There comes a moment when all account and strategy people look at the great design around them and think, “why not me?” You watch all day as designers effortlessly navigate Photoshop and start manipulating everyday assets into pieces of beauty. They have perfectly married technical ability with a broader sense of taste and vision; quickly differentiating between “good design” and “bad design”.
As a project manager, I constantly wished I could revise comps, design my own PowerPoint templates or even create minor UI elements that often fall off the design list (anyone ever realize the favicon is missing a day before launch? Yup, you can relate). Therefore I embarked on my own journey to conquer Photoshop, explore color theory and master typography.
Spoiler alert: I fail miserably in these areas. Luckily, I am still organized, well spoken and have a wealth of strategy chops. But in the process, I’ve collected a series of resources and tips to help account people get their feet wet design-wise and hopefully help out some designers along the way.
The murky waters of Photoshop
Virtually nothing about Photoshop is intuitive to a newcomer. There are toolbars on all sides and an overwhelming amount of options. But I was determined to find my way. I started by stocking up on fairly basic Photoshop tutorial projects. Here are a couple tutorials:
I chose mostly poster-type designs that had a mix of typography, imagery and visual effects. In many cases I made them my own along the way: using lyrics instead of placeholder copy and messing with colors I liked better than the suggestions in the tutorial. Sure enough, I became accustomed to the things I could do in my still limited range of knowledge: crop and resize images, work with layers, define and utilize patterns. These are basics and yet so very helpful. Now, I can create images for social media and PowerPoint templates. It’s tasks such as these that I can tackle and allow the trained professionals to focus on client work rather than internal needs of the agency. My design team is very thankful.
Color Schemes for Dummies
Fun fact: matching colors for clothing in no way correlates to skill in choosing colors for a design. Color schemes are an art for the most skilled and experienced practitioners. Luckily, there are plenty of resources that will help the less experienced create something that is pleasing and does not offend. Here’s a quick resource for an overview of what each hue ”means”. We don’t expect anyone to be a color theory expert, but this brief article will go over basic colors and a brief description that outlines possible uses.
If you just want a high level (and beautifully visual) way of assessing what colors work not only with each other but also for possible themes, check out Design Seeds. For example, search “spring” for a variety of pastels and bright colors that complement each other. If you’d prefer a more advanced tool, Color Scheme Designer will allow you to choose a single color and explore possible color schemes from there.
The Art of Typography
There are two rules of typography: Don’t use Comic Sans and try to minimize the amount of times you make Comic Sans related jokes. There’s my one freebie for the article.
But seriously, these days there are about as many fonts out there as there are colors. However, there are a couple key points that will aid you on your journey to understand typography.
First, learn about the difference between Serif and Sans Serif fonts and how they work together.
From there, my best advice is to use font combinations that have been used by designers around you (or on the internet). Sites like whatthefont.com will let you upload screenshots and pictures and identify similar fonts.
Be warned. Before you enter the next phase of downloading your own fonts, I feel that it is my duty as your educator to explain that there is no going back. Once you’ve explored the wide world of fonts, everything becomes a typography project. Everything. You will convert official documents to Times New Roman only at the very last moment when you have to (before sending them off to clients). Every deck you make should allow for design time as you tweak the header and copy fonts. It’s a bit of an addiction.
Start small. Download a couple of free fonts from sites like lostfonts.com, fontsquirrel.com, dafonts.com – there are endless sites of this nature. Ask your designers what they use. They may even be the fonts from your earlier Photoshop experiments. You can always build up, but it’s easy to go click-happy on a font site. Just choosing a couple that you will realistically use and toying with them will serve as a good foundation.
These above tips may never win you One Show or a D&AD Pencil, but you may be able to add some quick internal agency value or make a designer’s life easier. And at the end of the day, isn’t that enough?