Graphic Design for n00bz: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

It’s no secret that we at LimeRed are passionate about good design. It’s what we do. Or, well, it’s what they do. I, Sam, am just the marketing communications intern. While I know blogging and twitter and branding and whatnot, all I knew about design when I started here was “Helvetica Good; Comic Sans Bad.”

And yet, by then, I had made hundreds of graphic design choices in my life. Some of my earliest memories of computers were wasting hours in front of WordPerfect, choosing the ideal font for my vocabulary homework. In high school, I obsessively customized my Xanga and Blogspot blogs (now blessedly lost to the sands of time). By college, I had slowed down. Most of the platforms I used (Facebook, Twitter) took all those customization options out of my hands, my professors required Times New Roman, and I had better things to do than add crazy effects to my powerpoint presentations.

I wish my classmates had felt the same way. As a student, I watched hundreds of Prezi presentations, a free tool for slide shows that whizzes and zooms around a large canvas instead of flipping from slide to slide. It’s easy to see the appeal: they look slick, stand out, and give the illusion of effort, technical skill, and investment of time. In fact, Prezi presentations are almost always ugly, annoying, and distracting; watching them whiz and zoom around can be downright nauseating.

Prezi is just one example. When we were talking about the abuse of these design tools in the office, and Sarah Kowalis, our UX architect, remarked, “With great power comes great responsibility.” What a great idea for a blog post, I thought immediately. How do we amateurs navigate the many powerful design tools and options technology not only presents us with, but often requires us to use?

Good design, like good writing, boils down to communication. What you’re ultimately trying to do is convey your message clearly and easily. It’s easy to get lost in the tools and get excited because you figured out how to use them. But just because you have the tools, doesn’t mean you have to abuse them. A lot of amateurs use design tools the way bad writers use the thesaurus. Why say “walk to the house” when you can “ambulate to the domicile”? You probably don’t need every animated transition, font or icon.

This isn’t to entirely crap on amateurs, though. The democratization of design leads to exciting experimentation and the development of new aesthetics. As Ze Frank said of myspace, “Ugly when compared to pre-existing notions of taste is a bummer. But ugly as a representation of mass experimentation and learning is pretty damn cool.”

So, what are we to do and how are we to learn? Here are some resources to start off with:

Or you could always hire a professional, AHEM.

(Special thanks to Brett, who went to a very dark place designing our header in powerpoint.)

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