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From the Trenches

9 Design Tools for Non-Designers

Right Source | June 8, 2017
9 Design Tools for Non-Designers

We’ve written a lot about the fact that content and design work better together — in fact, your content marketing efforts really won’t succeed if they don’t include a solid design component to bring your words to life. Not convinced your content needs design? Here are some recent stats that prove otherwise:

  • 63.2% of marketers said businesses will ‘rely heavily on visual content’ in 2022. (Source)
  • Articles with 1 image per every 75-100 words get double the shares of those with fewer images. (Source)
  • When people hear information, they usually only remember about 10% of that information three days later. But if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people will remember 65% of the information three days later. (Source)
  • Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than tweets without images. (Source)
  • Not getting enough likes? Facebook posts with images get 2.3 times more engagement vs. those without images. (Source)

But what to do with those little design projects that pop up, but seem too small to send to your designer — or need to be done too quickly to schedule? We all know what happens when people who aren’t designers try to be, well, graphic designers. You can end up with garish color palettes, no white space, and a jumble of shapes that look more like an abstract painting than an infographic. But the fact is that even if you aren’t trained as a graphic designer, in many companies, your job in marketing is going to require you to dabble in a little design here and there, whether it’s to save time, or money, or both.

So, a little design knowledge can go a long way, no matter your official title or department. You never know when a small-but-urgent project might come up while your official designer is swamped, or when a proposal will come across your desk featuring art created by your sales person. Or maybe you’re a part of an internal marketing department and routinely try to tackle the small stuff in house so you can send the larger projects to your creative team.

Regardless, you will need to work on a design project at some point. And there’s no need for you to look like an amateur when you do it. Here are nine easy-to-use tools that can help any non-designer accomplish common design tasks:

How to create social media and blog graphics: Canva

Canva offers a browser-based account, as well as iPhone and iPad apps. You do have to create an account in order to use it, but a regular Canva subscription is free (Canva for Work, which offers more robust features and support, requires a monthly fee). This site offers lots of pre-sized templates that make it easy to design to certain specifications, such as social media posts, posters, letterhead, and more. You can choose from Canva’s native layouts, icons, and graphics — some are free, and some aren’t — or upload your own to keep things on brand.

How to make charts and graphs: Beam

Beam is a free online chart maker offered by infographic platform Venngage. You don’t need an account to make and save a chart using Beam’s mini website, but you will need to enter your name and email address in order to download your data visualization (you can also opt to embed it, or share it on Facebook and Twitter). Beam allows you to choose from several different types of graphs and color palettes, and you can edit the data in a spreadsheet, similar to PowerPoint — but the end result will be much prettier than a regular old slide deck.

How to edit photos: Pixlr

Need to edit a picture, and your smartphone or computer’s photo program just isn’t cutting it? Then turn to Pixlr, which is basically Photoshop in web browser form, but without the hefty price tag. The functionality is pretty similar to Photoshop, so familiarity with the popular Adobe program will help, but you can pick it up even if you’re never touched Photoshop in your life.

How to create icons: LogoGarden

Yes, the word “logo” is in the name of this website — but don’t actually use it to make logos! That is work best left to professionals. However, this website is useful if you need to pull together a suite of little icons for a blog, list, etc. and want to customize the color quickly.

How to find icons: Iconfinder

On the other hand, sometimes you need pre-made icons — say, social media icons — that all have a similar aesthetic. In that case, look to a website like Iconfinder instead of trying to make your own. They offer a mix of free and paid icons, as well as subscriptions, so there are various options to fit your budget.

How to get color palette inspiration: Coolors.co

You’ve created that basic postcard, but it needs more color. So where in the Pantone universe do you start? Whether you’re taking your cues from an existing palette or building them from scratch, Coolors offers inspiration via a website, iOS app, Adobe add-on, and Chrome extension. Its strangely addicting color palette generator changes out swatches at the simple touch of a space bar, and you can input your existing brand colors to get complementary suggestions. You can also browse pre-created color palettes in a different tab.

How to figure out a color code: ColorZilla

This extension for Chrome and Firefox will tell you the precise six-number hex code for any pixel on a website. It even saves the history of color swatches you’ve picked, which is very helpful if you’re browsing the web and see a color you like that you want to save quickly.

How to figure out a font: WhatFont

Similar to how ColorZilla lets you select a pixel and tells you the color code, WhatFont lets you hover over a font anywhere on a website page, and it will automatically pull the font name from the HTML code. You can add it as extension to Chrome and Safari or download the bookmarklet; it’s also available as an iPhone and iPad app.

And finally, one bonus piece of design wisdom…

When to hire a designer

You might be able to make passable little graphics on your own if you already have brand guidelines, color codes, fonts, etc. in place. But trust me, to create a consistent look for your brand — not to mention design larger, more complex pieces like eBooks, infographics, print collateral, or interactive content — hire an experienced designer to make you look polished. The big jobs require talented designers, and you’ll just frustrate yourself if you try to take on more complicated projects without the proper training.

In a pinch, these nine tools will help you create small but quality design projects, even if you’re not a designer. Just be sure to turn to your graphic designer for larger jobs, or you’ll regret it. Don’t have a designer, or need other help with a design project? Reach out.

Related Resources

About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.