Design for Non-Designers

Design Fundamentals Everyone Needs to Know

Understanding and executing a few design basics can enhance any document, online course, website, or any other project. It should be specifically tailored to your audience and your content. Once you’ve narrowed down the purpose of your project, you can incorporate the three principles of design:

Learn more below.

Design for Non-Designers

Design is all around us. From the giant billboards down to the gum in your bag, everything we see has been carefully designed by someone, with the intention of evoking certain reactions. Think design is only for designers? Think again. 

You don’t need to be a designer to use design to your advantage: from the typeface and colors you select to the images that accompany your text, the design elements you choose are all part of communicating effectively with your audience. Understanding and executing a few design basics can enhance any document, online course, website, or any other project, and will be specifically tailored to your audience and your content. When you take design into account, you have a greater chance of connecting with your audience beyond text alone. 

Our resident expert designer, Todd Douglas, answers frequently asked questions about design and how a well-designed course can provide immense value to your business. Learn more about the design fundamentals below.

Where to begin?

Whether we realize it or not, design is everywhere. From the signs we pass walking down the street to the websites we visit every day, we are interacting with design all the time. It can evoke feelings and inspire action, so it’s important that your design reflects your goals. The first step in determining your design is understanding and narrowing down the purpose of your project.

Building the Frame

Once you’ve identified the purpose behind your project, you’re ready to apply the three principles of design: organization, arrangement and presentation.

Graphic design grid


First up is organization. You can think of the organization of your design as a frame that will hold all of the pieces. A grid can help you organize your content and help maintain consistency by helping you think about the location and alignment of all the components of your design.

Table place setting


Along with organization, arrangement is a key principle that will help you establish how the different elements of your design interact with one another. Arrangement is a lot like setting the table. Place settings can be done in a variety of ways by playing with scale, balance, and proximity. Each adds context, provides visual cues by drawing attention to one area of the design, and shows relationships between the different pieces of the design. The spacing you choose for text and the use of white space in your design can enhance readability and even make the content more approachable.


The third principle, presentation, focuses on the purpose and format of your final product. Will it be displayed on a screen or in print? Who are you trying to reach? And what do you hope they will do after engaging with the content you’ve created? The answers to these nuts and bolts questions will all impact the design choices that you make, both from a technical standpoint and from a creative perspective. When you understand the full picture, you design with better intention.

Putting It All Together

Once you understand the key principles of design, you’re ready to begin selecting the components like color, typography, or imagery. Remember: every step of the design process contributes to the experience your audience will have with your organization and the message they’ll take away. For example, typography is not only important for legibility, it also communicates a tone of voice.

What’s Next

Examples of types of text and what they convey

These tips are just scratching the surface of how non-designers can boost their design. Want more? Download the CourseArc ebook, Intro to Design: A Crash Course for Non-Designers, to learn more about the three principles of design and the three key components. You’ll also get quick tips (like how to avoid the common pitfalls of choosing stock imagery) and recommended free tools and resources including color contrast checkers to help you design with accessibility in mind.

Ready to learn more? Join our popular Principles of Instructional Design course and examine the latest in eLearning best practices.

CourseArc was built as a tool and team to support organizations as they build online content. Check out our resource site to see how we can help your team. Check back to our blog and social media feeds for additional resources and case studies on how our clients are using CourseArc to move their learning online. 

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