Design tips for beginners with no design skills or design software

What’s second best to having a great designer?

Having a less than great designer, maybe? But seriously, of course you’d like every single piece of design work be done by your best designer. They, of course, don’t come cheap. And that means you need a solution.

Part of the philosophical inspiration for Qwilr was the idea that good design should be easier for non-designers. Certainly we think Qwilr helps teams achieve this, because making a document as a webpage with Qwilr is really quick and easy.

But as much as we hate to admit it, Qwilr isn’t the only solution. Mark and I love helping Qwilr’s customers create great looking documents, and so we often need to do design work for them. We thought it’d be a good idea to put together some tips that will help anyone do great design.

Tools and tips that are democratising design

Awesome splash / background images: UnSplash.com

UnSplash is a great tumblr of free, high resolution images with no usage restrictions. It is our go-to source for splash images in Qwilr docs, but can be useful anywhere you need striking, simple images that you can use as you wish. It’s particularly focused on outdoor and urban landscapes, but there’s enough there to fit any purpose.

Become a power user of Google image search

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Everyone knows how to use Google images… you just go to images.google.com and search, right? Well, that is right, but there’s a lot more you can do:

  • Search by copyright restriction. If you need an image you can use publicly without stepping on someone’s toes, go to ‘Search Tools’ at the top, to the right of where ‘Images’ is underlined. Select ‘Usage Rights’ and filter. Selecting ‘Labelled for Reuse’ gives you images you can freely use for any commercial or non-commercial purpose.
  • Search by size. Useful when you are dealing with small upload limits. Go to ‘Search Tools’ at the top, to the right of where ‘Images’ is underlined. Select ‘Size’ and choose from the drop-down.
  • Search by time. Useful for when you need a recent image of a common event. Go to ‘Search Tools’ at the top, to the right of where ‘Images’ is underlined. Select ‘Time’ and choose from the drop-down.

You can also search by Colour and Type. Combining a couple of these filters makes for very fast and effective searches.

Use Clipping Magic as a cheap image editor, especially for logos

I’m a big fan of Clipping Magic. It costs $7/month and lets you quickly upload and edit images. It’s strongest when dealing with logos or other images that need to have their background removed. But you can also use it as a hack solution for cropping, re-sizing and otherwise manipulating images. It’s a cheap and effective option removes about 90% of the situations where I’d otherwise ask Dylan to fire up Photoshop to do something with an image.

Use a free option like PicResize.com to resize images

If you all you need is to change the size of images (e.g. to avoid an upload limit, or meet a pixel specification), there are a couple of free options available online. Pic Resize works for us and we like it. You can also change the file size (note, not pixel size) of images using Preview on Macs. Choose ‘Export’ from the file menu, choose .jpg and use the slider to change the file size. However since the pixel size remains the same, this can sometimes unacceptably degrade the image quality.

Use GifBrewery for a cheap and easy way to make animated GIFs

There are lots of options in this space, but I’ve had a good experience with GifBrewery. Animated GIFs are really fun. They’re also a really flexible format for short screencasts. We’ve used them fairly extensively in Qwilr’s help and FAQ section. I came to the software never having made an animated GIF before and had my my first GIF in about five minutes. I particularly like that there are lots of options available that let you optmise the size of the file – which is key when you’re sharing it.

What design hacks do you use to get around the expensive design programs?

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Steve Hind is a Strategist at Qwilr

Steve Hind is a strategist. He blogs (sometimes) at The Hindsite Blog and has economics and law degrees from the University of Sydney. He has won the World Universities Debating Championship, and the World Schools Debating Championship, as both a student and as coach of the Australian team.