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7 Foolproof Design Upgrades You Can Do Today

A set of ascending stars and a hand holding one start at the end

creating a brand that's powerful by incorporating these 7 design principlesCan I let you in on a little secret? If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, this won’t be a surprise to you.

Design isn’t hard. Anyone can do it, even you.

Mastering good design is simply a matter of learning and applying a series of rules. Once you’ve understood and assimilated these rules, you’ll be able to easily make the series of decisions involved in putting together a well-designed marketing piece for your business.

This post covers seven of the most important design rules I know. I use these guidelines every day and I want to share them with you so you can use them, too.

Inject your pages with more white space

Design, first and foremost, is mastery of white space. I’ll bet you thought it was all about colors and typefaces, didn’t you?

Before you work with text, images, or colors, it’s important to look at your blank page and decide:

  • How wide your margins will be
  • What shape your content will take: one, two or three columns? Horizontal or vertical?
  • Where your headlines and subheads will go
  • Where you’ll place page numbers or footers

Start your design by carving up your blank page into sections. Display your content carefully, and leave some white space so your reader isn’t overwhelmed with your information.

Pick two colors and use them consistently

There are two parts to this equation: the colors themselves, and time.

I’ve written about this idea before here, but the reason you should choose two main colors is that it’s easier for your viewer to register and remember two colors than it is three, four, or more. It’s also easier for you when it comes time to make color decisions, because you’re choosing between only two options.

Over time, your consistent use of those same two colors will build your visual brand in the mind of your viewers. Here’s an example:

Last week for a few hours (that seemed like an eternity), my member site was down for some people. I could see it, but some people couldn’t.

One of my trusty members, Marlene Hielema, emailed me throughout the afternoon with updates on what she saw on her end. The problem took a few hours to finally resolve, and when it was all over, Marlene’s last email said “I’ve never been so happy to see red and blue in my life!”

That was the moment I realized my colors had become an integral part of my visual brand!

Break up large chunks of text

We’re all busy people, aren’t we? When you’re presenting information to your time-challenged audience, keep in mind that it will be easier to consume your message if you break it into bite-sized chunks.

This means:

  • Writing enticing subheads that make your reader want to dig deeper to find out more
  • Crafting concise sentences that say what you mean in as few words as possible
  • Shaping short paragraphs that express one idea and move on

And throwing in a bulleted list once in a while can’t hurt, either! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Use call outs and deep captions

Call out text is a sentence or two that you pull from your main text and repeat somewhere on your page. Call outs are longer than subheads, and go into more detail. The best call out text is provocative and engages the reader in your information.

Deep captions take advantage of people’s natural drive to read any words placed under a photo. They’re typically twoโ€“three sentences long, but can be as long as a paragraph. A page full of photos and deep captions can be a very effective way to communicate your message.

Pick two typefaces and stick with them

In order to establish your visual brand, you need your audience to remember the visual “language” you establish. If you “speak” using too many different typefaces, your viewer won’t be able to discern your unique voice among all the noise.

That’s why using two typefaces only is the best way to go. Pick from typeface families that have a lot of weights. (This might be the only time extra weight is a plus!) Look for regular or book weights, plus bold, italic, bold italic and more.

Crop your photos

One of the quickest ways to improve on a mediocre photo is to crop out all but the most necessary portions.

Delete distracting backgrounds: hone in on what you want your viewer to focus on and remove the rest. Don’t be afraid to end up with a photo that’s an odd shape: this is a great way to get your viewer’s attention.

Pump up the volume

Here’s the most important tip of all: be bold. Make your design decisions with a firm hand. This is no time to be wimp! Your brand is at stake.

  • If you’re going to add white space, add more than you think you need.
  • Pick two colors that contrast with one another, and don’t be afraid to choose bold hues.
  • Be ruthless about writing tight, concise paragraphs and break them up with subheads, call outs and bulleted lists.
  • When choosing from within your two typefaces families, use fonts that contrast with one another in weight and size.
  • Crop photos tighter than you think they should be. Unhappy with the result? That’s what the undo function is for!

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. Sheโ€™s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamelaโ€™s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
Iโ€™m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility โ€” and consistent revenue.

25 thoughts on “7 Foolproof Design Upgrades You Can Do Today”

  1. Great tips Pamela!

    It’s amazing how many sites, e-books and company brochures I look at that still don’t have basic design applied. As we get more web and design savvy, those really stick out – in a bad way.

