Why You Should Learn How to Make Your Own Visuals

 
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This post was written by Echo Rivera & Jason Rivera

You probably already know how to find visuals online for free. But should you be dependent on scrounging for images online all the time?

Does any of this sound familiar?

Have you ever…

  • Wanted to add a visual, but didn’t have one to use, so you left it as text.

  • Used a visual online that you didn’t love, because it was the best you found online.

  • Been frustrated because the software/app wouldn’t let you put objects exactly where you wanted them, or other objects started moving around on you because you were re-arranging things. 

  • Felt limited because the software/app wouldn’t let you apply the specific type of design or style you wanted.

  • Worried that your visual wasn’t designed well and looked outdated, or like it was obviously made in like PowerPoint (e.g., SmartArt). 

If so, then it’s time to consider learning how to make your own visuals using professional design software.

In this blog post series we start with the 6 reasons you should learn to create your own visuals using professional design software.

Specifically, using Affinity Designer. Never heard of it? It’s awesome.

 
Credit: An example of icons made in Designer, provided by Serif Europe (the creators of Affinity Designer)

Credit: An example of icons made in Designer, provided by Serif Europe (the creators of Affinity Designer)

 

But we’ll be talking about Affinity Designer and why we love it so much in a future post. Today, let’s focus on why you should even consider learning how to make your own visuals using professional software.


Before we get started…there’s a free PDF download available that’s related to this post. It has:

 
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  • Two short checklists to help you determine whether making your own visuals would be helpful for YOU.

  • A list of 15 ideas for the types of visuals that academics, scientists, researchers, and evaluators could make using design software, and which ones are particularly perfect for making in professional design software.

  • A description of 3 key benefits of using professional design software (e.g., Affinity Designer) instead of non-professional software (e.g., Canva).

GET YOUR FREE PDF DOWNLOAD BY JOINING THE COMMUNICATION CAFÉ (TOTALLY FREE) USING THIS FORM:


Reason #1: It could save you time and hassle

Like we said earlier, you already know how to find visuals for free. BUT:

  • How long does it take you?

  • Are you still using Google Images and violating copyright? Just because you’re an educator and using them for non-profit purposes, doesn’t mean you can legally use them.

  • How satisfied are you with the visuals you find? How often do you feel it wasn’t worth the effort?

Part of your struggle in finding the perfect visual is likely your approach. That’s why we created a FREE mini course to help you revise your searching strategy, to help you find more visuals that work for you.

But that approach is not a panacea. You’ll still come across situations where you aren’t able to find the visual you need.

Imagine if you could just open an app and create your own visual, without wasting any time looking for a visual that doesn’t even exist. 🙌

This is particularly true for common scientific/theoretical models.

For example, in my field a lot of people use Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. But a google search of this model pulls up a lot of images that have specific examples not relevant to my topic. I’ve personally wasted a lot of time searching and searching for the perfect model to fit my topic, only to have nothing in the end.

 
 

What about you? How often do you see something like this for visuals you’re searching for? Where, at first glance, there are a lot of explains but then as you look into them, you realize none of them truly fit your material.

Ugh. It’s so frustrating!

Now let’s say you’re lucky and you do actually find one that has the right content. You still have another gigantic problem to deal with: The design is probably crap.


Reason #2: You can design it yourself

So, yes, you can find visuals online BUT

  • Are they good visuals?

  • Do they look modern and professional (or do they look like clip art)?

  • Do they actually specify everything you need?

  • Are they in the format you need to present it effectively?

Going back to the Ecological Systems Model example…

99% of the models shown in that screenshot above are outdated and ugly. I’m talking 2002 type of outdated. Using those will instantly make my entire presentation or conference poster look outdated.

Okay but let’s say we somehow stumbled upon the magic trifecta of finding a visual that is (1) a perfect representation of the content I need to talk about, (2) legal to use, and (3) well-designed.

Even then, we have a problem: you can’t adjust the colors to match the style theme of my overall presentation.

That introduces inconsistency in the design of your slide deck, which instantly makes it look unprofessional or amateurish.

When you create your own visuals using professional design software, you can ensure that it’s designed well, and that the design matches the rest of your presentation.


Reason #3: You can re-use or repurpose visuals for multiple materials

By now, you might be thinking that you can just make visuals in PowerPoint. That’s partially true.

You can do very basic things, like using shapes to create an icon or something simple like the above Ecological Systems Theory model. But that’s about it.

Plus, the quality of those images won’t be great.

