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Design Eye for the Non-Design Guy (or Gal)

Design Eye for the Non-Design Guy (or Gal)

I am not a designer. (Shocking, I know.)

That doesn’t mean I don’t use design in my work. Newsletter subheads will get a bolder font than the rest of the text. Paragraphs are separated by a line of white space rather than indenting the first word. Rows or columns in a spreadsheet are filled with different colors. Very basic, very easy, yet I always want to take it that extra step, to make it stand out just a bit more.

Robin Willams’ (the author, not the actor/comedian) The Non-Designer’s Design Book provides a decent introduction to the design world for someone who, like me, has some idea of what good design is but doesn’t know how to use that information. Her book presents four design principles that everyone already uses subconsciously, giving them names and making them easier to understand and to identify. Contrast, making items or text that are different really stand out from one another on a page; Repetition, using a visual element over and over to create continuity; Alignment, connecting items and text visually on a page to create good flow; and Proximity, placing related items near each other on a page. And rather than simply stating that these are the principles, Williams includes dozens of everyday examples to re-enforce their usage.

The second section of the book deals with typefaces — the Oldstyles, the Moderns, the Scripts, the differences between Serif and Sans Serif and Slab Serif — and how to use them effectively to make a newsletter or invitation more eye-catching. Taking the image to the left as an example, those four typefaces look too much alike. Combining them onto a single page makes them almost indistinguishable from one another. Why not increase the size of one typeface to show how different it is? Or change the weight (or boldness)? Or how about a different color? The eye will be drawn to it and then want to read what comes immediately after.

It all seems pretty simple after reading Williams’ book. Not that I’m going to drop everything to create a 20-page, 4-color catalog any time soon. But at least I can make my newsletters a cut above the rest.


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