We all want a website that leaps off the screen. But sometimes, especially in the early stages, hiring a professional designer isn’t in the cards (or the budget).
You can make your end product infinitely more beautiful and professional looking by playing with the following 5 easy-to-use, completely free online design tools and programs. Bonus: they’re not just for elevating your website design – you can use these tools to make social media graphics, marketing collateral, promotional materials, and pretty much anything your little budding creative heart desires!
Before we start: if you are DIY’ing your web design, please, for your sanity and the sake of all of our eyeballs, do not use things like your host’s website builder or WIX. Use Squarespace (to learn about why we love it for DIYing, check out my latest two blog posts: WordPress vs. Squarespace and Shopify vs. Squarespace).
Now that that’s been said:
Stock photography can be awful and cheesy, not to mention really expensive. Finding the right vibe can be like finding a talking unicorn. . Most of us have run across the same images:two stiff, besuited business people shaking hands, a man in front of a computer pulling his hair with the most staged scream imaginable, or a pretty blonde white woman doing downward dog with perfect makeup and downward dog. We’re all craving something different, natural, stylish, representative – and decidedly unstaged.
Enter the heroes of Unsplash.
Unsplash’s stunning, high-resolution, and diverse photos are uploaded by a wildly generous global community of photographers. And they’re absolutely free for you to use in exchange for exposure for their work.
Please remember: be just as generous and always credit the photographer (no matter where you use the photo). While Unsplash states that attribution is not required, we believe in the Golden Rule and urge you to give credit where credit is due.
2 & 3. Font Squirrel and Google Fonts
As a typography nerd, I wholeheartedly believe in the transformative power of using fonts thoughtfully and boldly to elevate any type of design. But before we dive in, I need to make an important distinction between standard fonts and web fonts.
Standard font families number in the tens of thousands. They can be used when you download the font file to your computer, and within any number of programs on your computer, like the Microsoft or Apple office suites, Adobe design programs, and more. If you want to share a file with someone who doesn’t own that font, they’ll either need to download the font before they open your file, or you’ll need to send a document with an embedded font, or send a PDF rendered document.
The concept is somewhat similar on the web. In order to see the font you have used in your web design, the computer of the user viewing your page must be able to reference that font file. Now, our website can’t connect to their local font files (that would be oh-so-creepy!), and chances are they don’t own what we used. So how do make sure they can see the right font? We add a little bit of code to our website to pull up the font file locally on our server, or to another server where the font file is ready and waiting, like the Google Fonts library.
So, first things first:let’s look at the Standard Font category. While the basic fonts like Arial or Times New Roman tare sufficient for basic things like Word documents and the like, if you want to design some really cool stuff in any program on your computer, you’ll need to build a local font library that goes beyond basic.
Your font finder BFF? Font Squirrel, where you can download hundreds of totally free fonts to your font library and then use them in any program that uses fonts. Not only will your presentations and documents get kicked up a few magical notches, you can create awesome typography-focused graphics to upload to your website.
Now when it comes to the fonts you’ll use on your website, you’ll want to head over to Google Fonts. While Font Squirrel has a font webkit generator so you can use all their fonts on your website, it’s not a super easy process for non-technically inclined people. The Google Font library has hundreds of sexy fonts, often completely integrated and available to use inside your Content Management System (like Squarespace). I always head to the Google Font page when I’m trying to decide on which fonts to use on a website: I simply type in some sample text, filter my results, and scroll endlessly until I can choose my favorites!
Warning: once you go down the font rabbit hole you’ll never, ever, look at design the same way
Nailing the perfect color palette can be tough – even for designers. Trying to find the perfect combo of colors that compliment each other, express the mood of your brand and project, and create the desired reaction from your customers, all requires you to pull from a interconnected knowledge of color theory and psychology, and an inspired creative vision. It’s complicated AF.
Throughout their simple color picker interface, you can browse through hundreds of preset palettes that will make you look like you have a PhD in color. To start, simply paste in the color codes of one (or more) of your starting colors (or leave all 5 up to Coolors), press lock on the ones you want to stay constant, and then hit the space bar to scroll through all your options! You can adjust hues and alternative shades within each color, play with the colors’ intensity, and hunt for your holy color scheme grail.
Bonus: you can even upload an image and pick colors from there!
Ever wonder how your friend who can’t even match her socks creates beautiful promo posters for her events and graphics for her social media feeds?
I’m willing to bet that Canva is her dirty little design secret.
Canva is an incredible,gorgeous, free online design tool that helps you to create website banners, social media posts, infographics, posters – even book and album covers – all with minimal design and technical skills. Choose from thousands of stunning templates, fonts, and graphics; import your brand colors, logos, and images; and use their easy drag and drop editor to instantly make you look (and feel!) like a pro graphic designer.
Their templates are optimized for print and digital, are sized correctly for each medium, and you can download files in PDF, JPG, or PNG formats.
Bonus: If you work with a team, Canva can be used as a cloud-based collaborative design tool. Share designs, templates, and brand styles and real-time edit and comment on your team projects.
Co-Founder / Chief Alchemy Officer
Stephanie is Flauk’s head website tinkerer, social strategist, and digital puzzle builder. She’s devoted to transforming all of your company’s offline missions, goals and dreams into solid gold out in the vast webiverse.