So, you’re looking to get into graphic design and you don’t know where to start. It’s an understandable predicament. The nature of design means that there are so many elements to consider and, though the fundamentals of graphic design are important, the only limits are your creativity. Creativity is a pretty tough thing to box in, after all. That said, there are some principles of design and basic concepts that seem to span across all areas of design. As a beginning graphic designer, these are the concepts that you need to learn about.
In this article, we look at seven basic principles of graphic design that are essential to understand as you learn about theory in design school or teach yourself the elements of design. By understanding the basics, you can begin to expand your knowledge and see how these concepts fit into the broader landscape of design and art in general.
One of the basics of graphic design is a concept that is so simple, you might not realize how important it is. Of course, we’re talking about the line! A majority of every visual design is in some way comprised of lines. Understanding how these lines work together to form the big picture is crucial in any artists’ interpretation of design. You may find that the most basic tool of any design program is the line tool, and for good reason. Understanding how to build a design from its most basic point is the best way to get started.
Shapes are a logical extension of the line. A shape is really just a combination of lines but learning to use shapes effectively is crucial for any graphic designer. Shapes can be used in everything, from minimalist designs to combining many shapes to create something quite complex. Realistically, any design - even photorealistic drawing - is just learning to draw shapes in just the right way. Learning how to use shapes is perhaps the most important thing you will learn as a graphic designer.
Next up is color. Color is a key weapon in the arsenal of any designer. It sounds like a simple subject, but the possibilities and combinations that can be achieved with color are endless. Whether it is a simple design that highlights a single color, or a grand, detailed tapestry, color is what permeates the entire design and makes up the overall feel.
Text is a major part of design these days. If you are adding words to your design, a good understanding of text is crucial. Not only does it help to convey the message you are trying to say, but a good text also elevates the entire design. By choosing a font that matches the feel of your design, you increase the impact of your message. Additionally, adjusting the size, color, thickness, and shape of your text further adds its impact.
Remember, the text is not as simple as the words you are trying to say. A good graphic designer uses it as an integral part of the overall design.
Sometimes more important than what you do in design is what you don’t do. Space perfectly illustrates this concept. In design, space is the area that is left blank or is only filled with a background color. The way that a designer uses space drastically impacts how the design is perceived. A design with a lot of space is perceived as open and easy to look at which is why so many logos and websites are designed in the simplest way possible.
Depending on the type of design you are going for, you should be familiar with the implications of using too much or too little space. It might be the most important aspect of the overall perception of your design at first glance.
This is where you can start to put all your design principles to use. From shapes, to colors, to space, balance is what really ties it all together in a completed design.
Balance is the way that all the design elements are grouped and how they are spread out throughout the design. It involves combining individual elements into one cohesive whole that creates a design to achieve your goal.
Well-balanced designs could be highly symmetrical, asymmetrical, designed in a circular pattern, or more. The key here is understanding the type of balance you are going for and using the tools you have to achieve that. It is a big picture strategy and you should plan for the type of balance you want before you begin your design.
Finally, hierarchy is a principle of design which determines which elements of your design are focal points. Which do you want the viewer to focus on? Hierarchy can help you achieve great design while drawing the viewer to a certain key element. Generally, the larger something is, the more of a focal point it is; however, this can also be influenced by placement, shape, and even contrasting colors.
Knowing about hierarchy is crucial in certain types of design, specifically website design where you want to accentuate key facts and pages or information pamphlets and business cards where you want to draw the reader to certain details. An understanding of hierarchy is important for functional and practical designs.
These seven design basics we highlighted are key concepts that beginners and advanced graphic designers alike should understand. Design is really only the sum of its parts and by understanding even the most basic concepts, you can create something of great complexity.
These concepts also help you understand design from a practical standpoint. So much of design is about highlighting key points or creating an overall “feel”. These big-picture concepts do just that and open your toolbox to create designs that achieve what you are aiming for.