By Steph Jones

8 social media graphic design principles you need to know

February 6th, 2023
6 min read

Scrolling through social media can feel like an assault on the senses. Every time we log on we are faced with a barrage of messages, updates and calls to action, all vying for our attention. 

So, how do you get your brand or business to stand out amidst all of the noise?

With some great, thumb-stopping visuals, that’s how!

Graphic design principles for social media

Cool fact: On average, when information is presented orally, people tend to remember around 10% of it up to 72 hours later. This figure goes up to 65% if you add images alongside the information.

Our brains are hard-wired to absorb and process information more quickly when there’s a balance of imagery and text, which is why creating effective, eye-catching graphics can be instrumental in successfully marketing your business on social media.

We've pulled together 8 social media design principles to help inform the graphics you create for your business. So, whether you’re a Photoshop pro or a notebook doodler, bear them in mind and you’ll be sure to see a boost in your brand awareness and engagement in no time.

1. Colour is key

Consider how colour can affect a person’s psychology, emotions, and reactions to your brand. For instance, using blue tones can exude an air of calm and tranquillity, whereas using red hues can signal anger or danger. It is important to choose the right kind of colour scheme that will create the right kind of reaction from your audience.

Tip: Using flat, block colours can be a great way of breaking up a visually busy newsfeed, allowing your design to stand out.

2. Typography 

Much like colour, typography conveys mood and tone. Choose fonts that communicate your brand’s voice and style or are relevant to the message you’re trying to convey. 

As a rule of thumb, use no more than 3 different fonts per graphic, any more than this can make the design seem unstructured and disjointed. You should also make sure they complement each other by combining sizes, weights and a mixture of serif and san serif styles.

Tip: Stay away from free, novelty fonts. They are often badly constructed and look unprofessional. By using them you run the risk of devaluing your brand.

3. Clarity and legibility 

The majority of people browse social media on their smartphone, meaning most graphics will appear around the size of a postage stamp on their screen. 

Create a visual hierarchy in your images with a combination of fonts and colours, so that the most important information is the largest and boldest, and any secondary text is smaller. This will give instant impact no matter the size of the image. 

Tip: Allow generous breathing space between images, text and logos as well as the edges of your graphic.

4. Movement 

Introducing motion to your graphics is an extremely effective way to make people stop scrolling and pay attention. Use video content where possible and overlay some simple graphics or your logo to make it on-brand. 

There are many ways to add movement to your graphics without having to be a professional videographer or animator, for instance, using GIFs, Instagram stories, creating simple slideshows or by incorporating animated stickers.

Tip: Make sure your video works with the sound turned off! The majority of people view videos on social media with the sound off, so make sure any essential information is presented in the visuals instead of the audio, or alternatively, use subtitles.

5. Consistency 

If you look at any large, successful brand you’ll notice a consistent visual presence throughout all of their communications. Macdonalds – yellow and red, Adidas – black and white, Ikea – blue and yellow, and so on.

Make sure all of the graphics you create for your business are consistent in their use of colours, logos and fonts across your online presence. Templates are an easy way of achieving this. Create a simple overlay using your brand colours and logo that can be placed over existing imagery.

Tip: If you don’t already have some, put together a brand guidelines document for reference, that outlines all of the essential visual elements of your brand’s identity.

6. Keep it short and snappy 

It only takes the human eye 50 milliseconds to form an opinion based on a visual, and the average attention span of the population is now down to only 8 seconds. Keep text to a minimum on your graphics and let the images do the talking. Often the copy in the post accompanying your graphic will do the explaining anyway. Leave them wanting more!

Tip: If the content is video or animation based, keep it between 10 and 30 seconds max.

7. Size matters 

Every social platform requires graphics in different dimensions. Get to know the shapes and sizes and consider how best to utilise this space when creating an image. 

Pay particular attention to cover images and profile pictures, these are different on every platform and are often the images that people will see first when coming across your business. If your logo is cropped out awkwardly in your Facebook profile picture, you won’t be able to make that first impression again.

Tip: Make sure to stay on top of changes to the recommended image dimensions. Social media platforms and apps are ever-evolving and updating, so these tend to change quite often.

8. Make an impression 

Film, music, paintings, literature, photography – the art that wheedles it’s way into our subconscious and stays with us the longest is the stuff that makes us laugh, cry, feel sad, joyful or content. 

Make your graphics memorable using humour, puns, clever wording, topical references and visual metaphors. Tie the image and copy together to create something completely unique to your business that will make a lasting impression on your audience.

Tip: It always helps to look at what the big brands, or even your competitors, are doing on social media for visual inspiration. After all, it’s doesn’t matter where you take things from, it’s where you take them to!

Steph Jones.
Steph Jones

Head of Social

A hands-on Head of Social, with extensive experience across Charity, Retail and eCommerce, both agency side and client side, with brands such as WWF, Virgin Pure and Purity Brewing. Steph considers all facets of the customer journey through social and paid media, as well as creating engaging content in line with the business goals to capture attention and convert audiences.