,” Kory said.

“White space is a design element. It’s throughout the design and not just around the edges,” Jodi added.


Ok so this one is self-explanatory, but I definitely still had questions about why and how to use the fonts.

“It simplifies the layout and makes it easier to read,” Jodi said. “The best way to pick which fonts to use is to follow brand fonts from your brand style guide. It keeps everything standardized.”

Some fonts just don’t look good together,” Kory said. “Keeping it low in number keeps the design from looking too messy.”


If you have two fonts you’re using, you’d usually use one in headers and the text that looks better in smaller, denser text blocks will be used for the body text.


If you’re only looking for tips on social media or website graphics, you can skip No. 3…this one is for getting your design ready for professional printing.

There are several design aspects to consider when designing a print piece. We picked our top 4 for you…but I also suggest hiring Kory or Jodi if you want your print designs to look good, because it’s definitely an art!

  1. High resolution photos: If you’re designing for print you have to use photos that are at least 300 dpi so they print clear and crisp. If the photo is smaller than 300 dpi it will most likely print pixelated or blurry. We had a great discussion with a photographer about getting great photos.
  2. Bleeds: Basically, once you’ve finished your design you have to extend everything all around the trim of the page so the printer has room to cut the document out of whatever they are printing it on without cutting off any of the important information or part of the design.Fun fact: Printers can’t print to the full edge of material they are printing on so everything will be printed on a material that is actually larger than the design’s dimensions and will be cut out.Tip: Unless a white border around the edge is part of the design, the bleed doesn’t have to be white. It can just be each text block, photo or design extended that extra amount. Most printers require 1/8 inch, but it’s best to check their requirements.
  3. Colors: Printers print colors using a four color process called CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK), so if you’re designing for print all of your colors will need to be in the CMYK specifications (you might have to use Photoshop for this).
  4. Don’t trust the office printer: If you want to print your design out for proofing, don’t trust how it looks from your office printer.“Office printers tend to print darker with a higher contrast,” Kory said. “Professional printers can minutely manipulate their colors to better portray your brand colors.”“Every printer’s colors are different. The printer won’t have the exact settings as a digital printer, so it won’t be as accurate,” Jodi said.


This one seems like a no-brainer, but then they brought up this real but also invisible grid?!

“Design consistency keeps the design looking together as a whole piece and helps create a flow within the design. It keeps the design from looking chaotic,” Jodi said.


The grid is used to keep elements aligned on the page.

But is the grid visible? The simple answer is yes and no.

“The grid is a physical set up lines we use when designing to keep elements organized and spaced out,” Kory said. “Those actual lines are not visible in the finished product, but the grid a graphic designer uses should be implied through the elements on the page.”

The grid a designer uses can be determined by brand standards or based on the specific design aesthetic of the piece.


Another no-brainer maybe…but even I have seen these issues all over social media!

To keep text readable, your fonts need to be easy to read, there needs to be adequate spacing between each line of text and spacing between each letter.


“Font size and color are important,” Jodi said. “You don’t want light grey text on a white background or red text on a blue background. They will be too hard to read.”

A good tip from Jodi is to use dark colors for the body copy so it’s easier to read if the text size is a bit smaller.

“Also, don’t stretch or squish text using the text box — change the font size itself,” Kory said.


Just like the color contrast for text we just mentioned, you also want to take the same tips into consideration for different elements like shapes next to each other or overlapping elements.

Color Contrast

“You want high contrast of colors to create a sense of excitement and tension,” Jodi said.

“Looking at some color combinations feel like your eyes are being stabbed by spikes – red and blue, green and orange, yellow and green,” Kory said. Sorry Packers fans…Kory is a Vikings fan!

Full black or full white color blocks are also hard to read. Kory and Jodi suggest muting blacks and whites to 80% to make them much easier to read.


Don’t stretch your images! Even I know not to pull just the top or size of a photo if I’m resizing…that’s when you get goofy looking proportions.


Scale images proportionally so they don’t look stretched, distorted or squished,” Jodi said.

“Hold down the shift key to maintain the original ratio of sides,” Kory said.


And there ya have it…some tips from the Graphic Design team at Signalfire. Using these seven rules to guide you…social media, website and print graphics should be more approachable than they were before. But in an effort to be completely honest…Jodi and Kory started with a list of 15 items that I made them cut down to seven, so there are still eight rules they think are super important to follow when designing. Give us a call if you’re having issues with getting your designs to look the way you want or if you want to make sure they have a professional’s touch!