Let’s face it: social media has turned us all into graphic designers. More and more, good visuals bring loyal customers. While hiring an experienced professional is best when it comes to designing logos and websites, the day-to-day demands of maintaining an Instagram or Facebook often fall to us. 

Apps like Canva and Adobe Spark help. But creating attractive, unique content from those tools requires a basic understanding of design principles. So if you’re new to design – or just want to up your game a bit – here are five basic concepts to consider when you make that social media post. 


1. Proximity: That’s just grouping elements to direct the viewer’s eye. As this post from Design Display points out, “Grouping similar elements together and varying the size might seem like it would turn out too scattered, but in reality, it gives the design continuity and unity.”


2. Alignment: In her book “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” Robin Williams offers a stern warning. “Nothing should be placed … arbitrarily. Every item should have a visual connection to something else on the page.” The principle applies to digital design as well: be intentional about elements. Keep the alignment consistent – especially when it comes to text. And don’t automatically put everything in the center, especially if you’re aiming for an energetic composition.


3. Repetition: This concept adds consistency and emphasis. Lots of times, color is duplicated, but shapes, lines and even words can be repeated too. Keep an eye out, though. Too much repetition can be confusing and overwhelming.


4. Contrast: If repetition adds consistency, contrast aids differentiation. Good use of contrast communicates what’s important. The contrast can be subtle or obvious, and can extend to type, shape, colors. Even the weight of elements can be varied to keep a design interesting,

white space

5. White Space (also called negative space): This is the space – no matter the color –  that surrounds pictures, text and other design elements. Even though it’s not occupied, it’s immensely important. As the blog post points out, white space can “help the eye scan a design/text, increase legibility and readability, and create a certain aesthetic/mood.” Or as this example illustrates, “Using white space properly means there’s only one place to look.”

Of course there’s much more to design. Typography matters in this age of social media. But playing with these five basic concepts will definitely improve your social media game. 

Looking for more on the principles of graphic design? Here are good places to start.

  • The NonDesigner’s Design Book: This breezy read offers novices solid advice. I’m a fan. My copy is almost 20 years old, but it’s still my go-to. And it gives directions for choosing and combining type – invaluable in this age of memes. 
  • Five Basic Elements of Graphic Design: This blog post is a quick, solid read. Although it lacks examples, its short directions can get you over a design block or help diagnose a design problem. 
  • White Space Is Not Your Enemy:  Reviewers correctly point out there is absolutely no white space on the cover of the latest edition! But don’t be put off. There’s solid information inside this book, with good tips for digital design.
  • Canva’s Design School: Although most of the app’s tutorials show how to use the platform, some of the lessons explain basic principles for better design. 
  • Designs That Catch Your Eye: Collect posts and graphics that work for you and save them in a folder. Then use them for inspiration when you’re stumped.
Afi Scruggs

Afi Scruggs

Staff Writer

Afi Scruggs is our staff writer. Afi is an award-winning multi-platform journalist and author who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Her articles and columns have appeared in the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, The U.S. edition of the Guardian, USA Today, and Essence magazine and on washingtonpost.com. Her audio segments have been broadcast on national NPR programs as well on local affiliates in northeast Ohio. She’s also written three books: Jump Rope Magic, published by Scholastic; a genealogical memoir, Claiming Kin: Confronting the History of an African-American Family; and an essay collection entitled Beyond Stitch and Bitch: Reflections on Knitting and Life. The New York Times Book Review called Jump Rope Magic a “magical, spunky book.” Afi learned to knit when she was 7 years old and to sew when she was 9. She’s forever working on reducing her stash.

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