Graphic design can be a hard task-master at times but you don’t always need to pay somebody a small fortune to do your dirty work, with just a few simple rules you can create your own masterpieces (unless you have the money, in which case get a pro).
Keep it simple
One of the most common mistakes when you looking at mom and pop art, overly complicated designs confuse the eye and make your observer unsure of where to look – focus the attention somewhere. This goes equally for white space, just because that ad space cost you a fortune, doesn’t mean you have to fill it up – less is quite literally more.
Often forgotten – what is it that you are advertising? If your selling cute little Duracell bunnies, a gothic grunge font with a background of nails is hardly likely to get the message across! Try to put aside your personal favourite font and go with what’s fits with the theme – you’d be surprised how much of a difference this makes!
Steer well clear of clip-art, I don’t care how good you think it is – it’s not. A simple well composed photograph will go a whole lot further than a load of clippings. Try to use just a couple of graphic elements – again, direct the eye to your message.
You can do an entire degree in typography so be mindful of the amount of fonts you are using and the complexity of type. Good designs have 2 or 3 fonts maximum. Often I’ll choose the title font first and then draft in the body text and fiddle with the font after I have finished the background plate.
Another very common mistake, keep to a colour theme, choose a base colour and then a subset of that colour – there is rarely a reason to use the rainbow of colours and less is more.
This is always going to be a tough one to get your head around, but the more you design and observe others work (not that it will always be good) to more composition will occupy your mind. Being a film guy, I’m used to peering through a view finder and using the ‘Rule of 3rd’s’ for perfect composition – this technique transfers well from the movie frame to the digital canvas – that’s not to say that you can’t go against the general consesus and purposfully distort the frame – just make sure you have a reason for doing it.
It sounds obvious, but looks at other work by other ‘artists’. Look at how they have composed, typed, colours and edited the advertising space to get their message across. When you wandering down the street, take in the colours and geometry of your surrounding areas, try to visualise your surroundings on the 2d plane.
Don’t be afraid to be bold (unless your next job depends on it). Some of the most successful designers have taken a well established concept and turned it on its head. Personally I think that alot of work has obvious hallmarks with regard to its quality – one mans rubbish is another mans treasure, but sometimes you have to just wipe the slate and start again.
These are just my own personal views on the subject. Everyone designs differently. Expect to take criticism, but take it well for sometimes we are wrong and what may appeal to a designer might not to the mass populace.
A lot of people use Photoshop, a small minority of those people actually use the ‘full’ power of the Application – not that, that’s a bad thing (does that even make sense). One of the most common questions I get asked is where do you put all the different downloads (shapes / brushes / swatches etc) from the web and then how do you activate them in the Application. Well it’s easy – but only if you know how.I’m on a Mac so we’ll use the Directory structure from that version to explain, it’s similar on all platforms and version from 7 onwards – I’ll be using CS3 for this.
Ok, so above is a screen cap from the /presets folder which you will find in the Photoshop directory. Pretty self explanatory what lives where but let’s delve a little deeper with some examples.Photoshop Brushes One of the most common presets, a brush is a collection of brush ‘tips’ which can be literally anything. Let’s say you have a collection of grunge patterns that you use frequently, rather than loading the individual file everytime and then moving it to a new layer for editing / masking, you could put all these ‘files’ into a brush preset, select, paint, save time. Brushes always end with .abr file extension. Put them in ‘/presets/brushes’.Some good sites for brushes: http://browse.deviantart.com/resources/applications/psbrushes/ http://www.psbrushes.net/ http://photoshopbrushes.com/brushes.htmPhotoshop Shapes Second only to the widespread use of brushes are the shapes, dumped into ‘/presets/custom shapes’ they always have the .csh file extension. You can access these shapes with the ‘custom shape tool. There are loads of great shape sites out there and I tend to find that I keep all my arty-farty floral patters in shape files, but they can be literally anything. Shapes are ‘vectors’ and so can be scaled to any size and keep their resolution.Some good links for shape files: http://browse.deviantart.com/resources/applications/customshape/ http://www.magurno.com/ http://www.mikesquarter.com/Photoshop Actions Actions are ridiculously powerful little ‘mini apps’. If you’ve ever played with macros then you need to read no further, for the rest of us: Actions allow you to perform a series of actions on an image and record them, you can then save them to a file and at the click of a button redo it all with nought more than a single click. Example – You need to duplicate a layer 3 times and independantly adjust the R, G and B channels, but you need to do this for 20 images that were washed out. You start recording, perform the actions on a single file and save this to a action file, which you can then call up at will on the remaining 19 images all at a single click – get your head around these, the real time-savers. Actions always have the .atn file extension. Put them in ‘/presets/actions’.Some good sites for actions / tutorials: http://www.photoshopsupport.com/tools/actions.htmlhttp://www.actionaddiction.com/http://www.about.com/Photoshop Swatches A swatch is a collection of colours organised into a file. For example if I’m working on a new site but I have a specific colour scheme in mind I put all of those colours into a swatch file and then load it into Photoshop, that way I only have to worry about the 3 primary’s and 10 of so secondary colours I’m using on the site – no more colour dropper when trying to replicate colours. A real time saver when working with a specific colour set. Swatches always have the .aco extension. Put them in ‘/presets/colour swatches’.Some good sites for swatches: http://www.milesburke.com.au/blog/2006/02/03/the-web-20-secret-weapon/If I’ve forgotten anything, comments are welcome.