Half a second is all it takes for someone to form an impression of your website. Nearly all of these impressions are related to design. You might think of "good design" as a top-up to your core business offering —pretty packaging for your product, if you will. But in an age where consumer attention is the scarcest commodity, can you really afford poor design?

If a consumer were to see your product on a busy shelf, how would want that product to appear? Don't assume your target customer has all the time in the world to comparison-shop. They're busy.

Design is not just about pretty packaging. At its core, design is about communicating to the subconscious mind. So here's my gift to you, to better communicate your product: 9 Graphic Design Hacks to Make Your Work More Professional (at my expense, as a professional designer.)

Don’t distort your message with poor use of typography.

1. Choose the right typeface.

Typefaces are like people – each one has a distinct personality. Some are fun and friendly, while others are formal and sophisticated. One of the biggest design mistakes you can make is to select a typeface whose personality doesn’t match your message. A playful typeface like Chalkboard works well in an elementary school classroom, but it would look glaringly out of place on an “EMERGENCY” sign, which must be clear and authoritative.

2. Optimize readability.

Forget what you learned in high school: double-spaced Times New Roman in 12-point size should never be the default. Instead, let your eyes be the judge and adjust your text size so that it looks good within the context of your design. A business card, for instance, may only require 8-point text, but anything below 14 points would be unreadable on a large poster. Also, keep in mind that not all typefaces are created equal, so a 10-point Helvetica is much larger than a 10-point Garamond – yet another reason to rely on your eyes rather than point size.

Once you’ve pinpointed the size, adjust the space between your lines of text. The aim is to create a comfortable reading experience, so the line-spacing should be neither too tight nor too loose. A good rule of thumb is to set your line-spacing between 120% and 145% of your text size, so if your text is set to 10 points, the optimal line-space should be 12 to 14 points. 

3. Don’t mix too many fonts.

Even professional designers can struggle when working with multiple typefaces. To avoid disaster, limit yourself to two typefaces: one for headings and another for body copy. If you’re having trouble pairing fonts, this guide is a good starting point

Don’t distract your readers with bad layout.

1. Embrace white space.

A common mistake non-designers make is trying to cram as much as possible into a limited space. Although it may seem like a good idea to present all your information up front, a packed layout hinders the reading experience and turns viewers away. To combat this, increase your page margins and introduce more negative space. This ensures that your information is presented in short, easy-to-digest portions. Think four-course meal rather than a buffet.

2. Establish a clear hierarchy.

Make sure you distinguish between different page elements, such as headings, subheadings, body copy, or captions. This can be done by varying the text size, weight, color, style, placement, etc. Without a clear hierarchy, it can be difficult to know where to start reading, or what the most pertinent information is.

3. When in doubt, align your text to the left.

Left-aligned text works for most contexts, as it’s easy to read and implement. Non-designers tend to overuse centered text, but this alignment can be difficult to read because our eyes must search for a different starting point with each line. It should be reserved for headings or short blocks of text. Similarly, right-aligned text contradicts our normal reading direction and should also be used sparingly (e.g. for short captions).

Don’t use images that devalue your brand.

1. Use high-resolution images.

Your images should never look blurry or pixelated. When selecting photos, remember that bigger is always better – you can easily shrink a large image down to suit your design, but you can never scale an image up without jeopardizing its clarity.

2. Don’t distort images.

When adjusting the size of an image, make sure you keep the proportions intact rather than just stretching the width or height. Your photos should not look like a funhouse mirror reflection.

3. Maintain visual consistency.

For better brand consistency, make sure your images all conform to the same visual style or aesthetic. If your brand identity is bright and playful, don’t choose photos that are dark and atmospheric. 

If this was too much to read, we also have a visual guide for easy reference. Download it now and start designing! (Again, at my expense.)