Adobe Creative Cloud

3 Keys To Improving Design Literacy For Non-Designers

The future is visual. Brands tell their stories through design more than ever before – and thriving brands like Apple, Nike and Warby Parker are building design-focused cultures. Creating iconic brands – and infusing a powerful design sense into a business’ DNA– demands the expertise of artists and creatives.

Yet it also requires collaboration and communication with non-creative employees. Design impacts every element of a business, from marketing and digital to product development and the customer experience.

Can non-creative employees improve their skills to communicate through effective design, think about design through a business lens, and simply understand the value of design to companies and brands?

What is Design Literacy?

Boulders and Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Boulders and Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

In the book The Non-Designers Design Bookauthor Robin Williams introduces the Joshua Tree principle. During a visit to her family over the holidays, she learned that a strange looking tree was called a Joshua Tree. Despite never having noticed it before, she quickly became aware that Joshua Trees surrounded her – they lined the streets and were in every yard. In other words, they shaped the environment and world around her in a way that she didn’t appreciate, simply because she wasn’t trained to see them.

Design literacy is a similar premise: design is subtly at work in every element of business, from product packaging to how a brand’s logo conveys its most important values. Yet most people walk through their careers unable to see its influence – and thus unable to harness the power of design to make their work and businesses more effective. By giving non-creative employees the tools needed to improve their design awareness, their ability to explore it in their work, and a framework for collaborating productively with your internal and external creative teams, everyone benefits.

You don’t have to be a right-brained creative genius to become design literate. Here are three keys to improving the design literacy of the non-designers across your organization.

Introduce Design Fundamentals


In Design Literacy: Understanding Graphic Design, authors Steven Heller and Rick Poyner highlight the challenges of developing creative proficiencies. When you’re trying to master graphic design, there’s so much to learn: persuasion, identity, mass media applications, type, imagery, contrast, white space, layout, the use of color, language, conveying information, style, and using design within the commercial context – to name a few. It’s too much to ask non-creatives to tackle, and yet, it’s important to develop a shared vocabulary to improve creative and company collaborations.

Introduce your team to the fundamentals ofcreative design. For example, start with color. Help your teams understand how brands use deliberate color palettes since everybody – not just the designers – creates brand assets. Consider color in everyday work involving presentations, reports, email, blog posts, and social media efforts.

Take a similar approach with other concepts that are important to the creative work your company does. Use tangible examples from your business. Explore what drove your logo design, your product packaging, or creative designs from your advertising campaigns. Focus on helping non-creative employees articulate these principles at work in projects and designs that relate to your business. Can these describe what they see? Can they explain what value this approach creates? Help them develop a working vocabulary for future conversations.

Use Style Guidelines + Tools to Create Shared Creative Company Visions

The human eye is keen on picking out asymmetry and disorder. Though most people aren’t able to articulate why something looks bad, they know bad when they see it. Helping non-creative teams understand basic principles of space, organization, and order goes a long way: presentations will be better, and customers will focus on your message rather than distractingly bad design. So, ensure the brand and style guidelines you are evangelizing speak to the everyday content assets, and provide easy-to-follow design guidelines for styles and content placement, and space. Using a clear style guide – and reinforcing that with tools like Adobe Creative Cloud that make it easy to share these for every project – helps build a shared creative company vision.

The Rockwell Group is an international, award-winning design agency responsible for high profile design projects. Using collaborative features to make sure everyone is using the latest, approved assets in line with project guidelines saves time and results in a better finished product.

“By sharing assets within Adobe Creative Cloud Libraries, designers can maintain the color, look, and feel of a brand or project for effortless consistency,” says Kenneth C. Mok, Associate Director of IT at Rockwell Group. Develop clear brand guidelines and make it easy for your employees to use them by leveraging tools like Creative Cloud, which automatically updates assets such as logos across documents when changes are made.

Communicating Effectively With Designers


Creative workflows may be very different than collaborations in other parts of your company. Spend time helping non-creative teams understand how to communicate effectively about designs. Explore what productive feedback means, and how it to convey it respectfully and helpfully within a design context.

What types of feedback are useful at different stages of a project? What elements should non-creatives include in briefs to help better target designs? Why is it important to move beyond personal taste and look at whether designs achieve their business goals?

How can inspiration be shared in a way that’s helpful? Define what kind of feedback you need for creative projects, what information is most useful, and the most effective methods for sharing those ideas.

Consider all slide decks, social media, blog posts, newsletters, and emails that are generated by ‘non-creative’ teams in your company every day. The truth is that non-designers produce more design assets than designers do — exponentially more. Give them direction by educating and guiding them on basic design principles and communicating with creatives. Their work will improve and relationships between creative and non-creative teams will be more effective. This is what design-first brands do.

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