We all enjoy good design, but not everyone has the experience to know how to do it right. Even if you’re not an artist, there are certain principles that everyone can learn that are useful in everyday tasks.
Picture: charlotte holmes/Flickr
The neat thing about artistic principles is that they tend to be transferable. While art can be subjective, certain rules are derived from common shared experiences. For example, the colour red is frequently used as a “high energy” colour that signifies warning or passion. In real life, red is the colour of blood, fire and physical arousal.
Our brains make thousands of subconscious correlations like this in our early lifetime. For that reason, principles of design can be transferred to different areas of life, even if you don’t fancy yourself an artist, everyone can use these ideas.
Use the Rule of Thirds to Compose a Great Shot
Photography is quickly becoming the art of the masses. With a smartphone in (nearly) every pocket, most people carry around a camera that would make a photographer in 2004 jealous. However, they don’t come with instruction manuals for taking good photos. We’ve written our own guides if you want to take a deep dive, but if you learn nothing else, learn the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds is one of the most common rules of thumb and it’s also one of the simplest. When composing a photo, divide the horizontal and vertical space into thirds and try to place the subject or other interesting parts of a photo along these lines. A photo is not wrong if it doesn’t adhere to this, but if you’re not sure about how to compose a good-looking photo, this is a good way to get in the ballpark.
Example: We’ve talked at length about how to properly compose a photo using (among other things) the rule of thirds. Fortunately, many smartphone cameras (like Google’s excellent stock camera) offer an optional guide that you can overlay to help layout your subjects. It’s also worth pointing out that landscape mode is probably better.
Test Case – Every Picture You’ve Ever Taken: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr all guarantee that you’ll have occasion to share photos of your lunch, party, or trip to Prague. This particular rule is accessible everywhere that you can take pictures. While there’s a whole lot more to good photography than just this one rule, it’s an excellent first step.
Structure Your Emails with Readable Typography
Ask any graphic designer and they will tell you the importance of proper typography in a design. The weight given to specific words or how they’re laid out can direct the viewer’s attention to certain ideas. Most people won’t spend their days hunting for just the right font or how to lay it out, but we all work with text every day.
Example: More than anything, type needs to be readable. Not just in the particular font that it’s used in, but how it’s laid out. Sub headings or bullet points (like the ones in this article) draw attention to key elements. Bold and italicized text emphasise important pieces of information, but only when used sparingly. While it can take a lifetime to establish what looks good, this quick tutorial runs through many of the basics.
Test Case – Sending a Long Email: Let’s say you need to email a group of people about an upcoming event. You have to convey where they need to go, what to bring, what’s going to happen and how to get there. Here’s an example of a bad way to write this:
I just wanted to send out an email and let everyone know that we’re going to be doing a thing soon. I’m really excited about it! The thing is going to be one of the best things that we ever do, and we have a long history of doing things.
It all began way back when we first did a thing. It’s been five years and we’ve done the thing every year since and I would like to spend the next five paragraphs telling you about the times in the past that we did things.
Anyway, we’re going to do another thing at 123 Address Place this year. It’s a great location and we can’t wait for you to see it! Melissa will be in charge of decorating the place. One time she made a three story cake out of twigs and wishes. She’s super talented! You guys are gonna love it.
We’ll be meeting at 7. I know some of you are flying in from out of town, so be sure to change your clocks! You don’t want to be jet-lagged for the thing. Or car-lagged, as the case may be! Haha!
The thing will be bring-your-own-thing, so please don’t forget to buy some things for the thing. We’ll send out a separate email with step-by-step directions on how to get to Address Place from four different highways, because we haven’t heard of Google Maps.
Thanks everyone for being so awesome and not throwing your laptop out a window while reading this! See you at the thing!
This email avoids critical information for the first few paragraphs. When it does finally get around to saying what it needs to say, it does so clumsily and surrounded by dumb jokes. It even leaves out key details like a date. Someone reading this could miss key details or not even realise it’s an invitation at all. Here’s a better way to write it:
You’re invited to a thing!
Where: 123 Address Place [Google Maps Link]
When: August 28th at 7PM EST
What: We’ll be doing things in celebration of stuff. Woo!
What to Bring: This is a bring-your-own-things type of thing, so bring your things!
We’ve done this type of thing every year and we’re excited for you all to participate. If you’ve never done this type of thing before, email Tom, Dick, or Harry for more information on how this thing works. See you there!
This version is shorter, more to the point and clearly labels information appropriately. This is incredibly basic typography, but it serves to highlight how important structure and brevity are in conveying information. Above all else, read what you’ve written before you send it to someone. If you can easily find the info you’re trying to share without hunting for it, you’ve done it well. If someone who’s reading it for the first time would have no clue what you’re trying to say at first glance, try restructuring.
This is also particularly helpful when crafting a resume. While not everyone cares about how a resume is laid out (and some HR services even strip out formatting entirely), the way your
Use Negative Space Effectively to Decorate Your Living Room
Negative space (or white space) is defined as anything not occupied by an object. Sounds simple, but most people don’t think about managing the space where they don’t put things. Why would you? Nothing goes there. Artists, on the other hand, understand that where something isn’t is just as important as where something is.
Example: This article from Creative Bloq shows 25 examples of using negative space to convey an idea. However, negative space isn’t always its own thing. As this Sitepoint piece discusses, white space is also used to simply improve readability in type. If lines of text are too close together, they become unreadable. Too far apart and you waste paper/screen real estate.
Test Case – Furnishing a Room: Unlike graphic design, interior design is an art form that most people take part in whether they realise it or not. Arranging furniture and laying out your belongings can have an effect on how a room feels. Just like with printed or digital media, the layout of a room draws attention to certain places and instill certain types of feelings.
Large, open windows and mirrors can help a room feel more open and less cramped. Placing framed pictures lower or at eye level and leaving space towards the ceiling can help a room feel taller. The placement of a central piece of furniture like a coffee table can direct where your guests hang out. While you’re laying out a room, don’t just consider where your furniture fits, but how the pieces fit together and where people will be spending their time.
Good design is everywhere, and it’s not limited to pictures on a screen. Not everyone needs to do a deep-dive into the nuances of colour theory, but some basic understanding of how we interpret shapes, layouts and space can help make everyone a better communicator.