The Marketers Guide to Design

In marketing, a broad range of skills is needed & having basic knowledge of design will help you stand out. You don’t need to become a designer, but an understanding of design will definitely help.

This post is a “bird’s eye view of design” introducing some basic design principles. Use it as a guide to what to look out for in any future marketing/design-related decisions.


What is Graphic Design?

According to the AIGA, Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual & textual content. The form of the communication can be physical or virtual and may include images, words, or graphic forms.

1) The Golden Ratio

Golden Ratio

It is a ratio within elements of a form, such as height to width, approximating in 0.618*, also known as the golden mean/number/section. The Golden Ratio is the ratio between two segments such that the smaller segment (bc) is to the larger segment (ab), as the larger segment (ab) is to the sum of the two segments (ac), or ab/ac = 0.618*.

golden-segment                          Golden-ratio-proportion--example

Note: how the ratio matches with a significant feature or transition of the form.

The Golden Ratio is all around us, in nature, art, science and the human body (Leonardo Da Vinci used it in his drawings of the Vitruvian man). We are hard wired to find this design attractive. But don’t use it when it’s at the expense of other design objectives. (Lidwell, W. et al, 2010).

*The Golden ratio is an irrational and never ending decimal


2) Hierarchy

When a hierarchical relationship is in place i.e. larger at the top and getting smaller, it helps the reader better understand the content because there is a natural flow. It’s important you have a clear hierarchy, in public-facing promotional material such as marketing brochures, websites, flyers, etc. You want to entice them to know more about your company and if text size is fluctuating up & down it can be very messy to read or hard to know where the focus is. Hierarchy solves this problem making everything clearer to read and process.

Hierarchy in text


3) Rule of thirds (photography)

Keep this rule in mind when choosing what image to place or even guidance when photographing. When there is a central focal point, the photo will seem flat, but when you place the focal point at one of the four intersections, the image is immediately more dynamic.
You want to grab the interest of the reader in your marketing, and you can do this by keeping the whole design tight: strong text with a clear hierarchy, interesting photos using the rule of thirds and finishing with a strong call to action.



4) Grids & Guides

This is the invisible structure that guides your layouts, once the text is aligned to a grid (like below), there is no need to add in excessive boxes or dividing lines etc. as the guides have given you your separation via negative space. (Muller-Brockman, 1981)

baseline grids and guides


Content Organisation

Icons – are great to use for social graphics and many other places to lighten up a text heavy page. But it’s good to know about the different types to help guide your use of them. (Lidwell, W. et al, 2010). See my resources page for a great icon pack.

Similar: e.g. Right turn (with right arrow)


Example: e.g. Restaurant (Knife & fork)


Symbolic: e.g. Fragile (shattered glass)


Arbitrary: e.g. Radioactive (circle 3 waves)




Clutter vs. Space –  By introducing white space to a page, a website or even shop window, it immediately reduces clutter which translates into a premium look & feel. This says to your reader/viewer you are confident of the quality of what is included/on display. Just look at the difference in your percieved perception of quality in each “Maxines’s” shop front example. (Lidwell, W. et al, 2010).

clutter-vs-space shop front windows



Figure/Ground –  The head/vase example below is the most famous example of figure/ground in action. Tell me what you see, do you see the vase or faces 1st or do you see them interchangeably? Your eyes are trying very hard to focus on the figure.
This figure/ground relationship affects how we view layouts, anything you place in the Figure(foreground) of an image has more weight and will be paid attention to more than it would if placed in the (back)ground. Some example in real life examples are below, can you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?


figure ground logos and icons



Categories – People love to put things into categories. If you have a lot of information to get across, put them in categories. Otherwise, people will feel overwhelmed and try to organise the information themselves, but it may not be the way you wanted.





What has interested you the most out of all these examples?



Further Reading, Harvard Referencing

  1. Lidwell, W. et al (2010) Universal Principles of Design. United States, Rockport Publishers.
  2. Weinschenk, S. (2011) 100 Things every Designer needs to know about people. United States, New Riders.
  3. Muller-Brockman, J. (1981) Grid Systems in Graphic Design. 8th Edition. Germany, Druckerei Kösel Gmbh.

NOTE: The format for Harvard referencing for books follows the pattern:
Surname, Initial. (Date) Title of book: given in italics. Edition. Place of publication, Publisher.