If you’re being smart with your time, you’re re-using and repurposing visuals for different things

You should be intentionally creating and using visuals in multiple ways to create a complete dissemination package for your work. For example, I (Echo) recently hosted @iamscicomm. We first made these icons in Affinity Designer, and then used them in multiple ways after that.

 
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For example, we used them to make this infographic. Wouldn’t you like to make something like this? There’s no way you’d be able to in PowerPoint.

 
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But these images work in PowerPoint. We have an upcoming post about that, so stay tuned. For now, I just wanted to briefly introduce you to the idea that when you make visuals using professional software, you give yourself the chance to re-use those visuals in multiple ways while still having them look great.

If you try to do this in PowerPoint, it will be a much more basic version of this and it won’t look crisp or professional in certain formats.

When you make your own visuals in professional software like Affinity Designer, you can then use the same visuals in multiple ways, such as:

  • Infographics,

  • visual abstracts,

  • website graphics,

  • presentation slides,

  • reports,

  • social media graphics,

  • videos,

  • and more!

That is a smart use of your time and resources.


Reason #4: It could save you money

When you DIY your design it’s going to be a cheaper option compared to having someone design it for you. Instead of paying for a whole icon pack because you wanted one of the icons or paying someone to make simple graphics for you, you could learn how to make some yourself.

Sure, there are a lot of good free resources online, but the higher quality photos or visuals are often not free.

Or, if you’re a biologist/teach biology then you’re in luck because you can use BioRender. I strongly recommend you check this out because it seems like a great way to DIY your own design for free.

…but, I’m not a biologist. Are you? I do social science, so biorender does not have features that I would use. So what do you do, then? You’re back to DIY or hiring someone.

There’s no question that being able to whip up your own visual in an 1 hour would save you money compared to hiring a designer to do the same.

The main risk here is that what you create doesn’t look professional or modern, but that can be solved with some training. And, we wouldn’t be writing this blog post if we didn’t have a recommendation for training to help you create professional, modern visuals.


Reason #5: You don’t even need to be an artist or a “creative” to do it well

Let me guess: You’re convinced you’re “not an artist” or that you’re “not creative” enough to make your own visuals?

Nonsense. You don’t need to paint like Frida Kahlo to create your own visuals for your research, teaching, or evaluation work. Being creative just means that you apply creative thinking to solve problems.

If you do research, science, or scholarship then you are creative!

Let’s do a flashback together. Think about a time when you were struggling or frustrated, but then had an “Aha!” moment? Maybe it was with a survey question, or finding a way to explain something in your manuscript. Whatever it was, the moment when an idea pops into your head about how to solve a problem isn’t magic. It’s the result of creativity. I recommend reading this article about creativity in the scientific process, because it explains how creativity plays a role in figuring out what to even study, how to study it, and in forming new ideas from what we study.


Reason #6: You don’t need to worry about violating copyright law

I have an addendum for the first line of the post:

You THINK you know how to find visuals online for free.

But a lot of academics and scientists are shocked when I share these two little tidbits:

  1. Copyright law STILL APPLIES even when you’re using an image for non-profit educational use.

  2. Those Google copyright filters aren’t always accurate.

I go into more detail about these in my other post. Also, FYI, “royalty-free” doesn’t mean the visual is free, and that’s a different thing than copyright licensing. Just because you found it online doesn’t mean it’s free to use in whatever way you want to use them.

  • Sometimes you have to give credit. Sometimes you don’t.

  • Sometimes you can’t use it in a specific way (e.g., you can’t add a speech bubble to make the person “say” something).

  • Sometimes you can’t make ANY edits to it, at all. Sometimes it’s fine.

And just because something is marked “free for commercial use” in Google Images doesn’t mean it actually is. I’ve seen for-purchase photos from iStock marked as free for commercial use in Google Images when I know, in fact, it’s not. In my free online course I share a couple tips about protecting yourself and only downloading actually-free images.

You don’t have to worry about copyright if you make your own visuals. Yay for less anxiety!

Before you go…there’s a free PDF download available that’s related to this post. It has:

 
WhyLearnAffinityChecklistMockup.png
 
  • Two short checklists to help you determine whether making your own visuals would be helpful for YOU.

  • A list of 15 ideas for the types of visuals that academics, scientists, researchers, and evaluators could make using design software, and which ones are particularly perfect for making in professional design software.

  • A description of 3 key benefits of using professional design software (e.g., Affinity Designer) instead of non-professional software (e.g., Canva).

GET YOUR FREE PDF DOWNLOAD BY JOINING THE COMMUNICATION CAFÉ (TOTALLY FREE) USING THIS FORM: