Let’s face it. With so many fabulous creative tools at our disposal, we have an interesting albeit unprecedented dilemma in 2017: Even the most inexperienced digital content creator can consider themselves somewhat of a graphic designer after slapping some text on a couple of photos or sourcing some stock images for a blog post and adding a logo.

While this is indeed an incredible time to be alive for digital marketers and online content creators, it can mean a lot of subpar content floating around.

We want to help rectify that.

Unless someone has received an education in graphic design or is self-trained with years of client experience under their belt, chances are if most of us sat down in front of Adobe Illustrator we’d realize we’re not as strong of a graphic designer as previously imagined.

Designers do more than just create appealing visuals for a variety of purposes; they factor in how different colour combinations make us feel, use text and symbols to communicate complex messages, create moods, define a brand. There’s a deep understanding of the history of visual communication and how it has shaped our world and how we interact with it.

We’re living in a noisy, competitive world with multiple things vying for our attention at most hours of the day. Aesthetically appealing content isn’t just desirable anymore–it’s mandatory.

1. Not developing consistent brand guidelines / branding
Before you even hit the design tools with a specific project in mind, you need to ask yourself some critical questions about who you’re designing for.

  • Is it a baby shower invite for a friend?
  • Is it a band poster?
  • Is it to promote a sale at your clothing store?
  • Is it your kid’s lemonade stand?

These would all be targeted at different audiences so would be designed with different goals in mind.

Market research, competitive analysis, and branding exercises would inform a strategic approach in a business context before visual identity and branding guidelines could even start to be fleshed out. Strong branding is consistent, concise, clear, and purposeful.

If your content doesn’t line up with the overall branding of who you are, it won’t resonate properly with your desired audience and fall flat. Even worse, you could alienate your core fans or customer base if the messaging doesn’t translate or even offends. Don’t skimp on developing guidelines for your brand.

2. Not understanding graphic design fundamentals
Typefaces and colours are incredibly crucial components of graphic design and are often the first thing to get messed up by someone new to content creation. Choosing the wrong typeface(s) / colour palettes for a design can quickly make a piece of content go from bad to worse.

While it’s fun to pick out your favourite fonts and colours and mash things up, there are guiding principles to why certain elements go together and others don’t. Tools like Canva are great because they provide combinations pre-approved by real graphic designers with a strong grasp on typography and layout. They also offer some sweet tutorials that can be super helpful.

When in doubt, Google! There is much to be learned by taking some time to research choices and discover the do’s and don’t’s of typography and colour combinations as well as other graphic design basics. Proximity, alignment, repetition, white space, and contrast are other key elements that will make your work stronger.

Pro Tip: Never design with default settings. Ever.

3. Not resizing graphics according to channel
Don’t forget, not all social channels optimize graphics the same way. The recommended image size on Facebook is different than the recommended image size on Twitter. Make sure to create graphics for each social channel according to optimal dimensions for key brand posts.

Otherwise, you’ll end up with sloppy, unprofessional posts that don’t leverage the strength of the content. If the images look shoddy, stretched, low resolution, or are awkwardly cut off, your post will receive lower engagement — guaranteed. And lower engagement will translate in the social algorithms to fewer people seeing your content.

4. Not branding your content
If you spend the time creating some awesome quotes you want to use to promote your blog across social media, for example, don’t sell yourself short by not including a visual indicator that links it back to you as the creator.

If the content is clever and relatable, instructional, unique, or hits some other major note with your social audience, it could be shared across the Internet. If your brand is missing, you’ve missed out on an opportunity to gain more brand awareness.

In closing…
If you look at almost any organization, brand or personality with a strong social presence, you can see the magic of consistent branding and a well-defined aesthetic at work. It’s what separates the mediocre from the outstanding. Your content is a reflection of your values — who you are and what you represent. It’s one of your greatest assets in the digital space; don’t just add to the noise, say something meaningful.

What are some of your tips for establishing a strong visual identity online? Some of your pet peeves about the current climate of content creation? We’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments!