Design is my arch nemesis. I know what great design looks like, but putting the ideas into action is another story entirely.
As a content and data person, I know that cruddy design just doesn’t cut it. Everything I produce has to convert through awesome, Conversion-Centered Design.
From what I hear through the grapevine, I’m not the only marketer who suffers from this pain point. There are hordes of us who are intimidated by (read: suck at) Photoshop, but are relentlessly committed to creating high-converting landing pages and visuals.
That’s why I’ve spent hours putting together this roundup – so you and I can pull up our sleeves and learn how to create awesome design assets that please the eye and (most importantly) convert.
Here are 17 battle-tested, vetted and hand-curated resources for marketers who stink at design.
Design Resources to Help You Build Things
The following seven resources will help you master the art of execution so you can bring your idea to life without having to fumble with complicated design software.
I literally leapt for joy the first time I saw this service.
Canva makes it easy for non-designers to create awesome blog images, social media snackables, logos, presentations – virtually any visual asset you’ll ever need. Everything is web-based and simple to use. It’s free (with stock images available for $1) and it will make you look like an amazing designer without having to master and wrestle with Photoshop.
I’ve used it for creating blog post visuals in under 15 minutes.
Customization options are flexible but limited, which may frustrate professional designers. For Photoshop noobs like me, however, Canva is awesome.
Slides should add value to a presentation, though more often than not, they can make them feel stiff. A nicely designed slide template goes a long way in adding extra oomph to a presentation.
I’m generally inclined to create my PowerPoint presentations from scratch (which is a huge waste of time and money). I recently discovered the presentation slide templates on Graphic River, which look exponentially better than anything that I could create on my own. Templates cost between $10-$15 and are designed to make presentations less generic and dull.
Templates are… well, templates. If you want a layout that meshes with your brand, you may want to consider hiring a professional designer for a cohesive look and feel.
Need to build a website or quickly launch a landing page? ThemeForest has a collection of website and landing page templates to help you get started. In general, these templates are straightforward to edit with basic HTML and CSS. The best part? They can be up and running within a few minutes and cost within the range of $15-$50.
If it’s customization you want, you’ll need to hire a designer and/or developer. I used a ThemeForest template for my very first website, but as my company has started to grow, I’ll be hiring a designer to custom-build V2.
If you’ve ever tried to pick colors for a design project, you know that it’s harder than it seems.
For those of us who may as well be color blind, Adobe has released a free color-picking app that can help. To get started, all you have to do is pick a few colors and see how they work together. Note that it’s best that you have some background in color theory (an understanding of shades, complementary colors, etc.) to use this tool effectively.
Without guidance, you may feel like you’re throwing darts in the dark to pick colors for your brand. It may be worthwhile to work with a color/branding consultant (or to do your research) before getting started.
Three words that will rock your entire universe: awesome infographic templates.
Add a visual narrative to your next article or story with a “plug-and-play” graphic – without needing to hire a professional designer. Demo plans are available for free and monthly subscriptions range from $14 to $29 per month.
Piktochart infographics look cool, but they are also generic. If you have a highly specific infographic project in mind, you may find that their templates are insufficient.
This online tool will help you create dynamic, interactive presentations that you can share at your next meeting or online. Packages start at just under $5/month, and the templates are easy to use and significantly more beautiful than the basic templates that come with PowerPoint.
These presentations are cloud-based, which means that you cannot work on them offline. Better bring a backup for your next talk in case of “technical difficulties.”
Resources to Help You Hunt Down Images
If you’ve ever tried to find visuals for your blog posts or landing page, you know that it’s not very fun.
For an awesome, reasonably priced stock photo provider, check out Shutterstock (I use them and am happy with their visuals – and no, I wasn’t paid for endorsing them). But if subscribing to a paid stock photo database is out of the question, check out the resources below.
If you need awesome, free images, Buffer has created an awesome roundup with 53 go-to resources. Check out this guide next time you’re in a crunch to find something fast. (Is it cheating if I added a list of 53 to my list of 17?).
It’s impossible to know the true copyright of an image unless you’re in direct contact with the original source. You may find an image mistakenly labeled as “free” – and if that’s the case, you are still responsible. I have received my fair share of copyright settlement notices and takedown requests and ultimately decided to pay for a stock photo subscription.
YouTube – the mega giant for videos – is the visual content goldmine that is right under your nose. Embed videos on your page or post to create a compelling, visual experience and enhance your content’s narrative.
Include YouTube clips as examples to support your point, or share amazing talks and stories that you come across.
YouTube clips are all user-generated, so if it’s customization that you want, you’ll need to create the video yourself.
You’ve probably heard that it’s better to “ask for forgiveness than wait for permission.” Well, when it comes to potential copyright infringement, this isn’t the case.
Designers pour their hearts and souls (and businesses pour their budgets) into creating compelling data visualizations. If you love a copyrighted visual that you’ve come across and want to use it as part of your content strategy, just ask the owner by sending a quick email:
“Dear Ms. X,
I came across this image and would love to feature it in my blog post… please let me know if this would be okay.”
Simple enough? More often than not, they’re happy to exchange rights to the image for credit.
On occasion, the original image author may say no or ask you to pay a licensing fee. That’s life.
Brands create infographics with three goals in mind: they’re looking to generate shares, inspire brand awareness and spark website traffic.
This means that most infographics are ‘embed-friendly’ with links back to the original author. Visual.ly hosts a collection of amazing infographics that its creative community can submit to a growing database.
The Visual.ly directory can be time-consuming to browse. Be prepared to spend some time searching for exactly what you want.
Resources for Learning About Design
Let’s be honest.
Software doesn’t make great design – creativity does. Admittedly, some people are born with it while others are not, but here’s the thing:
If you’re smart, you can learn a finite set of best practices that you can rely on over and over again. Here are some resources that can help.
Karen X Cheng is a self-taught designer who managed to build a career out of practice, dedication and patience.
“A Blueprint for Hacking Design” is her comprehensive methodology for becoming proficient in design – likely more than you would have ever imagined. Here’s how Karen’s method helped her become a designer:
“I got my job as a designer without going to design school. I had hacked together my own design education in 6 months while working a full-time job. I didn’t think I was ready but started applying for jobs anyway – and got a job at a great startup, Exec.
This method requires significant self-discipline and time. If you stick to it, however, you’ll be on track to become a skilled designer like Karen.
Shortcut years and years of design school, and instead, focus on building a few basic skills to make you more comfortable in your design capabilities.
General Assembly’s Visual Design Hacking Class will teach you how to line things up, leave breathing room for the eye, use designer fonts, be consistent and use color well. You’ll also learn how to use Keynote. Stink at design no more.
Great design takes practice. This class will help you kickstart the learning process but is far from a comprehensive program.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably interested in conversion optimization. Conversion-Centered Design is a concept that Unbounce lives and breathes.
This framework breaks down how to create landing pages that look good and transform prospects into customers.
At a high level, you’ll learn how to implement persuasive design and how to use design to increase conversions. That includes advice on CTA design and placement, persuasive copywriting, A/B testing and mobile conversion.
The best way to complement your learning is to test these tips and methodologies hands-on. Reading will only take you part of the way there. You need to test.
If you’ve ever struggled with picking colors that work, this Quora thread will rock your world.
The thread is single-handedly the most in-depth, opinionated discussion of color on the internet. You’ll learn how color meanings vary from culture to culture, how to think about tints and shades and how to prioritize user experience for eyeballs online.
Color is subjective. This blog post will give you guidance about what types of colors to choose, but you’ll need a user research process to do the heavy lifting and to analyze whether your ideas are resonating with your particular audience.
This semi-quick read will equip you with the judgment to create more aesthetically pleasing layouts (read: make your Canva graphics look awesome). If you find yourself wondering what fonts to use and how to make your spacing look awesome, this blog post is a must-read. You’ll learn how to vary sizes for emphasis, choose colors strategically and format text for higher-impact communication.
The “practice” section is the shortest part of this guide. Practice is essential for mastering these concepts. Tutorials would be a great supplement to this article.
Yep, I said free.
Stanford University has released a bunch of classes that anyone can access for free. The Human Computer Interaction class is perfect for aficionados of design, technology and psychology. You’ll learn participant observation, design for people, prototyping, interviewing and other strategies.
The course was produced and released in 2010 and may be a bit outdated. It also requires a full-quarter commitment, as it is a real college class.
Again, is it cheating if I link to another roundup of 50+ resources?
If you’re interested in self-directing your own learning path, check out this roundup of tutorials, guides, online courses, live instruction and referenced content from all over the web.
Potential information overload. You need to devote time to doing the sifting as well as learning.
Warning: Design at your own risk
If you try your hand at design, you may find that you don’t stink at it as much as you thought. You might find that you’re actually good at it.
Heck, you may realize that you love design and decide to become a professional designer. Who knows?
If you’re a marketer and have found yourself in a design pickle, please join the conversation. Share your thoughts (and favorite resource, please!) in the comments section below.