We’re big believers in the power of design at Wild Slide. We think it’s one of the most amazing things on earth, and we want to help make you a pro at it so that you can do things like design your own business cards and brochures, and of course presentations.
But even if you’re not into design professionally, it’s still super important to know some of the basics. You should also know how to spot shoddy design, because sometimes people will try to take advantage of you. If you can keep an eye out for these things, you’ll be able to spot a bad designer from a mile away—and avoid them.
Many years ago when I truly started taking my graphic design career seriously, I saw an infographic from the Creative Market. It really took me on the path I am today to understand why all of these things are important, and how they relate to the audience. I am always conscious of the rules when I am trying to learn something new, but I always make sure to learn why these rules are important in the first place. Here is a list of my best explanation of the 10 Commandments of graphic design.
1. Thou shall respect thy crop marks and bleeds
Crop marks are those lines on the edges of business cards and brochures that help people who work at print shops to cut straight lines when they’re printing your stuff out. Bleeds are similar: they ensure that you get that edge to edge colour when the paper is trimmed. If you are ever unsure about how much bleed or when to use crop marks, ask who ever if going to be printing your material. Or ask Wild Slide! We have a long history in the print industry as well as in graphic design, so we have the expertise to help you get exactly what you need with no hassle or misprints.
2. Thou shall under no circumstances stretch a font
That’s right: no matter what, never ever stretch a font.
Fonts are beautiful just the way they are—and they were created with care by talented designers who took the time to make sure they were perfect. Please don’t disrespect them by stretching them into an unrecognizable mess. When you stretch a font, you are altering the original design of the typeface. It can look bad and unprofessional if you stretch a font too much. In order to avoid this mistake, make sure to use only one size for all your fonts in each document or website page. If you need more space between lines, then adjust the kerning or leading instead of stretching a font out!
3. Thou shall always stick to thy deadlines
Whether you’re the designer or the client, meeting deadlines is the most crucial component of any presentation project. When a presentation is ready, it’s typically the result of a lot of people working together to make sure it happens. If one part of that group doesn’t meet their deadline, it makes it hard for everyone else to meet theirs. By sticking to your deadlines, you make it easier for others to do their jobs and complete the project on time.
4. Thou shall not steal (someone else’s work)
We all know that stealing is wrong. It’s even in the Bible as one of the Ten Commandments. But what does that mean for presenters? As creatives, we’re often working with others’ ideas, but that doesn’t mean we need to steal them. How do you know when you’re crossing the line? When it comes to presentations, here’s a good rule of thumb: if you did it first, or you have permission, you’re in the clear!
For example, let’s say you want to put a picture of a fountain in your presentation. You could Google “fountain” and just swipe the first image that comes up. But that would be a bad idea—that image wasn’t made for you, and it may be protected by copyright. Sure, there are some images that are free for you to use (some websites make these available for personal use or commercial use), but if it isn’t specified, chances are there are restrictions on its distribution. You’d want to make sure it belongs to someone who’s okay with your using it (that means getting permission). Presentations can be a tricky one, as some things can be internal in a business and not for the public. Make sure anything that may be seen or used online that you have permission to use.
5. Thou shall persistently save thy files
It’s easy to get lost in the creative process and forget to save, but all it takes is one glitch to lose hours of your hard work. If you’re working with a large presentation file, try saving it every time you start a new slide (preferably more!)
6. Thou shall never use comic sans or papyrus
OK… This is going to be a controversial opinion, and I am sure other designers might disagree with me, but this is my blog and I am writing it so I can say whatever I want.
Here’s the thing: sometimes people get a little snobby about graphic design. They’ll tell you things like “Thou shalt never use Comic Sans” or “Thou shalt never use Papyrus.” And while those might seem like good rules of thumb, they’re not actually good rules.
A better rule would be something like “Use fonts that make sense for your project.” If you’re designing for a law firm presentation, then it probably doesn’t make sense to use a font that looks like a cartoon character wrote it. But if you’re designing a presentation for an audience of children? Then go for it! It all depends on the context.
7. Thou shall honour they white space
White space, or negative space, is simply the area around your elements that are left blank. You might think you need to fill every inch of a slide with something to make sure you don’t waste any space. But good design actually depends on leaving room for the eye to rest.
Any given design needs to be balanced. The positive design elements—the ones you create—need to be balanced by the negative ones—the ones you leave out.
8. Thou shall kern to perfection
Kerning is the process of adding or removing space between characters in a font. When you kern text, you adjust the spacing to make it look more balanced. It’s an essential tool for any graphic designer who wants to design beautiful typography.
Kerning goes one step further than tracking, which is the uniform adjustment of spacing across a block of text.
Instead, kerning allows designers to fine-tune the space between individual letter pairs. This can help you create visually appealing and easy-to-read text blocks with a consistent rhythm and flow.
9. Thou shall never forget retina
In this day and age, a lot of presentations are being conducted over the internet, and you can’t have control over the audiences screen. Modern screens have incredibly high resolutions, and without taking them into account, the amazing design work you’ve done can look blurry and pixelated on your end users’ screens.
I also like to think of this commandment in a different way. A lot of us think that the mathematical, pixel perfect is the best place for our graphics, or we rely on the smart grids and guides to line everything up. This is where I break the rules – sometimes “perfect” doesn’t look quite right with certain logos or objects or images. It’s important to take a step back from the design and really look at it, because sometimes you just have to trust what you see.
10. Thou shall not use Helvetica’s name in vain
Helvetica is a font that has been widely used since the 1950s, and it’s still going strong. But, there’s a reason why this font has gained popularity — because it’s easy to use and looks good.
Whether you’re designing graphics for a presentation at work or looking to tweak a piece for print, these 10 commandments will serve as a handy reference and should leave you feeling more confident and prepared. If any of your presentations have suffered from poor design choices in the past, it may be time to brush up on your graphic design rules!