School Communications
Back To Trending

A Non-Designer’s Expert Guide to Canva

They might not admit it at a staff meeting, but many marketers and communication teams actually love creating Canva digital designs just as much as their non-designer colleagues. After all, any design tool that allows us to create a quick-and-easy social media graphic in 10 minutes or less gets a thumbs up.

What marketers and professional graphic designers don’t love, though, is seeing:

      • Overcrowded designs
      • Text too small to read on a mobile device
      • Photos skewed out of proportion
      • Light-colored type on a light background
      • Watermarked or low-res photos
      • Low-quality clip art
      • and Comic Sans font

As easy as Canva makes DIY design, some beginners and non-designers need guidance to create professional-looking designs.

“We can tell when we see a Canva template that could have been better with some small tweaks or branding,” said Kelly May, Design Director at CEL. “A few simple design tips will help you create A-plus graphics in no time.”

Boost Your Designs

Part of the beauty of Canva is that you don’t need an art degree to access the resource. However, in the words of G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle. Basic graphic design principles — such as contrast and alignment — can take designs from blah to beautiful.

Keep it simple

It can be tough, especially for design newbies, to scale back on Canva’s fun-to-play-with tools and functionality. (Looking at you, animated effects, duotone color and serif fonts!)  While those tools can certainly enhance a design, less is more. 

“Canva can be like a brand new box of Crayolas,” said Sandi Barry, Communications Officer for Caroline County (Md.) Public Schools. “But resist the child-like urge to use ALL the things.”

May also cautions against overloading design with competing elements.

“Don’t squeeze in too much text or use multiple fonts,” she said. “It is very distracting, and your reader’s eyes won’t know where to look. Instead, create one main focal point and use the post text for supporting messages. It doesn’t have to all go on the graphic.”

Create brand guidelines

One way to maintain clean, simple designs is to create brand guidelines for your logo, preferred font pairings and company/school color palette. Canva Pro users can even build a Brand Kit to save and share guidelines.

“It makes things easier in the long run,” May said. “You are not starting from scratch with every design, and you’re able to continually create a consistent look, feel and brand voice.”

Logo. Create a single file or folder to house all variations of your logo, including color and black and white. Include all file formats, such as jpg, png and ai. Use the transparent, or png, version of your logo in Canva to prevent having a white box on a colored background.

Fonts. A set of brand fonts supports visual consistency and brand recognition. Start by selecting one font one for your headlines and titles (such as League Spartan) and a second for your body text (such as Montserrat Classic). Remember to incorporate bold and italic versions, if desired. A third, more stylistic serif font (such as Joshico) can be added for specialty designs but use it sparingly. Canva has a great list of common font options.

“Readability and consistency are key,” May said. “You want a font that is simple, clean, legible and easy to read. You can’t really go wrong with a good sans serif font.”

Brand color palette. Your brand’s color palette typically includes the one to three main colors in your logo or brand.  Up to three more colors can be added to complement or contrast your main colors. May and the CEL design team often help schools and organizations enhance their basic color palette, while ensuring it meets critical accessibility standards.

Design Hierarchy

Before you begin, take a few minutes to prioritize and sketch out your information. This will help you create a clear hierarchy on the page with the title or key message in larger, more prominent font.

“Keep like elements together nice and tight so they don’t look like they’re floating on the page,” May said.  “And resist filling the entire design with stuff. White space helps to visually move a reader’s eye across the design.”

Take Advantage of Canva’s Digital Design Tools

For more customization and brand consistency tools, get Canva Pro, said Christy McGee, Director of Communications for Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 (Colo.). She believes the benefits could help most businesses and school communicators; educators are often eligible for a free pro account.

May suggests getting to know these Canva design tools to create the best images:

Grids, frames and margins. There’s no need to eyeball it. Use grids and frames to easily size, group and align elements. Use built-in margins and guides for centering, proportions and spacing. Guides and crop marks are also essential if you are designing materials for print.

Photography. Upload hi-res, in-house photographs and videos, whenever possible. In a pinch Canva offers stock imagery. Filter your search by photo orientation, brand color and more. (Tip: Name your uploaded photos appropriately — such as Riverside Elementary, computers, lunchtime —and use the search function to easily find them.)

Design sizes. Barry emphasized that there’s no unwritten rule that says every design must be “flyer-sized.” Canva provides preset and custom sizing options, including postcards, slide decks, Twitter posts and Instagram stories

Templates. Canva’s templates should be a starting place. “It’s OK to use a Canva template,” May said, “but be sure to update the colors and fonts, and add your logo. The reader should know it’s from you, not a random image someone found on the Internet.

Branded templates allow you to create a built-in look and feel with consistent elements. Copy the template for each new design, or share it with colleagues to help them follow your design standards.

“I love being able to share a file with colleagues so they don’t have to figure out proper sizing or colors,” Barry said. “I appreciate when they share a file with me so I can help with design.”

Know when it’s time to call in the pros

Even the most confident and adept Canva users understand that certain projects call for a professional graphic designer

      • Rebranding, brand expansion or brand refresh
      • High-profile campaign that expects results
      • New website
      • Imagery and aesthetics that need to last

Whether you need large-scale design work, help with a small project — or a project manager to wrangle the moving pieces — the CEL design team is ready to help. As partners to our clients, we work together to generate meaningful results that are creative, effective and lasting. 

Published on: February 2, 2022