This piece of advice caught my eye a few months ago. It’s from Tobias van Schneider, a former designer at Spotify:

This tweet came to mind when I started working part-time at my church as a communications coordinator last month. I quickly realized that “communications” for a church today means a lot of graphic design work.

For example, the first task I did was to create announcement slides for our Christian Education classes:

I’ve also refreshed our pre-service slides (the rolling presentation before the service starts):

These designs were modified off of existing templates. I have just enough taste to know when something looks off or when a graphic looks too busy. But I want to create original work, too, whether that’s a logo, a branding & style guide for the church, or a new website design for this blog.

I’m not trying to be a career UX, web, or graphic designer, but at the very least, I want to learn design fundamentals to get better at my job.

I found this graphic design fundamentals course on CreativeLive. (CreativeLive is my favourite professional development platform for creatives. And no, they didn’t pay me to say this. I just love them.)

I learned that graphic design is about,

“translating thoughts, abstract ideas, and concepts into visual, tangible representations.”

I also learned that it has four distinct elements:

  1. Typography. Fonts, font weights, and sizes.
  3. Colour. Which ones look good together (and which ones just don’t).
  5. Form and images. Icons, photos, and illustrations.
  7. Layout & space. Composition and how the previous three come together.

(If you’re bothered by how I spell “colour”, sorry. I’m Canadian. Sorry. 😅) This post is a curation of beginner-level sources and references I’ve gathered about those elements in the past few weeks.

Graphic Design Element 1: Typography

To develop taste in graphic design, I followed Chris Do, a world-class designer.I tore through his Typography Manual Vol. 01 and Typography Manual Vol. 2 when he released them.

And he has this to say about typography:

”In typography, contrast is king.” — Chris Do

I’ve been using it to guide my design decisions and to give myself constraints for my job.

For example, I’ve limited myself to one font per creative.

If I need body text, I use Avenir Next, or its free sibling, Nunnito Sans. If I’m working with a heading, I really like Bison for sans serif and Bodoni for serif.

But first, some quick definitions:

  • Serif — has lines/tapers at the end of the letters (think Times New Roman and Baskerville)
  • Sans Serif — no lines/tapers at the end of the letters (think Arial and Calibri)

Recently, I challenged myself to create contrast in a boring Evernote document while only using one font.

I doubled the font size of my headings relative to my text, and bolded the first half of the headings.

I stole these tips straight out of Chris Do’s textbook. In Typography 101, he recommends exactly this: skipping font weights or doubling the font size to create contrast.

I love these basic tips. I enjoy seeing how much minimal changes like these can give a document that extra contrast and pop.

Graphic Design Element 2: Colour

I’m terrified of colour.I don’t know how it works, apart from the rule of tincture. Fortunately, getting dirty with the design on the job has taught me a few lessons on which colours look good together and how to use colours as another way to create contrast.

For example, I had to create two different slides to put up on Sunday morning for my church’s food drive. I started with a template from Adobe Spark. It looked like this:

I really like the layout of the words. The minimalist icon is pretty cool. Most importantly, I loved the complementary colours with no violations of the rule of tincture, as far as I can tell.

So I adapted this template to my church’s colours

For the first slide, I experimented with a darker tint/hue (I don’t know the right word):

I used one font and stuck to a colour theme. I kept everything else constant, letting me play with multiple colours without risking a garish result.

For the second slide, I tested out lighter colours and changed up the font to Bison:

I knew the layout worked so I kept it. Instead, I varied the icon and the colours from the previous slide.

I wanted the viewer’s eye to go to the food items first. So in both photos, I made “food drive” a different colour.

These slides were my first experiments playing with colour

Free tools like Adobe Color and Color Hunt were excellent training wheels . They gave me the confidence to play around without being afraid that I’d pick a revolting set of colours.

Down the road, I’ll feel the constraints of copying other people’s palettes and using basic design tools, like Adobe Spark, DesignBold, and Venngage.

When that time comes, then I’ll read up on the more technical fundamentals of colour and design and learn Illustrator and InDesign.

Graphic Design Elements 3 & 4: Form & Layout

Since I’ve been working on learning about typography and dabbling in colour, I haven’t specifically focused on these last two elements of graphic design.

For now, I play around with photography to develop my eye, namely the rule of thirds and doing flat lay photography of food. I also save layouts, textures, and icons I find on the internet in my Evernote account. When I do decide to work on form and layout, I’ll have these files to start with already.

What I’m Learning Now

I’ll always be a writer, first and foremost. But the more I learn about design, the more I appreciate its similarities with publishing a piece of writing.

For example, although I initially thought graphic design was about making visual assets -- social media graphics, computer animations, digital illustration -- I’ve come to appreciate that it’s actually about turning thoughts and feelings into a piece of creative that can be felt and seen. Similarly writing, for me, is about communicating what’s in my head to other people through written words.

Right now, I’m looking for designers to follow, design principles to battle-test, and inspiring material to work with -- the same steal-and-remix approach I take to hone my writing skills.

If you have any recommendations to help me or resources I should know about, shoot me an email at roxine[at] I’m all ears.