How to make your designs look more professional

Emma Norris
Emma Norris

Have you ever wondered why some designs look slick and professional, while others look like the creator accidentally hit ‘publish’ on the first draft?

If you’re just starting out, it’s easy to assume that the difference between powerful and not-so-effective designs is complex and unobtainable.

But in actual fact, creating an eye-catching, polished design simply comes down to getting a few key elements right.

By having a few tricks of the trade up your sleeve, you can easily create designs that make your audience assume you have a professional graphic designer at your disposal — or that you are one yourself! Read on for 5 actionable tips for making professional looking designs.

01. Keep it consistent

With so many incredible fonts on offer, it can be tempting to mix and match with every new creation. And, of course, you should experiment to your heart’s content! But to really take your design to the next level, it’s important to keep your fonts and colors consistent.

“Find two main fonts that you use that are separate to your logo,” says Kira Hyde, branding strategist and designer. “Be faithful to them and your brand will thank you in the long run.”

But how do you go about finding your signature fonts if you don’t already have professional branding? Apart from searching for ones that capture the essence of you and your brand, Kira says the key is to go for two different fonts (one for your main headings and one for your body text) that compliment, not contrast.

While Kira recommends avoiding multiple cursive fonts (that is, fonts that look like handwriting), you’re probably not going to want to combine a bold, blocky font with one that is thin and feminine. Here, you can see an example of two different fonts that perfectly balance each other out.

Peach Script Sunglasses Day Social Media Graphic

The creator has used Selima as the heading font and Glacial Indifference as the body font. While at first glance the fonts are quite different, they are both quite modern in style and have a similar thickness — and as a result, play nicely off each other.

The same ‘compliment, not contrast’ rule can be applied to your brand colors.

“Using complimentary shades is one of the simplest ways to ensure your palette is working for you, not against you,” says Kira.

For example, colors like violet and baby blue go together like a dream, while purple and red tend to clash. To learn more about why some colors go together and others don’t, you can revisit this helpful article on Color Theory.

A Girl in Progress Instagram post
Instagram post from @_agirlinprogress

Of course, that’s not to say you can only use two colors in your designs. A great way to add some variety to your branding is by using same color in a different shade.

“Choose two key colors that work well together, and match them with deeper or softer shades of each,” Kira says.

An easy way to do this on Canva is by opening up your color wheel, picking one you like and scrolling across the bar at the bottom. In doing so, you’ll have access to a plethora of shades in your signature color. Scrolling to the left will give you lighter, more muted shades, while to the right will result in darker, richer tones.

Having consistent colors and fonts not only helps craft a strong brand identity, but will save you so much time when it comes to creating professional looking designs. Canva for Work even allows you to save your color palettes and correctly sized fonts for easy access later!

If this has all left you feeling stumped, never fear. Our library contains thousands of templates created by professional designers with perfectly balanced fonts and colours — so it’s just a matter of finding the right one that you can customise.

02. Pay attention to alignment

If you’ve ever felt there was something a little ‘off’ about a design but couldn’t quite put your finger on it, chances are it was the alignment. Put simply, alignment is the way the various elements are arranged in your design. Making sure yours is on point will ensure your design looks neat, uncluttered and professional. There are a few points to keep in mind when it comes to achieving alignment:

Border spacing: The use of a border for framing can really take your design up a notch by adding another interesting element for the eye to scan. That said, it’s important to take the spacing of your border into account.

“Blank and even spacing is one of the most powerful elements for any design,” says Kira. You don’t want your design to look like an introvert at a party (jammed into one corner), but you also don’t want your borders to be so wide you could drive a truck through them! Here, you can see an example of a simple yet effective border.

The Sea Instagram post

Consistency: Just as important as the spacing of your border is the arrangement of the elements throughout your design. You want to make sure that the spacing between any images, texts or icons is perfectly even, and that they are on a straight axis if they are parallel to each other. You can achieve this with the click of a few buttons on Canva by following these steps.

Balance: In paying attention to the above elements, the end result should be a design that’s perfectly balanced. It’s not too top or bottom heavy, squished or sparse. There’s no hard and fast way to know if your design is balanced. You simply need to trust your own artistic eye (or get a second opinion!) and keep tweaking until it’s just right.

