top of page

How to Develop An Eye For Design - Ep. 34

Updated: Mar 26

 I definitely think that some people have a natural eye for design. But I also think that it can be developed.

I'm hoping that this episode can help edit your own designs with a designers touch. So that when you're creating marketing materials for your business you can try and find ways to make the design even better and more impactful.

If you want to learn more about things that I look for in my designs when I'm designing,

Let's dive in.

In no particular order. These are the things that I look for.


Left (bad contrast | Right (good contrast)

Is there contrast?

Can I read the text against the background or is the text fading into the background. Is there dark text placed on the darkest part of an image? If something is hard to read due to contrast then I will make a couple of changes, whether that's making the background darker so the text pops or maybe lighten the text so it pops against that darker part of the image.

Or maybe you have a dark image on top of a dark background and you want the photo to pop up from the background a little bit more you can put a light colored stroke around the image to keep it from blending in.

Just make sure that there's contrast so that things can be easily read and easily understood.


How's the scale?

How big is the text compared to how big the photograph is? Is the graphic so large it overwhems the text so much that it's distracting?

I like to take in the design as a whole and look at the scale of everything. That visual scale is how you're going to create a visual hierarchy. The most common mistake I see is people make their text so large that it almost looks comical or elementary on a design.

Visual hierarchy is going to be what people see first, second, and last. Do you want people to take in the photograph first or read the text first? For example, if you wanted to make a poster for a bulletin board and it's for house cleaning do you want people to see a photo of the house you cleaned, and have the image as what attracts them to read the poster? Or do you want people to read your headline first which can be something like need help cleaning your home?, Then they see the photo underneath the headline. For that particular example I would say this all depends on the quality of image you have. If you have a really nice professional high-quality image of a house that you cleaned make the image the first thing people see there's a lot of emotion in photography. If you are pulling a mediocre image off of Google of a clean house then let's have the first thing people see is the text.


Left (inconsistent spacing) | Right (consistent spacing)

Look at the spacing

If you're making a PDF with a checklist are the check boxes evenly spaced in between each box? Are they all the same size and left-aligned?

Or if you want to stack three photos vertically on the left side of the poster and the text on the right side are those photos centered on top of each other? Are they all the same width? Is the spacing in between each photograph consistent?

You want to look for these things because the spacing in between elements is what's going to make your design either clean and organized or messy.

Even look at the leading (the space in between each line) of your text. You don't want it too large because that makes things hard to read. But you also don't want it too tight because that also makes it hard to read.


Left (Scary Halloween Poster - design from Canva Templates) Right (Cute Halloween Poster - design from Canva Templates)

Does the design have an emotional impact?

Does the design make you feel adventurous? Romantic?

If you're creating a Halloween poster, does the poster give you creepy vibes like it's supposed to? That's a big thing to think about, whatever emotion you're going for take a look at the overall design and see what vibe it gives off. You can figure out this vibe through the fonts that you choose, the colors, the images. If you want to set the tone for a romantic event then maybe you use a little bit of script in there, the background is dark to set the mood, and there's a little bit of light popping in the back that represents candle light. If you are a corporate brand and you're creating marketing materials and you want it to have a professional and corporate feel, stay away from pastel or vibrant colors like hot pink. Leave out busy do dads like hand-drawn imagery, or cartoon graphics.

You can also look at the color. Color is a great way to have an emotional impact. Blues are calming. Red can come off as angry or intense. But it can also come off as sexy if you pair it with black and imagery with some skin.

Let's look at wedding invitations. A lot of the time, the fonts being used are elegant and flowy. They're most likely script and that's because that kind of text comes off as romantic. The emotion that comes from a wedding invitation is not from having

different blocks of color or little line drawings everywhere. It's about the font choice and whether its centered, left aligned or right aligned.

Step back and look at your design as a whole. If it's not screaming, the vibe that you want it to then something needs to change, whether that's the font, the imagery, or the colors.


