Which one is easier to read?
Which one feels less cluttered?
Which one looks like it was designed by a professional (instead of with a default image-creation program)?
Which one do you feel more proud sharing to others?
While you may or may not consider yourself a very “artistic” person, you can learn how to visually communicate a graphic with more clarity and sophistication if you know a few simple principles to follow. Also, with free designing websites such as Canva, composing a professional looking graphic is a lot more accessible to people like you who are not full-time career designs with the entire Adobe Creative Suite on board.
Having been a graphic design teacher (with my Master of Arts in Teaching from RISD) for a few years, I’ve been around the block in providing guidance for improving visual communication. Here are a few different tips and guidelines that I have compiled that can help improve the overall look and feel of any type of infographic or social media post you create that contains text.
Use "white space" to your advantage
White space is the area in the image that has NO content in it. It's all of the empty space. Many times, I see infographics that squish content so close that there is almost no breathing room.
Several people out there think that the font size has to be as bold and as large as possible for our graphic to be noticed. Rather, it is the silence in the room that allows even the quietest person to be heard.
Use consistent fonts and colors to stay on brand.
Many times, I see people posting quotes and sayings from so many different sources…that all use different fonts.
While yes, it is helpful to consistently be posting content…it does nothing to help the overall brand recognition of your profile if everything that you post has a differing font style, color scheme, or placement of text.
By creating simple font and color guidelines to follow (and using a free online software like Canva to make a template to create your images), you create more brand recognition - people who see your colors and fonts consistently will automatically recognize that it’s coming from YOU even without seeing your handle or profile attached to it.
Make sure there is plenty of margin space between your text and the edges of the image or backgrounds.
For this rule, give yourself MORE margin than what you think. Tip #3 is to basically repeating Tip #1 - making sure there is enough white space. We often try to cram too much information into a space - by doing so, we end up creating tension points where the text rubs close to the edge of the graphic.
A “tension point” is where our eyes text to fixate because the spacing is so tight, or the way objects connect or fit in the space seems too coincidental.
The loudest person in the room is not necessarily the most important person in the room. Having a loud voice is similar to having your text so large that it tries to fill up as much space as possible. As I mentioned earlier, even the quietest person (or the quietest text) will have full attention if everything else around it (ample margin space) is silent.
Font colors should contrast in value from the background.
Contrast text with VALUES instead of saturation or color.
Often, we think that putting two bright colors next to each other will allow text to stand out. However, if the colors are similar in value or saturation, they will actually fight against each other and constantly compete for attention in our brains.
A simple rule is to pair a bright saturated color with a neutral that is a contrasting value. Cooler colors and deep colors look best against a white or light background, while brighter pastel colors can stand out well against black or deeper colors. Medium grays are very tough to place text on (unless you use white or a very light-tinted color) since grays do not have a high value contrast.
Also, make sure your background is not busy when overlaying text. When placing text on top of a photographic background that has texture, make sure that it does not overlap areas of high contrast (which can visually clutter the clarity of viewing the text). Having an image at only 20% opacity or less, or placing a colored box with at least 80% opacity will help make your text legible.
Adjust the leading of your text lines so that they feel comfortable, yet not too far apart.
Either center-justify everything, or left-justify everything…but don’t mix and match.
When you change the justification of a paragraph, you change the anchor and the balance of that graphic. Left-justifying creates a leftward anchor and moves the overall weight of the image to the left, whereas center-justification keeps everything centered.
There are some instances where left-justification would be beneficial:
- Left-justify when you have bullet points, as the bullet points act as anchors to organize and guide the eye to each consecutive point.
- Left-justify when you have a border or image that is on the left side - that border/image creates a natural tree trunk for branches of text to anchor to (with appropriate margin space) and shoot out to the right.
Don’t jag the rag.
Make sure that the length of your lines in larger blocks of text are not inconsistent in length. It’s ok if the lines of text are not perfectly the same and have a couple extra letters. What we ideally want to avoid is having widows and orphans (lines with singular words) or having too many lines that are very short and very long.
Short lines of text cause awkward gaps of white space in between longer lines, making the eye zig-zag around too much and also making the text block feel unwieldy and less refined.
Use a deep gray instead of black text to create an airy effect.
Incorporate bands of color and background blocks to help separate sections of content.
Less is more.
Here are a few other last quick tricks for more beautiful social media images:
Use the "Blurry Eye" test.
Before you finalize your image, take a second to look away from your computer, blur your eyes, then glance back at your image. What pops out to you first?
Make sure that the area of color that catches your eye first is the most important text or message you want people to see.
Our eyes naturally gravitate to white colors first (as opposed to dark), so surround your most important information in white (or place it in white, bold font) to attract our eyes to it.
Use tracking creatively to emphasize titles in all caps.
Tracking is the spacing between letters, and you'll notice it's often used with words in all capital letters. Capitalized letters are very blocky, so the wider kerning allows for an airy and open feel to reading the word.
Try not to mix two different widths of fonts for your "base" font.
Narrow fonts can feel squished and tight when there are many words, or if the font is small. Therefore, use narrow fonts sparingly with more kerning, or larger font sizes.
Can't fit all of your text in one image? You probably just have too much information in general!
This is an opportunity for you to break up your information into several photo "slides" and create a striking cover image that will draw people into swiping to view your other images.
I hope you will find these tips helpful as you being to expand on your own graphic creations and social media pages!
If you feel that your own graphics could use a bit of a boost, yet you're not sure where to start, feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be glad to share a few strategies with you or also work with you on social media design if you're interested!