The Non-Designers Design Book

I’ve been thumbing through books on visual design for a while, and recently, picked up a copy of The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams.

If there’s one book that I’d suggest to a newbie on visual design, it’s this one. It’s rare among design books in that it offers 4 design principles that are easy to remember, easy to spot when violated, and easy to fix. Over 90% of the slides that I have reviewed violate at least one of these principles (often all), so I guess there’s a 90% chance this book will improve your design.

The four principles are (in the order of how often I see them violated):

  1. Alignment. Every edge of every element should be aligned with an edge of another element.
    Get that? Every edge of every element. No exceptions.
  2. Repetition. Use the same styles right through the presentation: fonts, size, colours, shapes.
    If you ever change a font, you must have a reason. Same for colour, size, shape, etc.
  3. Contrast. If you do change something, change all the way. Change the font, size, colour, everything.
    If two elements are not the same, then make them very different.
    If there were just 3 words on this slide, what should they be? Make those stand out.
  4. Proximity. Related items should be close together and grouped. Unrelated items should be far away.
    After designing your slide, list the elements, group them, and redesign to keep the groups together.

Contrast and proximity are important for the message. Proximity groups information into messages, and contrast highlights the key message. Alignment and repetition are more important for design. It makes for more appealing reading.

Williams orders these in a different way to create a memorable acronym. (I’ll never forget it.)

  1. Contrast
  2. Repetition
  3. Alignment
  4. Proximity

I’ll let you read the book and absorb it better. At less than 200 pages, it’s a very readable book.

  1. Dhar says:

    Am currently reading the book and you are absolutely right. It is a gem of a book, specially for people without any formal design eduction.

    The illustrations (before and after) clearly highlight the difference you can make using these principles. Actually sat and implemented some of the suggestions in a PPT I was preparing.


  2. Dhar says:


    Any other good books on Design you would recommend?


  3. S Anand says:

    Not really, Dhar. The last two design-related books I read were “The Laws of Simplicity” (didn’t like it) and “Don’t Make Me Think” (very good, but it tought me less — two word summary: Test usability.)