1) Think about the mood of the document you are creating. Is it edgy or sedate? Formal or light-hearted? Solemn or humorous? Once you decide, be consistent and choose the appropriate fonts and clip art.
2) Look beyond your library. If you cannot find just the right clip art in your own library, take the time to search online resources for clip art. Free clip art is available at: School Clip Art (where the above image came from), Free Clip Art and About.com. To purchase clip art you might want to start with Dover Publications.
3) Use styles of art that match. A cartoon smiley face daisy will not look good next to an Art Nouveau lily, even though they are both flowers. Choose one or the other. Again, think about the mood or tone you want to convey.
4) No more than two fonts please. Just because you have a lot of fonts does not mean you have to use them all. If you must use a novelty font (for example, dripping letters for Halloween) use it sparingly. These fonts work best as titles or headlines. For the rest of the document, use a standard font with good readability. Times Roman and Arial are good choices that work in most formats. If your document looks too plain use bold and italics to emphasize words or lines of type.
5) Pictures communicate too. Pictures can convey ideas quicker than words. Make sure the clip art you choose is conveying the right message. Consider this example, you are creating an announcement for a local charity. The event is an annual summer silent auction. You select some summer images from your clip art library – beach ball, flip-flops, a barbecue and a starfish. By using a piece of clip art that shows a man standing by a grill, there's a good chance people will show up expecting to eat barbecue.* If the clip art suggest an activity that is not part of the event, don't use it.
6) Function still counts. With all the layout and design tools so readily available on most computers, it's tempting to go wild with creativity. That's okay, just keep in mind the function of the document you are creating: to convey information. A visually creative announcement fails if no one understands what it is announcing.
7) Less is more – usually. If you are a professional designer who spent years studying typography and communication you know how to successfully break all the rules. For those of us who are still learning, less is usually more. If there's doubt leave it out.
When you begin your next project carefully consider the mood or tone. Find the right clip art and be consistent with the style. Limit your use of fonts. Be aware of what the pictures are communicating. Always remember the purpose of your project. And finally, when in doubt leave it out because clean and simple is always better than cluttered and confusing.
*I won't go into the details of how I know this. Let's just say I showed up with a pocket full of moist towelettes only to be disappointed.