Left: Visually Off Balanced Design | Right: Visually Balanced Design Original design edited from Canva Pro Template

Is the design balanced?

Is the design visually heavier on one side than the other? Is your eye only attracted to one part of the design?

Let's say you have an 8.5 by 11 sheet, on the left-hand side you have a five inch by five in photograph, on the right side, you have a photo that's two inches by two inches, both images are in the center of the page.

That poster is going to look heavy on the left-hand side since that photo is bigger than the photo on the right. Something you can do is move the left image to the top left of the page and the smaller photo go to the bottom right of the page. That way, it looks more visually balanced rather than having the photos side by side,

Balance in design doesn't mean that things have to be exactly even like a scale. It just means that your eye is not staying in one spot. Your eye needs to bounce around the whole design.

For website design I like to design in a Z like fashion. Like the letter Z, your eye goes from the top left to top right, then you go down diagonally from the top right to the bottom left and then you go all the way to the bottom right again like the letter Z.

Let's say I have three sections on top of each other. On the top section. I have a photo on the left side and then on the right side, I have the text. For the section underneath, I'm going to put the text on the left-hand side this time then the photo on the right-hand side. For the bottom section I'm going to flip it again with the photo on the left-hand side and then a text on the right-hand side. I think that's a great way to balance a design in a simple fashion. That way it's not boring to look at as well.

When something is boring, then you want to stop looking at it and if people stop looking at your design it isn't doing its job of communicating. Which is why you want to be a little more out of the box when you design so people are engaged.


Left: Cluttered Design | Right: Simple and Effective Design Original design edited from Canva Pro Template

Does the design make sense at a glance?

Step away from your design for a little bit then come back to it with fresh eyes. You want to make sure that you're conveying the message that you want quickly and easily, you don't want people to be squinting at your text or wondering what is in a photograph if the photograph is to dark.

Are there too many elements on the page? Simplicity is always best when it comes to design. There's no need to overwhelm the viewer with too much at once.

Then you also want to make sure that everything on the design needs to be there, because if something is added to only fill in an extra space then it needs to go.

Maybe you bolded some parts of a message so that it's easier to read, perfect! Maybe you added some drop shadows behind some elements to pop it up from the background, keep it like that.

Don't just add photos that you think are cool. Don't incorporate a bunch of different fonts just because you couldn't choose between them.

You need to make sure that everything is there for a reason, everything is intentional. When in doubt go simple that's the best way to go in design.

What I like to do when I'm designing is I will duplicate the design once, twice maybe three times. I'll play around with the placement of the text. How big photographs are, the colors. I will try putting a graphic behind some text and see if that makes it easier to read. That way I can compare and contrast while looking at the design options side by side. That's a great way to see which one works better than the other.


Look at negative space

Let's look at the FedEx logo, for example in between the E and the X there's an arrow pointing to the right. That's a great example of a unique way to use negative space.

I did a logo redesign where the designer before me missed the negative space when creating a mountainscape and it ended up looking like legs that were spread. When you look at a design for too long you miss those kinds of things, but for the client, she could only see the negative space. And that's something to think about when you are designing.

Look at the spaces that aren't filled in and see if there are any weird symbols or anything that could be interpreted wrong, and make sure that all of the content looks appropriate and clean.


Left: Trendy Dance Poster Design (Original design edited from Canva Pro Template)

Right: Timeless Dance Poster Design (Just change the photo and reuse!)

Is the design timeless or trendy? This depends on what you are creating. If you're designing a brand or logo it should be timeless. Or are you designing something one off like a State Fair poster trendy is the way to go.

When you design something timeless, then it can used over and over for a very long time like a logo, for example. For as long as that business is in business, you want it to be able to use the same logo concept for a very, very long time.

Let's say that the boho look was really trendy when you created your logo, but as years go by and the trends change your logo now looks outdated.

If you actually look up the first variation of the Apple logo, it was very intricate. It was like a drawing or a stamp.

