The foundations of working with color, type, and imagery (3-part video series)


In early 2019, I did a series of Instagram Lives that centered around thinking like a designer, showing you some tangible ways (some just a little weird!) to develop an eye for design. I broke it down into three sections – Working with Color, Working with Type, and Working with Imagery. The live videos got a great response, and many people requested access to them after they expired on Instagram – thankfully I had saved two of the three! The Working with Color video was sadly lost to the depths of the Interwebs, so I re-recorded it in the same fashion as the other two, just without the live viewers – but still all the same great content + examples! (Jelly beans, anyone?)

If you’ve been needing to brush up on things like choosing a cohesive color palette, pairing up typefaces, choosing fonts, or how to incorporate photos, illustrations, or patterns into your work, this series is for you. Great for beginners to learn the ropes of design and lay a strong foundation for their style, AND great for seasoned designers to brush up on the basics, think outside the box, and maybe learn a new trick or two.

Working with Color

Creating a cohesive color palette can be a challenge if you don’t feel confident in what you’re doing. But many people seem to overthink the process and try to apply a formula to make it work. While there are some general guidelines you can follow to help you get started and refine your color palette, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Be inspired by the world around you, play, and have fun with it! Look through the tips below and watch the video for ways to get started and get inspired when you’re choosing a cohesive color palette for your brand or project.

  • If you have no clue where to start, choose a dark, medium, and light tone of the same color (doesn’t have to be exact!). Then add in one color that is across from those on the color wheel (what the video to see me do this a couple times!)

  • If you’re feeling stuck and uninspired, think outside the box… pick 3 random colors, then add in some neutrals to round it out (like tans, whites, grays, browns, etc.)

  • Another way to approach a color palette is to choose 1-2 bold, dominant colors, then add in 2-3 more neutral, muted colors to finish your palette.

  • Think about how the color will be used – backgrounds, body text, headlines, call to action items, etc. (Example in the video)

  • When in doubt, you can pull colors directly from a photograph or screenshot. You can do this with the eyedropper tool available in InDesign and Photoshop, or use the Instagram Story color picker tool and save a screenshot to your phone (no need to actually post the image).

Color Resources

Working with Type

Choosing the right typefaces can make or break your design. If you choose a combination that muddles the information you’re displaying, doesn’t fit with the style of your overall design, or is difficult to read, your viewer may be immediately turned off and it could devalue your work. It’s vital as a designer to know what kinds of typefaces look good together, and what kinds just don’t work. To learn this, it takes lots of practice, and lots of trial and error. Look through these basic rules below and watch the Instagram Live recording to guide you and see examples as you start pairing up typefaces.

  • Make sure your fonts have enough contrast that they aren’t mistaken for the other or get confusing in your hierarchy. Make them different enough from each other that they don’t become a distraction.

  • What everyone wants – make sure your fonts actually look good together! Make sure the aesthetic of the fonts actually go with each other, for example consider things like casual vs. elegant, rough vs. fluid, playful vs. professional, etc.

  • Think about how your fonts will be used – it’s typically best to use one single font for the body text, and a different font for the header text. You can branch out and add in a third font for other things like calls to action or important pieces of information to call out, but try to keep it to 3 fonts maximum – 2 is usually best.

  • The ultimate rule in choosing typefaces — readability. Don’t make your reader strain or struggle to read your typeface, that defeats the whole purpose of your design.

Type Resources

Working with Imagery

When I talk about imagery, I’m referring to photography, patterns, illustrations, icons, etc.There are two things to keep in mind when choosing imagery to incorporate into your design: choosing imagery that fits the style of your design, and making sure it enhances your message and doesn’t distract from it. Working with imagery is more easily understood if you can see examples of good and bad (including junk mail, magazine ads, and even children's books!), so let’s head straight to the Instagram Live recording below.

Imagery / Photo Resources

I hope breaking down design into these three categories – color, type, and imagery – was helpful for you to start thinking of tangible ways you can develop an eye for design. I’d love to do more Instagram live videos in the future, so leave a comment here or shoot me a DM on the IG (@paperandoats) if there’s a particular topic you’d love to hear about.


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Kelsey Baldwin

Graphic designer + blogger providing design resources to help creative entrepreneurs navigate the world of design + branding for digital products so they can share what they know.

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