As Jason Putorti, former lead designer at company Mint.com, once memorably put it, great design can seem like magic pixie dust sprinkled over a product, instantly transforming a so-so experience into something spectacular.

That's true, but also kind of intimidating to us mere muggles. Thankfully though, as magical as great design can first appear, it's not actually a mysterious inborn skill, nor is it an arcane craft you can only learn after years of arduous study.

The best designers have both talent and long experience of course, but as Marc Hemeon, founder of Design Inc wrote on Startup Grind recently, even the least aesthetically gifted among us need not entirely suck at design. Amateurs can get quite a bit better at creating great, eye-catching products and experiences simply by learning a few dead simple design rules, he contends.

His post goes on to list a host of easy but wildly useful principles that every business person should know about design, such as:

1. Almost black is easier to read than black.

"If you have the choice, try using the color #333333 RGB (51,51,51) instead of pure black for your text. Pure black on white jiggles for the eye and makes the letters hard to focus on," Hemeon writes.

2. Align all the things.

This sounds so obvious that you'd think everyone would do it naturally, but as we've all know from bad experiences as customers, it's strangely easy to create wonky, cluttered-looking apps. It's also often easy to fix, according to Hemeon.

"The fastest way to fix something that feels off or janky is to make sure the alignment is not off," he says. "Fixing alignment is one of the easiest improvements we can make to any app or website and instantly makes an app or website look 10x better." Check out his complete post for visual examples of this and all his other principles.

3. Make your text bigger.

"We are not designing for ants," Hemeon sensibly points out. "Increasing font size will make your content much easier to read and digest coupled with some liberal line spacing." Again, what's obvious to users, somehow isn't always easy to see when you're the one creating the product.

4. Borrow color palettes.

While some basic design principles are dead simple, others areas of the craft are best left to the professionals. Hemeon feels color is one of them. "Color is a bit of an elusive dark art. I highly recommend heading over to Dribbble and searching for 'Color Palettes' or use a color palette generator like Coolors or Color Claim," he suggests.

5. When it comes to apps, think about comfort.

When you're creating an app or any other experience that happens on a handheld device, keep in mind that it's not only important what it looks like, but also what it feels like. Some parts of the phone are easier to reach than others. "Many effective mobile apps keep navigation and core actions in the bottom third of the phone," notes Hemeon.

Find these principles helpful? Then head over to Hemeon's post for another five simple and wildly helpful rules.

Published on: May 12, 2017