“Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.” Tate Linden
Designers illustrate stories for their audience with the application of type, color, images and other graphic features. Like a writer when telling a story, there are specific tips and techniques that designers use to ensure the tone is correct and the messages are being brought to life.
Often it’s just a matter of adjusting the size of our text, or darkening the background image image so that your message is easier to read. But sometimes a small but significant alteration; like breaking up the lines of text into a rhythmic pattern, can dramatically improve how your graphic visually communicates with your audience.
Here we offer 50 unique tips to help your visual story to be told with….
01. Use letter spacing and line height to make your text fit your page.
By tightening the line height, the type is contained compositionally in a block. Transparency has been applied to the text so that a hint of texture of the palm trees comes through, also symbolic of the message. The background image has been cropped to reduce noise that might obstruct readability.
02. Tip: Contrasting typefaces make a great duo.
Use scale and application of fonts to put emphasis on specific words. The bold form of League Gothic stands out and contrasts well next to the script typeface, Yellowtail. This visual order is called creating hierarchy. For the text color, I’ve selected a tone from the hills in the background image. I’ve also increased the transparency of the image to create a muted and dusty effect.
03. The placement of text is a crucial element. Make sure to break your lines up the way it should be read.
There is a beat to which your copy is read, so make sure to break your lines of text up in a rhythmic pattern. To push your typographic treatment even more, italicize the words you want to put emphasis on.
04. Create strong graphics with the application of saturation and a bold typeface.
The combination of graphic elements in this graphic makes it high-impact. This font is called Norwester, it’s a heavy, block-like typeface. The background image has been treated with the Cali photo filter. This filter is low contrast and high saturation, to mimic the hazy and sunny Californian skies.
05. Overlay photos in strips and try to match them with the forms in your background image.
You don’t always need to include type to make beautiful design. This tip is a great way to push your compositional skills. A background image of hills has been placed in a grid. A textured image of water has been placed over top with a 75% transparency and duplicated to form strips. From there the image has been cropped to find interesting textured points.
06. Aesthetics! Composition! Adjust all the elements in your graphic so they are on corresponding angles.
Use your forms and structure within your graphic as a way to decipher where to place your text. Here the type has been placed on a slight angle to follow the direction of the horizon line in the background image. To complement this angle, I’ve applied an italic serif typeface. For even further visual harmony, a color from the sea has been applied to the type.
07. Use strong, geometric typefaces to amplify your message.
The typeface you choose determines the tone of your message. Anton is a bold and strong sans serif that delivers an equally strong voice. I have applied a dark filter to the background image to enhance the type contrast between image and text even more.
08. Instead of using solid colors, try increasing the transparency of your elements a little for a more subtle effect.
This graphic is supposed to evoke the feelings of aspiration and inspiration. The key to element to this design is the application of letter spacing. This technique allows your letters to breathe.
09. Use shapes to create contrast and offset your text from your background image.
10. Crop images to let them act as background textures.
What you see isn’t always what you get. When you are searching for images, find the pockets of goodness within them by cropping and zooming into sections of to find interesting textures to use for backgrounds.
11. Set your designs apart from the rest. Create a style by using rotated letters for nuance.
Crop your image so that you have copy space to work with when applying your text. Here the letters have been placed individually and rotated. Remember that design is deliberate, the L and the E have been applied to correspond with the form of the flower.
12. When using a shape to contain your text, apply a color from your background to your type for a cut-out effect.
Use an eyedropper tool to collect tones, ensuring consistency of color within your graphic. Here the creamy color of the sky has been used on the text. The contrast has been reduced in the background image for a dusty and beachy effect.
13. Make beautiful collages with your favorite photos using grids, ensure to apply the same filter to each image for consistency.
When you are using grids, make sure you line up forms within your images for compositional harmony. Here you can see that whether it’s a cloud, a horizon or a wave, something is lined up to bring the grid together. An additional tip is to apply the same filter to all your images for consistency.
14. Be creative with letters + symbols by applying scale to form interesting compositions.
Here I have used an Ampersand as a base to build graphic. I’ve inserted much smaller accompanying copy into the counter sections of the symbol and used a monochromatic palette to create stronger contrast between the type and background.
15. Let your background determine how you align your text. Find space with less noise for placement.
Create balance in your graphics by establishing what elements are holding most weight. Here the trees are filling up much of the left hand side of the background image, therefore the text has been placed and aligned on the right.
16. Use a low contrast background combined with bright text to make your message stand out.
This graphic has a slightly darkened background image that creates brilliant contrast against the neon yellow text overlay. There is also a subtle blur applied to the filter so that the fine type (Raleway Thin) is easy to read.
17. Typefaces have personalities too. Make sure you represent your message with the right fonts.
Use typefaces to visually communicate your message. Here i chose to apply a structured typeface (League Spartan) to symbolise logic, then a more classical serif for the second part to portray imagination. Additionally, the two sections are placed over different sections of the image, sky and sea.
18. Choose a geometric typeface teamed with an elegant serif for a happy pairing.
Contrast is your best friend when it comes to creating graphics with impact. A geometric shape under a sans serif font is an excellent combination as their structural forms fit well together.
19. Use an interesting text placement to play on the idea of your message.
Break your words up into separate text boxes and to create intriguing compositions. It’s vital that your text is still read in the correct order, so placement is crucial. Keep alignment in mind by confining your text to a section of your graphic, so that it doesn’t run off the page.
20. Apply a tint to your image the same as any block color in your design for consistency.
This can be achieved by using the same color across your whole graphic. Peach has been used as a background color for this graphic, then a similar tint applied to the accompanying image.
21. Use shapes to create symbolism that reinforces a message in your graphic.
Elements that visually represent an idea create clever compositions. This graphic has an image background with two overlapped shapes that form a V to represent the V in VIBES. This also creates a window, allowing more of the image to be shown.
22. Tip: Apply a grid to create a clean composition, using one of the photo holders as a text box.
A well composed graphic will create optimum impact. Therefore using a clean grid with images with a consistent similar color palette will form an eye catching design. For added uniformity, use a well cropped section to fill with a flat color to overlay text.
23. Use light and bold font variants for emphasis and impact.
Open Sans is an excellent typeface to use if you want to keep a consistent style throughout your design by applying font variants. For this one I have accented specific words in context to their meanings. This is a clever way to form typographic hierarchy.
24. Enhance silhouettes in your images by decreasing the brightness and increasing the contrast.
Silhouettes are a great way to create impact within your designs. By increasing the contrast in your advanced sliders panel, you will enhance the separation of tone (dark and light) and decrease the detailing in your image. The image has been cropped so that the text can be placed in the clear section for optimum legibility.
25. Create beautiful typographic forms by increasing or decreasing letter spacing.
It might seem simple, but the slight adjustment of letter spacing can have a major impact on your graphic. The reduced spacing of the text in this graphic visually represents the design tip itself, while creating a nice window effect through the letter openings.
26. Use the combination of a tint and x-process to create two-tone filter effects.
By reducing the x-process, your image becomes cooler, therefore the blue water is emphasized, teamed with a purple tint, lighter parts of the image are highlighted and the clouds become pink.
27. Create clever compositions by letting the features within images guide where to place your type.
Recipes don’t have to be boring! Use an image of your food to frame your text. The image you use is obviously going to be the decider on where you place text so try and find one with less noise and more space to breathe.
28. Monochromatic style graphics never get old. Use black and white filters combined with white text for an epic contrast effect.
Black and white photos offer a cool and stylistic effect. Because of the tonal balance, they are also a great way to take advantage of forms and shapes. The shoreline in the image has been used as a compositional bench for the word “chill”, as well as a visual representation of the cold air.
29. Create soft effects by placing a pale shape over your image and adjusting the transparency.
Color overlays are a great way to enhance tones in your image and create a soft tonal effect. Using a transparent shape over your entire image will also dull the noise (detail) within your image a bit.
30. Take in the natural composition of your background image for clever text placement.
The gradient horizon in this image makes for an excellent copy space. The text has been broken into three lines, perfectly corresponding with the three layers of haze.
31. Use a bold and stylistic typeface teamed with a fine sans serif for optimum contrast.
Playfair Display Bold is a luxurious and elegant serif typeface, and has been teamed with the contemporary and modern Montserrat. The strong contrast between the tool fonts work in harmony as a pair, as there is a clear distinction that they are two separate pieces of information.
32. Use scale as a visual element to place emphasis on words.
Hierarchy is formed when your text or elements are placed in different sizes on the page. This forms an order to which your information is read. You can see the words that have been scaled up are easier to see, therefore more prominent in hierarchy.
33. Rotate your text so that it follows forms in your background image, creating visual harmony.
Typography is an excellent design skill to explore. This background image offers some great space to place text. Placing a word on an angle works in harmony with the wave in the sea, while the lines of copy have been cushioned together. The space between the first two words has been used for the ascender in the second line to pop through.
34. Use background images with detail for a beautiful, textural graphic style.
Clouds are a beautiful visual effect and work really well as a background image. Play with the filters to get some sharper forms or intensify the color. Alternatively, you can soften the clouds by adding some blur.
35. Enhance the freshness of dull images by increasing the brightness in your filter panel.
Images with single colors can sometimes look a little dull. Freshen them up by adjusting the brightness, but ensure you don’t overexpose or blow-out the photo. To avoid this, it might pay to reduce the contrast a little to accommodate the increased lightness.
36. Use font styles to create nuance in your text, to place emphasis on specific words.
Lora is a beautiful serif typeface to use in a case like this. It has a subtle elegance to it and is a traditional story-book style font. The regular and bold styles also have a substantial difference in weight, which allows the application of bold to be noticed well.
37. Help textures speak through design elements with transparency.
White text or shapes can appear a little strong. Applying a subtle transparency to white elements is an easy way to soften your graphics. Additionally, when teamed with a detailed background, the texture will speak through the letters.
38. Treat content with a strong rhythm with an equally strong design style.
The repetition of the word “Design” at the beginning of three lines in this graphic are visually reinforced using a geometric typeface like Oswald.
39. Level out the tonal separation in your images by decreasing the contrast in your filters.
It’s natural to want to increase contrast in your images, but a low contrast filter has really beautiful effects. This creates a treatment similar to vintage photography. The more detail in the image, the more obvious the filter will be.
40. Tip: Use areas with clear space in your images for creative ways to include text.
The shadow in the hills of this image has offered excellent space to place text. On top of this, the lakeside acts as a shelf for the baseline to sit on, creating a harmonious composition relevant to the tone of the quote.
41. Desaturate your graphics by applying a pastel toned shape over your page, creating a whimsical effect.
This style mimics that of old school, fix-stained photographs. A buttery yellow shape has been used as an overlay, to create a hazy and vintage effect.
42. Crop your images to complement your composition.
You don’t have to complicate your design to create an effective layout. Well cropped images are a great way to reduce background noise, take advantage of copy space, focus on a dominant feature and create compositional harmony.
43. Use different fonts on the same words and see how their tone differs.
All fonts have different characteristics, both by their facade and the way they speak to an audience. To clarify, when a word is applied in an elegant serif typeface, it will have a refined tone to it. When the same word is capitalised in a geometric sans serif font, the word will seem boisterous and strong.
44. Push your creative skills by stacking different weight typefaces for a stylised effect.
Horizontally stacked type is a neat and fun way to push your typographic skills. Sans serif fonts are particularly useful when stacking type. Their geometric form means they align nicely on all four sides.
45. Use one color consistently across your all the elements in your graphic.
Consistency is a great way to create visual harmony. The combination of a blue tint on the background image with the blue text forms a soothing and complementary aesthetic. Make your image black and white before applying your tint for optimum effect.
46. Create calming, cool design using soft tones and transparent imagery.
For this effect, apply a pale tone background. Then give your image a solid frame, ensuring the padding is even around your entire page. To help the text stand out, increase the transparency. Choose an image with nice detailing so you can still make out shape and texture after the transparency has been applied.
47. Use relevant imagery to help visually communicate your message.
Always place your text where it is able to be read clearly. The stronger the contrast, the more powerful your message will be. Use font styles to give your content some character. Here the F was used to visually symbolise the act of “fitting in”.
48. Contain your content by using a frame around your text.
Using a shape or a frame to contain your text is a smart way to form a stronger focus on your message. If you use a frame, make sure the weight of the stroke doesn’t dwarf the weight of your type.
49. Use colors from your background image to apply to your text.
Some of the more simple design ideas are some of the most effective. The simple application of gold to the text on this graphic has great impact, pulling the color from the ocean in the background image, and making the message shine.
50. Never underestimate the power of a nice image and clean text.
Don’t overcomplicate your designs. If you are struggling to find a nice way to represent your message, keep it simple. Find a beautiful image without too much detailing to use for your background, and overlay an easy to read typeface in a contrasting color.
Inspired? Start Designing!
It’s one thing to captivate your audience, the next step is to keep them engaged. When you are close to a project, it’s hard to note what can be improved on. Let this list can help you create smarter design decisions and add some professional touch to your graphics. Happy designing!