Graphic Design

The basic principles of Graphic Design.

Graphic design is not just about creating something that looks beautiful, there is much more to this creative skill than meets the eye. Design is a way of thinking and involves a meticulous thought process and holistic approach to solve a problem.

Typography, photography, illustration, colour and clear space are used to create visual communication of ideas and messages. Consequently, these are then communicated using various graphic elements and tools. Graphic design molds the written and unwritten messages to create a visual experience.

Graphic Design is all around us and is important when used in business, to convey a clear message about a brand or product.

There are many principles to design and understanding them is essential to designing something that not only looks professional but also solves the problem and communicates what it intended to do. Below we discuss some of the basic principles of design. We also look at how these can be influenced using specific techniques and skills.

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show braille leaflet horizontal

BALANCE | for stability and structure

During the process of any successful piece of graphic design it’s a must to ensure you have visual balance. There are two main schools of balance: Symmetrical and Asymmetrical. Designers typically create grids as guidelines to help with visual placement when developing a design layout.

In symmetrical balance both sides of the page are of equal weight visually. This may be through type, shape, colour, line or many other elements.

With asymmetrical design, elements in the design are deliberately imbalanced and therefore not distributed evenly. One side may feel heavier or lighter than the other and can create tension with the reader and sometimes movement. This directs the viewer’s eye towards the focal point or single element of a design.

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HIERARCHY | for organisation and direction

Hierarchy within graphic design means to create an order of importance to the elements of a design. This directs the reader’s attention and makes the information easy to digest. It is intrinsic to design and how a designer tells a story and how they make information accessible and interesting and hold the readers’ attention.

There are a number of ways to establish visual hierarchy within text. Using different type sizes, weights and styles or more simply, using different colours of the same font will create a similar effect. These help the reader to know what is more important, know where to look and what to read first and what they should pay more attention to.

Hierarchy isn’t just limited to text though and there are many tools available to designers to create hierarchy: Size; position; negative space; colour; hue; contrast; repetition and alignment.

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Annual Report design spread 3

CONTRAST | to generate impact and highlight important areas

Contrast is eye-catching and occurs when two elements are different. Used regularly in graphic design, it creates focus an organisation. Although your first thought may relate to colour contrasts such as light vs dark or warm vs cold, don’t stop there. Size, value, type, texture, shape, alignment, direction and movement also achieve contrast.

Contrast is more than just opposites like black and white or large and small. All of these elements work together to help achieve the final design. It’s important to remember to balance contrast. This adds to a design’s visual interest without it becoming confusing and directing viewers away from the focal point.

Elements that are related don’t necessarily have to be positioned right next to each other. They can be connected visually using this technique.

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REPETITION | for uniformity and strength

In graphic design repetition is the reusing of similar design elements throughout a design. This can include consistent use of a graphical style or language and can be recognisable in many forms. For example through a colour scheme, selection of typefaces, shapes, patterns, alignment, photography style and so on.

These conscious decisions create uniformity within a design and brand and creates a memorable experience for the reader. Repetition ties individual parts or pages together, therefore strengthening the design. This creates a whole finished design.

It is important also not to confuse repetition with the repetition of visual elements as a pattern. Although used in graphic design, it is concerned with visual style rather than repetition for consistency and uniformity.

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Care brochure design

ALIGNMENT | to create a sharper, clearer outcome

Alignment within graphic design creates order, organisation and a ‘sharper’ finish to a design. By aligning text, images and other elements, it allows us to create connections between those elements and helps bind and unify them into a cohesive structure.

There are two basic alignment principles. Edge alignment and center alignment. Edge alignment positions the outer edges of elements against an invisible margin, aligning their sides. Center alignment positions elements along their center axes, lining up their middles with one another on an invisible margin.

When aligning text there are four types of alignment; Center alignment (anchored down the center), Left alignment (aligned to the left hand side), Right alignment (aligned to the right hand side) and Justified alignment (anchored evenly between two lines).

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NEGATIVE SPACE | to define boundaries and bring balance

Negative space is instrumental in creating great graphic design (and design for print). Space gives emphasis and hierarchy to elements. I can group or separate them therefore improving overall legibility. For example space within a financial review or business report can really make a difference and help make its vast amounts of information easy to digest for readers.

Negative space can enhance type as well. Designers often adjust the leading (vertical space between each line of text), kerning (space between two letters/characters) and tracking (similar to kerning but instead looks at the space between groups of letters within a whole word, sentence or paragraph). These tools are extremely useful and although seem like small adjustments, can have a great impact on how something appears visually.

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There are definitely some key, basic principles discussed above that work together with the fundamentals of graphic design; typography, shape, imagery, colour, layout, line, texture, form, size and space are just some of these. They can influence how something looks and whether it communicates what it intended to.

As graphic designers we use a range of tools. These are both by-hand and digital tools that help us design and construct a whole array of materials. From websites to brochures to business stationery and logos, they all follow the basic principles of graphic design.

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