Some people might think design is just about personal taste and liking and disliking but actually there is more behind it. First of all you don’t design for yourself but for the people who are targeted with your design. And then there are certain rules that should be followed in graphic design to make a design look attractive. And if these rules are not followed it should be done intentionally at least :-)
Having written about my design essentials which I always follow for logo, brand and website design, I now want to share eight general graphic design principles. Some of them you would probably do automatically when designing but it is always good to be reminded!
Design Principle no. 1: Alignment
Alignment is super important for any design. Everything in your design should be aligned to something else, the center, the side, another text element or a graphic. Always have an order in mind, don't place anything randomly just because you like it. This helps to have a cohesive, polished and professional look.
Design Principle no. 2: Hierarchy
When deciding of the hierarchy for a design you need to decide of the goal you want to achieve.
What is the main purpose for your design? What do you want to draw attention to the most? What is the most important part of your design and what is the least important part?
When you have decided what you want the consumer to actually take away from looking at your design you already know the hierarchy of all your text, images and graphics.
Obviously the most important aspect needs to be the one that your viewer will see first, so it is either the biggest or boldest font or it is in the center or the top of a page (classic hierarchy) or it has a color that stands out. But it can’t be the small aspect in the corner or at the bottom of the page.
Let's say you design an ad for a car, obviously you need to have a car in the ad, but also you need to make sure your potential customers feels an interest in that car because it is either fast or big for a family or great for long trips etc. And of course viewers need to see immediately which brand is!
This already determines the hierarchy:
the key message -> which is preferably showing why it should be bought
and your the secondary message
Btw this is the same for social media, the main message should be communicated by the picture and if you want to add a secondary message, you can do so for example in the comments section.
Design Principle no. 3: Proximity
Grouping design elements that are similar or that belong together to create a connection between them is another design principle. Proximity doesn't necessarily mean putting design elements that belong together next to each other, you can also connect them by using the same font, color, thickness, size, background, etc.
Proximity helps to organize and declutter a design and make it visually more appealing and easier to quickly understand for the viewer.
Design Principle no. 4: Contrast
Contrast is a very effective principle to use in order to draw the viewer's attention to the most important part of your design. Contrast means two design elements are in opposition to another, this can be two opposite colors like black and white, thin and thick, big and small, modern and traditional, etc. See which one works best for your design and make the difference obvious.
Remember when you have two elements that are similar but not the same, think of how you can make the one that is more important stand out vs. the other one. Contrast can be very helpful here!
Principle of Design no. 5: Color
Color is a very important part of design as it very much helps to bring across the emotion of a design. However it should always be handled with care. Choosing a color for a design can change everything in an instant, the look, the mood, the feel, the emotions.
Each color has a meaning and is unconsciously associated with something different. Have a look at color theories or studies, it is super interesting!
When designing something branded, you should take your brand colors as a starting point and then look at the other colored elements of your design and how you can combine them.
If you design a logo for example you should always design it in black and white first and then add color.
As much as I love black and white and simplicity adding some color is great fun and can make a design go into a completely different direction or make an aspect of a design stand out.
Principle of Design no. 6: Space
Space is another very powerful design principle that is sometimes overlooked as it is so easy to assume that every corner of a design should be used.
But: less is more!
Use space in your designs. Make an impression by using fewer design details to make them stand out.
Also always leave space around your logo, headings and on your website to let them be visible and not get lost.
Don't try to fill the whole space and use every corner on a flyer, a presentation or on your website. Again less is more and use white space to make the information you show more powerful.
Too much information can be overpowering and distracting and it’s important to let the eye focus on the most important message.
This is a very good example where space was used to really make an advertisement stand out:
Principle of Design no. 7: Repetition
Repetition is super important for a design. Using the same colors, the same fonts, the same elements like lines, squares and graphics will tie the whole design together.
Remember to use the same layout and design elements so they all "speak the same language" in the future when you design other things for the same brand/company. This will also increase brand recognition.
Talking about language this is also true for the tone and words you use for your design. Keep them the same throughout one design and all designs that follow or you will confuse your customers.
All graphic elements should also be the same. For example when you create little icons or you use social media icons for a design or for a brand they have to be all the same size and look. Remember that also the stroke weight - if you are drawing icons for example - has to be the same for all icons.
Repetition and consistency is also the key for branding to be instantly recognizable!
Principle of Design no 8: Balance
Balance means the equal distribution of weight, color, texture and space. A balanced design looks professional and attractive. And it just feels right. Without an order the design would look messy and it would miss a proper form. That does not mean all elements need to be the same size or exactly the same width apart, it just means there needs to be a thought behind the distribution of your elements. No element should overpower another while still keeping the focal point on the most important part of your design. Balance can be symmetrical or assymetrical.
Symmetrical balances everything out equally whereas assymetrical uses contrast to balance a design.
Also remember to balance the number of colors and fonts you use. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should use them all ;-) Keep it simple - as always in design.
I hope this gave you a good overview of the general graphic design principles! Try them out and see what difference you can make when actually thinking about why you are designing something the way you are doing it unintentionally.
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