Design for Dummies: Being creative with free online design tools

When I started working in a professional environment, the worst event of my week was when my manager asked me to make a presentation about a project or topic. I would spend the next week stressing about how to create the best presentation EVER… yes, every time had to be better than the last. After all the internal drama, I would end up with a mediocre presentation with a lot of words, lacklustre images and no design theme.

I would like to say that one day, I had a Dr. House moment where I saw a cat run across the road and I finally had all the answers to design magic but that didn’t happen. I had to learn through trial and error. After hundreds of mediocre presentations I learnt a few design tricks and tips and I would like to share them. These tips won’t make you the world’s best designer but they will give you a basis to make more than just your presentations better but they will help you create some fancy brochures, posters or party invitations. They will also help you make designs that everyone makes you think can only be done through Adoobe InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator.

Seven tips for the level one designer

1. Use PowerPoint

I know there are professional designers out there who are groaning at the thought of someone suggesting PowerPoint as a design tool but I really think that it is a great gateway to design for beginners. PowerPoint is easy to use and almost everyone has it through Microsoft. I fought it for a long time but I realised that brochures and diagrams created on PowerPoint could be shared with my colleagues so that they could edit them. This made everything so much easier. Being the only one in the team who can use InDesign means you are the only one who can make edits to a design. That is not a life that you want to live. Other advantages of PowerPoint are that:

· PowerPoint can be exported as various formats such as high resolution pictures (jpg, png, etc).

· You can change a slide into any size. Many people don’t realise that a PowerPoint slide can be as big as a poster size or as small as an A5 piece of paper.

· PowerPoint has the basic principles of design such as image and text box manipulation.

· Smart Art is more helpful than you think. Make your slides engaging by creating cool graphic representations of your content instead of lists on top of lists with a whole lot of bullet points.

A basic flyer made on PowerPoint

2. Use templates

When working on any presentation or graphic design, I always think that I have to reinvent the wheel but the truth is that there are many templates available online from designers that are happy and willing to share their work. The following are a few of the tools that have made my life a little easier.

a. Canva: Canva is a free graphic design website that offers hundreds of free templates for presentations, brochures, posters, social media posts and so much more. Canva is easy to use through a drag and drop interface.

b. Piktochart: Piktochart is a free infographic design website that offers hundreds of templates for infographics. Very useful if you just want to represent your data in a professional manner.

c. Freepix: Freepix offers exclusive freebies and all types of graphic resources that you need for your presentation projects. This is an easy place to find free stock photos with free licenses and attribution.

A birthday invitation made from a Canva template.

3. Use icons

Another easy addition to your design is icons. Icons have a way of emphasising your point or your sentence without being aggressive. Flaticon is where I always get my icons. It’s a website that offers a range of icons for free that you can download in different high res formats in any colour.

4. Know your fonts

Have you ever read a document with more than three very different fonts and it gave you a headache! Don’t be the person who invests all their design skills on fonts that are bold, underlined and italicised. Use typography as the basis of a beautiful and easy way to convey your message. I typically use Canva combination to play around with different fonts that I can match together before I decide on which one’s will suite my design.

In case that website gives you a font pairing that you don’t have in your system, you can always download the font or a similar one from dafont.com.

5. Know your colours

I think of design as putting on an outfit. If you dress well, chances are you have a good eye for design. Many people think that it’s just about matching the colours but it’s more than that. It’s about finding the colours and patterns that don’t necessarily match but those that talk to each other and are visually appealing when placed on the same canvas. I know that sometimes this gets a little tough and when I need a little help choosing the correct colour palette, I refer to coolors.co. This website allows you generate multiple colour palettes and also gives you the HEX numbers for each colour. It’s also fun to watch the various colour combinations.

A colour palette from coolors.co

6. Find inspiration

Before you start designing, it is important to look for inspiration. I like to find that from articles that designers have written or popular blogs like Creative Bloq. You would also be amazed at how many blogs and articles on creating the best design exist on the internet.

And the bonus tip is, make sure that you bring it all together! Use all these websites to create a presentation or piece of design that you are proud of.