Fresh Tips on Designing Ad Images, for Non-Designers (aka Digital Marketers) – #SMX Liveblog

Full disclosure: I am pretty excited for this session, “Getting Images Right in Paid Search.” The content team here at Bruce Clay, Inc. makes a lot of images for search and social, both for content marketing and ads. We test a lot of tools, sites and tactics when it comes to designing images. We’re pretty good at what we do, but there’s always room to learn more — especially from a first class designer like Dustin Stout (@DustinWStout), the CMO at Weal Media in Los Angeles.

Stout does not disappoint.

Visual Advertising in the Modern Visual World

Dustin Stout at SMX East“Let’s put design talk into real world talk. This is for people who are not designers, but use visuals in their marketing,” says Stout.

Fact 1: The Internet is becoming a more and more visual place.

Fact 2: Human beings have evolved to judge their environment based on visual clues.

Fact 3: The growing fragmentation of visual marketing mediums is a pain.

Create visual trust, because when something looks professional, we generally assume that it is professional.

Indicators of visual trust:

  • Balance
  • Framing
  • Contrast
  • Color
  • Typography
  • Quality
  • Consistency

The purpose of good visual design is to effectively communicate a message.

Balance: When the human brain looks at something visual, immediately it begins to deconstruct its structure. Balance allows us to more easily interpret what we’re seeing. Balance is the visual weight’s even distribution across a canvas. Use symmetry and asymmetry to give your image stability.

Framing: Creating even clearance around the edges of your visual piece is called framing. Pushing text all the way to the edge of an image creates tension. Use whitespace. Imagine an invisible red zone around the edge of your canvas to avoid clutter. As a general rule, keep the outer ten percent of an image clear.

Contrast: Visual distinction between text and background. What is the point of adding text if people can’t read it? Before all else, the purpose of design is to effectively communicate your message. Tip: Add a dark, semi-transparent layer to create more contrast.

Color: Using the right combinations can set an emotional and psychological tone. Speaking from an American perspective, here are some color associations:

  • Red: Exciting, demands attention. Studies show that the color red can actually increase your heart rate.
  • Orange: Fun, youthful, ambitious. Also an attention-getting color. Great for calls to action.
  • Yellow: Happiness, optimism. Studies show that this color causes the release of serotonin.
  • Green: Growth, nature. Very trendy right now. Also associated with money. Easiest color for the eye to process.
  • Blue: Trust, loyalty. The majority of people’s favorite color is blue. Associated with calmness and security.
  • Violet: Prosperity, royalty. Stimulates problem-solving. Some Silicon Valley companies paint a room Violet for problem-solving. Note: Too much violet can come off as fake.
  • Grey: Solid, timeless. Associated with stone or rock. Communicates sturdiness.
  • Brown: Earthy, organic. Associated with being natural. Can be very soothing.
  • White: Cleanliness, clarity and purity. Adds no extra visual weight.
  • Black: Elegance, power, impression of strength and authority. Often used by luxury brands.

Keep colors few and well-coordinated for maximum appeal. A few color resources:


Always keep your target audience in mind. What colors will speak to them? What emotion are we trying to evoke in them? Are the colors on brand?

Note: Older demographics like darker colors. Youth like brighter colors.

Typography: This is about using the right fonts. Use these tools to help you:


And remember:

  • Use no more than two fonts.
  • See how the font looks at 8px.
  • Don’t let style trump legibility.
  • Make sure you have a license or it’s free to use commercially.

Hierarchy: The most important text is the biggest. For calls to action, make sure it’s different from the rest of the page. Make the CTA highly contrasted. It should always stand out. Also, remember, the smaller the font is, the more space you need between characters.

Quality: Build an eye for detail. Pixelation is your enemy. People can tell the difference.

Consistency: Having a consistent look and feel shows intelligence and intentionality — and this creates trust.

More Design Resources on the Web

Free Photo Sites

  • Picjumbo
  • Gratisography
  • Pexels
  • Pixabay
  • Death to the Stock Photo

Low-Cost, High Quality Stock Photography

  • iStockPhoto
  • PhotoDune
  • Lightstock

Graphic Design Applications

Editor’s note: This list contains both free and paid applications.

Other Miscellaneous Design Tips

  • If you can afford it, hire a professional photographer for a day and have him take pictures all day of everything you need images of. Create your own stock photo library.
  • Everything for the web should be in 72 DPI — it’s the lowest common denominator.
  • Don’t put things on a design unless they mean things (like a line, for example).
  • Facebook image tip: Use an image that instantly communicates the emotion — Facebook is a very emotional platform.
  • The best question to ask a designer: Why did you make that choice?
  • The best way to tell a designer it’s not working: “It’s not achieving the result that you’re looking for.”
  • Bright colors and pictures of fellow millennials speak to millennials (for the latter part, remember, people look for people who look like themselves).
  • Pinterest tip: Taller images perform better on Pinterest (because people are looking at Pinterest on mobile devices usually). The best size? 735 by 1102 pixels.


Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (7)
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent PPC/Pay-Per-Click posts is better than the last!

7 Replies to “Fresh Tips on Designing Ad Images, for Non-Designers (aka Digital Marketers) – #SMX Liveblog”

Hey, I think a good blog is all about its good informational content.

I would like to thank the admin of this website for sharing such amazing designs.

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Hey, Glad to find this creative post Kristi your designs are really amazing. I would love to see more designs like this.

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