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5 Graphic Design Tips for Social Media (and Everything Else!)

So you want to be a graphic designer? It’s much more than just combining texts and words. It’s about using those texts, fonts and colors to design a brand.

American Apparel has their clean, Helvetica Black look. Unicef has its official, purposeful cyan. And Starbucks has their earthy tones that showcase their handicraft style. There is no way to paint a perfect painting, and likewise there is no way to craft the perfect graphic design, but every time I work with the Duke Office of News and Communications, from designing an Instagram story or an official Chinese New Year card for the university, I think about what story I want to create. What is the Duke that I want people to see?

Here are a few ways to get started:

Have a Consistent Look

There has to a be a point in our life when we all thought we were artists creating WordArt masterpieces with rainbow block font combined with circular text and wavy fonts. To create a brand, one must start with a consistent look that readers will view so that part of their brain will immediately register what they’re seeing as ‘Duke.’ This includes working with a one or two select fonts with a similar look, staying within a certain color palette, and making sure to align objects on the page. You can use Duke’s StyleGuide to get an idea of what these are for Duke.

Negative Space

Contrast is everything when it comes to making things stand out. If you have a light colored graphic or text, use a dark background and vice versa. A good way to do this is by increasing the opacity of a photo to create a lighter background or decreasing its brightness to create a darker background.

Here, I used a consistent font (official Garamond, Duke scholarly feel) and used contrast between dark navy words and opacity and brightness-adjusted background.


Be creative with your fonts and make sure they reflect the vibe you are trying to create! For originality, I like to use very distinctive fonts for big titles and more standard, easily readable fonts for subtitles and smaller text. Online free font databases include, fontsquirrel, and urbanfonts.


This is a useful site for fledgling graphic designers. It allows you to select from a library of different templates for different needs, ranging from flyers to posters to social media posts. Everything is designed and aligned for you – but if you’re an artsy one and want to tap into your creative edge, it is easily navigable with drag-and-drop features: allowing you to customize fonts, colors and search for certain shapes and images. Free, easy and quick.


Here, we’re scaling it up by a little notch for the Photoshop beginner.

  • Rule of Thirds Grid

Sometimes a little cropping or moving objects around by a little goes a long way! You can easily display the rule of thirds grid on Photoshop and make sure that objects you want to highlight lay on one of the gridlines or at one of the intersections. This makes a photo’s composition more appealing to the eye.

Go to the crop tool and a toolbar will appear where you can select ‘Rule of thirds’

Design: Chinese New Year card to Duke’s Chinese audience

Here, you can see that I aligned the dog’s face, “Duke University” as well as “Dog” onto the gridlines.

  • Magnetic lasso tool

Want to cut something out from a picture? Most people use the lasso tool. Sadly, our hands can be shaky and most of us simply don’t have the patience to cut with surgical precision. The Magnetic Lasso tool is the solution to all your problems, especially when you have a bold contrast and well-defined edges. Click and hold your mouse over the Lasso tool until a fly-out menu appears, and select the last one with a tiny magnet on its icon. Click once on the edge of the object and just run your mouse along the edges of the object you want to select (like when you are using scissors to cut something out). This is how I cut out the turkey and gave it to the Blue Devil for Thanksgiving!

  • Play with opacity

A layer with 1% opacity is close to transparent, while a layer with 100% opacity is opaque. Whether you are brushing something over with the paintbrush or inserting another layer, you can adjust the opacity to make sure things blend in more naturally or so that certain objects do not stand out as much.