Whether you’re looking to get into graphic design professionally, or simply want information to help you work with designers this is for you. Here’s a list of essential design elements everyone should know about.
essential part of any business venture. From your logo, to your social media branding, and website - there’s no way you can have a successful brand without design.
So, even if you don’t intend to become a self-taught designer, understanding what are the elements of design that are used in virtually every project can be helpful. Paying close attention to these basic design elements allows you to understand how and whether a piece of design “works”, and allows you to give constructive feedback to any designer you’re working with.
So, without further ado let’s answer what are the elements of design everyone needs to know about.
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.
For example, a line can be used as a frame to draw attention to a specific message. This is often used with CTA button design.On the other hand, there’s a whole area of illustration design called line art, which involves using line strokes of varying weights and angles to create depth.
How do the elements and principles of design work together? The line element of design is one of the best ones to demonstrate that point. Lines are often used to create movement in design, whether it’s a simple arrow, or line patterns that can create optical illusions of movement.
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.
Unlike lines that allow for endless experimentation, shapes have slightly more fixed meanings (e.g. more fluid shapes are usually used to represent organic forms, whereas geometric shapes are a better fit to artificial/manmade contexts).
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.
If you want to understand the possibilities of this element of design, you need to know the basics of color theory and color psychology.
Color theory is based on the color wheel, which helps to understand how colors can be classified (cold, warm, primary, secondary) and combined (contrasting, analogous, complementary).
Color psychology studies the psychological impact of colors. For example, blue is often found to be a calming color, while red is used to draw attention or awareness, signal danger, represent power or passion.
Color and value are basic elements of design which are closely related. In fact, value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.
All colors, also called hues, have their variations of shades, tints, and tones. Shades are pure pigments combined with black, tints with white, and tones with gray. Each shade, tint, or tone has its own unique value.
There are different color systems, two most important being HEX and Pantone. According to these, each color has a unique value (or code). Different systems are used depending on whether the design is meant for print or digital use.
Text is a major part of design these days. However, the way text looks is almost as important as what message it is sending.
There are thousands of different fonts, so choosing the right one can be difficult. Generally speaking, fonts are divided into 5 main categories:
- Serif: Serif fonts have small lines or flourishes at the ends of the strokes that make up each letter. They are often used in print materials such as books, newspapers, and magazines because they are easy to read in long blocks of text.
- Sans-serif: Sans-serif fonts do not have the small lines or flourishes at the ends of the strokes. They are often used in digital media and in signage because they are more legible at smaller sizes and on screens.
- Script: Script fonts mimic the look of handwriting or calligraphy. They are often used for invitations, greeting cards, and other types of elegant or formal communication.
- Display: Display fonts are decorative and attention-grabbing. They are often used for headlines and titles, but are not suitable for long blocks of text because they can be difficult to read.
- Monospace: Monospace fonts have a fixed width for each character, so each character takes up the same amount of space. They are often used in coding and programming because they make it easier to align text and code.
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If you’re looking for an answer to the question “how do the elements and principles of design work together”, there’s no better example to look at than space.
Although space is technically a design element, we only perceive it in the context of specific design principles, such as balance, movement, or hierarchy. Space allows designers to convey the desired message and draw attention to specific design elements. In addition, space is also a key component of good UX design. Lack of whitespace or empty space makes designs feel cluttered and harms the user experience.
This element of design is often the most difficult for non-designers to understand. Using too much or too little space, and the organization of other design elements in a given space is usually not something we immediately notice in a design. But, a skilled professional knows that these decisions can make or break a project.
Form, shape and space are all closely related design elements. Form refers to the way an object or shape occupies space. Since they work in a two-dimensional space, designers create three-dimensional forms through use of light, shadow, negative space, contours, and more.
The most obvious use of form in graphic design is 3D design. Although you could draw shapes and elements from a 3D perspective, it takes a lot more effort to make graphics appear truly three-dimensional. Using shadows and texture allows designers to create forms and add visual interest to design.
Texture refers to the surface quality of a design. It can be rough, smooth, or somewhere in between, and is used to create visual interest and depth.
Texture can be created through the use of different design elements, including line, shapes, and color. Texture is also used to create a three-dimensional experience in a two-dimensional space.
Why is it important to know about the basic design elements?
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Now that you know what are the basic elements of design, you might be wondering - how does this help you?
If you want to learn how to do graphic design yourself, it goes without saying that considering these elements is the very first step. On the other hand, why is it useful to know about the basic elements of design if you’re only a client looking to get design services? Here are some convincing reasons:
- You can provide better feedback: By focusing on each individual design element, it’s easier to provide constructive guidelines. You can observe on specific aspects of design, and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
- You can tell good design from bad: Since graphic design always serves a specific purpose, we can’t judge it on personal preference alone. Understanding different graphic design elements allows you to see how they support that purpose. By extent, you’re able to tell whether the design is effective or not, and you can also give pointers on how to turn bad design into good.
- It enhances creativity: It’s much easier to be creative when you know what you’re working with. When you know about different types of lines, fonts, or the importance of space, you are able to see things from different perspectives, and try to come up with new solutions.
We hope this beginner-friendly guide on the most vital visual elements in graphic design is useful. If you want to continue your design education, check out this article on the basic design principles, as well as our checklist on the most important characteristics of good design.