    It doesn’t take that much time or money to raise the bar and it’s worth the effort!

  2. I see a lot of ebooks and websites and I agree with Marlene that there are many lacking basic design. No one can say they don’t know what to do now as this is like a Design Essentials Guide disguised as a blog post. You could easily use it as a checklist.

    “This is no time to be wimp! Your brand is at stake.”
    I love that ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Great stuff Pamela. It’s interesting how so many people (myself included from time to time) are guilty of over complicating things. Design should complement and highlight the content, not distract from it.

    Honestly I think a lot of web marketer “gurus” have over complicated everything, it’s part of their business. They have to constantly re-invent time tested strategies for marketing and put new spins on them, ever decreasing the apparent simplicity behind marketing. The harder it is, the easier it is for them to make money telling folks how-to do it.

    Love your simplistic approach!

    • Hey Andrew: good to see you here!

      That’s an interesting take on the “gurus.” I’ve noticed I often hear the same advice re-packaged and presented from a slightly different angle, too.

  4. Thanks for this Pamela. I am currently putting together my first ebook using Mac pages. I have been having some designer difficulties but some of this tips will help me overcome them.

  5. Pamela –

    Found your blog today – love it! Great principles. I’m going to be recommending your stuff to our community – and having my own staff read through your last few posts as mandatory. We LOVE great design, and have seen time and time again that it sells – but your DIY principles are fantastic. Thanks so much for being such a practical resource!!

    My favorite tip that you made can’t be said loudly enough: “Pick two fonts and stick with them!!”

  6. Heh, speaking of white space, I just redesigned my blog and it’s definitely using lots of white-space! I didn’t want to over-do it with crazy colors but rather wanted to keep the focus on content and Call To Actions (one of my main one’s being my Speaking).

    Anyway, I think I made all the right moves but alas it’s always a work in progress. But I am happy with it for now… ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Ricardo! Your new site looks great, and the content is very clear and easy to read. Congrats!

      They’re all a work in progress, aren’t they? I’m constantly tweaking this one.

  7. Hi Pamela,

    This is my first visit to your site, and frankly, I’m one of those people who cowers away at the thought of design. So your encouragement is meaningful, and I guess I’ll have to read more of what you wrote to also be convinced that design is easy.

    I always think everyone else’s website looks better than mine, but I’m feeling up to the challenge of being a little more bold and trying to make it look sharp.

    Your seven points are such a good reminder of what to do, I’m printing this post out and putting it up by my computer.

    I love the idea of call-outs – I’ll have to try it. I also like the idea of deep captions.

    In one small blog post you’ve given me a lot to think about – I’ll certainly be reading more of your blog.

    • Vernon, I’m glad the post was helpful!

      I visited your site and see that you’re a birder. You might want to check out my friend Carole Brown’s site, She features lots of information about birds: North American ones for the most part, but you might find it interesting anyway.

      Thanks for your visit!

      • Thanks Pamela,

        I’m interested in birds from everywhere, for sure. I’ve subscribed and I’ll check out a lot of your earlier posts in the next few days.

  8. G’Day Pamela,

    No; I haven’t slipped into the Antarctic and frozen solid: just been a bit busy.

    This is really timely advice. I’m about to launch one , and perhaps more, wesite[s] Thanks for these excellent, practical and pertinent reminders. If only more web marketers followed your suggestions. Life would be so much easier for web readers.

    Make sure you have fun



  9. Hi Pamela,

    This is a very interesting post. I’ve just started considering how important design is for blogs/websites. It’s very similar to a first impression based on appearance — if you aren’t dressed well, you’ll make a poor first impression. I’ll be coming back to get more design tips.


    • Hi Joseph: thanks for stopping by. I recognize you from the comments section at Copyblogger!

      Design influences people’s first impression of your business, that’s for sure. You might have great content, but if your design isn’t pleasing, people may not stop to read what you’ve written. It draws them in long enough to pay attention.

      Thanks for visiting. Don’t be a stranger! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Pamela,

    Just found this article today – better late than never I guess. : )

    I took your idea and started doing call out text and deep captions and I really like how my content looks. I still need to work on the technique, however the look of the page rocks!

    Thank you – Theresa

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