Graphic design, like filmmaking, is a form of visual communication. So if you’re a filmmaker, you probably already understand some of the basic graphic design concepts like composition, contrast, and rhythm. So don’t feel intimidated when it comes to learning a little more about graphic design.

Designers, like film professionals, spend years perfecting their craft and creativity. Some designers go to school and others learn it on their own — just like filmmakers. Many of them end up having pet peeves related to their work — just like filmmakers — because they’ve spent a long time focused on it. There are so many similarities.

Here are a five basic tips to help filmmakers who find themselves designing graphics:

  1. Less is More
    When designing, remember that less is usually much more powerful. It’s easy to make something visually complicated, but quite a challenge to make it simple. Simple makes it easier to see, process, and understand. Some people keep adding and adding to a design, in hopes that it’ll make things better but it actually causes confusion. Less is more.
  2. Use Smart Quotes
    Make sure you’re using the right mark for the job. Straight quotes are used to reference measurements (like inches or feet), not when quoting a person in a sentence or indicating the title of a work. Typography for Lawyers explains this really well, so read here for more info. I’ve also shared their image below to quickly show the difference.


  3. Bold or Italics — Rarely Both
    Rarely does a word need to be both bold and italicized. It doesn’t add more emphasis, it just makes it difficult to read. Use one or the other, but rarely both. The only time it might be appropriate — in my humble opinion — is when a phrase is bold and it happens to include the title of a work (and quote marks aren’t appropriate to indicate the title).
  4. Use an Appropriate Typeface
    Just as lighting can be used to indicate the mood of a scene or a character’s intention, typefaces can send clues to an audience. Typefaces are a powerful tool in graphic design and filmmaking, so learn how to wield the power responsibly. Also, do yourself a favor and avoid using the most abused typefaces like Papyrus and Comic Sans — they’re so rarely used appropriately. For extra credit, read why they’re called typefaces, not fonts. You can also read the definition of “typeface” on Wikipedia.
  5. Check the Contrast
    Take a moment to check the words you’re putting on screen: do they have enough contrast to be legible? If not, you could lose your audience quickly. Struggling to read something during the movie — opening credits, subtitles, etc. — takes your audience out of the moment. Check the contrast on printed materials, too, while you’re at it.

There are many resources available online to further your design education. Do a little research about graphic design basics to break up the monotony of working on your film. Watch tutorials, read blogs, and follow designers online so you can learn the lingo.

Feeling overwhelmed about design? You can collaborate with a professional instead of doing it yourself. Add a graphic designer to your filmmaking entourage, and treat them well. A talented, passionate, dedicated and smart designer can be a priceless addition to your team.

My background is in graphic design and I love to geek out about it. That’s why you’ll find me smelling books, over-analyzing menus, and uncontrollably groaning when I see a terrible layout. I use my graphic design knowledge every single day as a filmmaker, and I’m so grateful for that foundation.

We communicate visually all the time — with the clothes we wear, our posture, words we choose and how we treat one another. As filmmakers, we make decisions all the time about how we present something to our audiences — with lighting, camera movement, lens choice, and sound. Graphic design, to me, should be one of the respected tools a filmmaker uses regularly.

Please tell me what you think of what I’ve shared in the comments. Was this helpful? Are there other design-related things you’d like to know? Don’t be shy. I don’t bite.