03. Quality is key

The quality of a perfectly good design can be instantly diminished by using elements or images that are blurry or low resolution. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to ensure any images or logos you’re using in your design are at least 1MB in size (or 500KB for a logo, as they tend to be less complex files.)

The easiest way to check this is by selecting the file you want to use on your computer, then right-clicking. On a Windows computer, you simply highlight your file and the size should come up down the bottom. On a Mac, press control+click on your image and select ‘get info.’ Then, expand the ‘general’ section to see your image’s file size.

That said, you should always trust your own eye over the file size. But if you have even an inkling of a doubt about whether or not your image is blurry or low quality, it’s usually best to find an alternative. When in doubt, your Canva account gives you access to thousands of high quality, royalty-free images, icons and other visual elements you can use to make professional looking designs.

Another important point on quality is to ensure you’re not warping your images when you resize them. Thankfully, this couldn’t be easier on Canva! You simply click on the corners of your images and drag them in whichever direction you like. Voila, you’ve resized your image without compromising the quality!

04. Don’t forget about good writing

“Wait, I thought this article was about design — not writing!” you might say. And it is! But in order for your design to really flourish, it must work harmoniously with your written text (even if it’s only a line or so.) If your work is littered with spelling and punctuation errors, it’s going to detract from your amazing design.

Running your work through a simple spell check before you put it into a Canva will help you pick up on any spelling, grammatical or punctuation mistakes. You can also download the ‘Grammarly’ extension for your browser, so it automatically picks up on errors while you’re working in Canva. It’s a life changer!

Another consideration is how the text is broken up in your copy. There may be times where you’re not able to fit all your text on one line, so you will need to break it up in a way that is both logical and visually appealing. Here, you can see a hilarious example of why line breaks (and commas!) matter.

In designs where you are using a quote, it can be quite effective to use two different (and complementary, of course) fonts and colors to distinguish between the two elements. The below design is a great example.

Blue Sidebar Photography Quote

Lines are another great way to add some additional structure to your design, while also emphasising certain elements.

Sydney Skyline Facebook Ad

05. Ensure your text is readable

Now that your text is neatly formatted and error-free, it’s crucial to make sure your audience can actually read it. If you’re using a photo as your background (rather than a solid color), this begins with making sure there is blank space in the image where you’ll be able to place your text. Here, you can see an example of where text has been placed in the negative space of the background.

#picoftheday iPhone Layout

You can see that the use of an open, spacious background within the design not only improves text readability, but also helps make the design look tidy and uncluttered.

To ensure the text in your design is easy to read, it’s generally best to pair light text with a dark background. However, if you find the perfect background and it’s a tad on the light side, there are ways around it. By selecting your background and clicking ‘filter’, you can adjust the brightness of your background.

Here, you can also access a range of filters that can instantly give your background a different feel.

For example, the filter ‘whimsical’ (left) can give your design a more rustic look, while ‘drama’ (right) has a more modern feel. You can also adjust the intensity of your filter, to make the effect more or less dramatic.

You can also use transparency to heighten your design and make your text stand out. By selecting your background, opening the transparency slider (the chequered grid icon in the far right corner) and moving it to the left, you’ll create a slightly faded effect. On the contrary, if you’d prefer to make your background more visible, you can use the same tool to make your text and other elements transparent!

Another tip on transparency: You can also use this feature to add your logo to your design as a subtle watermark. Simply upload your logo, resize it if necessary and move it to a corner or somewhere else where it’s unobtrusive. Then, click on the transparency filter and adjust it to the point where it’s faintly visible. Doing so will signpost your work, without detracting from its overall effectiveness!

Another simple way to ensure your text is legible is by creating a split design, where the text sits next to the photo. Not only does this style of composition look clean and tidy, it’s one of the easiest ways to ensure your copy is readable. You can easily achieve this effect yourself by choosing a template with a split composition, or using the grid feature to create your own.

Sidebar Quote Twitter Post

At the end of the day, design doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. By using these 5 simple tips, you can ensure each and every design you make for your brand or business stands out for its top notch creativity and professionalism.