7 design hacks that make it look like you know what you’re doing

creativity, Design, work

I have this theory: You can be good at design without being good at PhotoShop.

I am not a graphic designer in the slightest. Yes, I learned some PhotoShop and Illustrator during high school and college, but it’s not like I have the software anymore or even remember what I’m doing. And yet I find myself making design decisions all the time (my resume, a blog post infographic for a client at work, the bar cart that my roommates and I are trying to put together). It’s been life-saving to know at least things like how to make a Powerpoint slide look good, which sounds super basic, but really comes in handy more than you know.

Enough intro- on to the good stuff!

Alex’s Design School for Basics

1.  Learn some easy color theory.

First things first- you have to be good with color. I’m going to skip over that color wheel and primary and secondary color stuff, because I never use it anyways, and get to the things you really need:

  • Choose two main colors and then a few accent colors– for instance, my two go-to colors are ballet slipper and black, and then I have a few others like lavender and sea foam that I like to throw in the mix.
  • Pantone has everything you need for hex codes and color trends. Hex codes: that exact number (like #AFD645, for example) to match the specific shade you want.
  • Use tools like the Canva color palette generator to give you ideas and inspiration for good, meaningful color combos. I like to pick a few images and plug them in to get the colors I like– for instance, I picked the ballet slipper shade because I used to be a ballet dancer.

For more reading on basic color theory, I suggest this article.

2. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance, says Coco Chanel. Translation: You know how the little black dress is the epitome of classic style? You want your designs to be the LBD of graphic design. For instance:

  • Stick to those two colors you just picked out. Three max.
  • Use just one image.
  • Pick one font for headers, and then another font for the body text.

3. A few dont’s:

  • Do not use Comic Sans.
  • Do not put purple text on a black background.
  • Don’t skip spellcheck- last thing you need is a typo ruining your Insta highlight and distracting you from an awesome design.
  • Don’t fill the whole space. Use the white space!

4. Find free stock images that go with your colors.

Not crappy stock photos of random people in suits giving you a thumbs up. Here are a few amazing sites that provide beautiful free images:

I often use these because my own iPhone photography pales in comparison to these pros, but you can obviously also mix in your own photos. Stock sites just make it easier on you to look polished and professional, and find unique images you might not be able to take yourself. There’s just something extra glossy about a good stock photo.

5. Draw inspiration from everywhere.


Looking to outside sources will help you see new ways of putting together visuals. A few places I like to look for design inspo:

  • Vintage ads
  • Neon signs
  • Art museums
  • Gardens
  • Boardwalks
  • Window displays
  • Album art & music (my love of lightning bolts comes from David Bowie)

6. Use mood boards to define your aesthetic and stay focused on it.

I love spending time finding images of things that resonate with me and putting them all together to see what my overall vibe is. Use those stock photo sites I just mentioned if you need help. I have this live inspiration board that I keep adding to and taking away from, and from that board I’ve figured out what I’m drawn to. And then I can take a step back and pick a few words to describe it. I found a few themes: Coffee. Pink. Architecture. Typewriters. Vintage. Beach. And so I stick to those themes whenever I’m choosing pictures for my blog posts and other designs.

My personal vibe is usually timeless, bold, professional, feminine and fun, and I got that from seeing pictures of vintage neon signs next to pictures of desks. Why do I like desks? I have no idea. I just love desks. Anyways. Here’s a sampling of what I have on my board:

7. Photoshop is great and all, but Canva will make you look like an actual wizard.

If you’re a pro graphic designer, you can work PhotoShop and Illustrator like magic. I can not work magic, but I like to appear like I can, so I use these easy graphic design apps instead. You’ve probably heard of some of these, especially Canva, and they are my dirty little secret to success. A couple others: PicMonkey, and A Design Kit.

The important thing to remember with these is not to get too excited and forget all the things we just went over: Keep it simple. Pick your colors deliberately. Stick to one or two fonts. Use the stock photos. Focus on your aesthetic.

And honestly, if all else fails, just use the templates. It works every time.




How to rock your first 30 days at a new job

pr, Uncategorized, work

I have this theory…

That time flies when you’re having fun…working your butt off.

I got a calendar invite this week for a “30-day check-in” meeting and I thought, oh, which client is this for? And then I saw that it was just me on the invite. And then I realized that I am the 30-day check-in. Which means that I have officially been working at my new job for a whole month. What. the. eff. 

Slam on the brakes, because a few days ago at a 4th of July barbecue I was literally walking around telling people I started my job two weeks ago. Whoops. Guess my sense of time got lost somewhere between my first day when I was finding the coffeemaker to today when I was taking the lead on a new project without a second thought.

How to absolutely kill it in your first month on the job:

1. Do extra research on your own time to get a better sense of what you’re doing.

I work in PR, and a lot of my clients are technology clients, which means I’m promoting companies that do things like hyperconverged cloud infrastructure and endpoint cybersecurity. I am not a software engineer or an IT professional and had no idea what these things were. This was not like beauty PR, when I was promoting things like mascara, which I wear every day of my life. This was serious deep tech stuff. So to get over the learning curve, I got Googly and did as much as I could to get up to speed on my clients.

If you feel behind, don’t wait for your coworkers to catch you up. Get a head start by understanding as much as you can before you even walk into your first meeting.

2. Don’t be afraid to start contributing.

In the past, at my internships, I was terrified of looking stupid. I didn’t think I knew enough to be able to raise my hand, so I always stayed silent during meetings. But the real stupidity is in never speaking up, because you don’t learn anything if you don’t try. So volunteer to take a whack at that writing project. Pitch an idea at the brainstorm. It will definitely be appreciated and you’ll start learning faster.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? You volunteer an idea and someone tells you why it wouldn’t work? Great, then you’ve learned why it wouldn’t work, and you have more knowledge for next time, and you at least look engaged and thoughtful. If you don’t make mistakes now, you’ll just make them later on. Put yourself out there and speak up!

3. Notice the ways you can make everyone’s lives easier.

Stay in tune with what’s on everyone’s plate. If they look like they’re swamped and you have extra time, offer to handle something for them. It’s the nice thing to do and the best way to support your team. Plus, sometimes it’s a good chance to jump in on responsibilities that you wouldn’t normally have gotten.

4. Do allllll the things.

By things, I mean happy hour, volunteer days, parties, client events, networking, conferences, book club, game night, everything. The more face time you get with everyone in the office, the more it will start to feel like home. This is why I think I was so surprised that 30 days had already gone by– my work fam already feels like my work fam, and that wouldn’t have happened without the time I’ve already spent with them. Embrace the office kitchen! Take a teammate out to coffee! Do all the things!

5. Be patient.

This is probably the hardest one, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to hit the ground running and be Superwoman the second you start. And it’s definitely important to communicate with your manager about what the expectations are for your progress in the role. But know that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. It will take time to get settled and get going on the meatier projects, so just relax, do your best at everything you’re given, and you’ll be celebrating a successful first month before you know it!

planner coffee stock photo