That is just how the look was back then in the seventies. They werent prepared for how technology could change, but as technology did change, you could see that the evolution of the Apple logo changed well. In 1977 the logo was changed to the iconic apple but was colored like a rainbow. In 1998, they did a solid black. In 2001 it had a Chrome look. And then now 2017 and onward, they just have the flat apple logo in a gray and that's going to be timeless for a very long time.

So when you're designing something that should be timeless keep things simple, make sure you're not using a decorative font. Use something more on the generic side, something sans serif is a good bet.

If you are creating a poster for the state fair, you can go more trendy. There's no need for a state fair poster to be timeless but I would recommend using the same font for the details and maybe the same placement for the title so there's some kind of consistency.


Left: Off Brand Z Squared Studio Graphics | Right: On Brand Z Squared Studio Graphics

Is it on brand?

So this one is more for people designing marketing materials. Hopefully, there's some kind of style guide that you're going off of. Are the proper fonts being used? Does it contain only colors from the color palette? Is the style represented in the design?

This way, your brand is consistent across all of your marketing.

Get rid of anything that isn't on brand that's only there to fill up space. You don't need to fill up every inch of space. Your eye needs space to rest.


Final Thoughts

When it comes to developing an eye for design something that helped me a lot was just to look at designs that I thought were effective.

Designs that are easy read and stick out aesthetically. Dissect it and think, okay, what makes this work? Is it the font type? Is it how they spaced things? Is it how the photo is cropped? Maybe the photo is really zoomed in, and it's a unique point of view or maybe the photos really zoomed out and you can see the beauty of the sunset it's like you're there.

Maybe it's a simple way that text is used with a slight twist to it, like how it's running up the page and not horizontally.

It could also be the limited color palette that a poster has and how the vibrant colors give it a youthful vibe.

Or maybe it's the overall feeling that the design gives you. Does it make you feel welcome? Does it make you feel happy? Do the colors excite you? Think of cafes that you've been to that have hand written menus. The menus that stand out and give you a professional feeling are the ones with nice artistic handwriting.

By dissecting the design and figuring out what makes it work, then when you go to design something it's more about using the concept rather than copying the design exactly which is a big no-no.

And know that sometimes copying a certain concept doesn't work because the elements are different. If you look at the Sportsman's warehouse logo the S is large at the beginning of Sportsmans as well as the S at the end. This works really well for the business same Sportsman's warehouse. Because Sportsman's has an even amount of letters and has the same letter at both ends of the word so it has natural symmetry.

If you were going to try that same concept with the business name Adventure Club It's not going to look the same. Different letters, completely different word.

I just wanted to mention that because I see it a lot when I design logos where people want a certain look. Then when I go to do it to their logo their like oh, it doesn't look the same. Well, it doesn't look the same because it's not the same word. As business owners, we have to treat the letters of your business name differently. If we wanted to have that same effect or as close to it as we can, but we have to tweek the concept a little bit to fit that word better.

The more you look at designs and think about the details I mentioned, the better eye you're going to have for your own designs.

So again, here are some questions that I ask myself when I am looking at the designs that I create.

  • Is there contrast?

  • Hows the scale?

  • How are things spaced? Is it even?

  • Is there an emotional impact of the design?

  • Is it visually balanced?

  • Does it make sense at a glance? Is there anything confusing about it?

  • How's the negative space, it there anything that looks off?

  • Should we design for timeless or trendy?

  • Is it on brand?

Hopefully, these are things that you can think differently about when you go to design and the more you think about these questions, the faster and more confident you will be at designing and your designs will not only look great but will communicate better as well.

That's all I have for you today. I'll talk to you later and happy designing. Bye


Z Squared Studio is a Brand and Web Design Studio based in Juneau, Alaska. Check out for custom brand design, logo design, or web design. Or sign up for our DIY Brand yourself Mini-Course if you're ready for a stand out, scroll stopping brand without hiring a designer.


bottom of page