Back in our 101 Guide to Basic Graphic Design Elements, we covered the core design elements you needed to know to get started with graphic design.
If basic design elements are like the building blocks of design, think of design principles as the foundation. In order to start constructing amazing designs using the basic design elements we covered – the building blocks – you need to get a clear understanding of the design principles behind them – the foundation.
What exactly are those principles? What do you need to understand about design in order to create effective and impactful work?
Let’s take a look at the graphic design basics and the principles you need to know to get off the ground.
The first principle you need to master to really get a handle on graphic design? Proportion.
Proportion has to do with the scale of each of your design elements in relation to the other. For example, proportion would measure the time and location of your event in comparison to the feature photo of your flyer.
Proportion is important because the size of each element on your website – and the size of each element in relation to other elements – clues in your audience into what they should be paying attention to. As a rule of thumb, larger elements draw more attention than smaller elements, so if you have a particular element you want people to pay attention to – make it large enough to stand out in comparison to the other elements in your design.
Let’s say you’re designing a flyer, and the result you’re looking for is to have people call your office to schedule a consultation. If so, the call-to-action (which might read along the lines of “Call Now To Schedule Your Free Consultation”) with your phone number, should be larger in proportion to the other less important elements on the flyer, like your logo or a stock photo. On the flip side, if your flyer’s main purpose is to build brand recognition, you’d want your logo to be larger in proportion to the rest of your design elements.
Building on proportion, another design principle you need to master in order to create a balanced design is… well, balance.
Balance has to do with how each element is laid out in your design. There are three main types of balance you can incorporate into your designs: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial.
Symmetrical designs are when both sides of the design are the same – so they mirror the same lines, shapes, and structure. A great example of a symmetrical design is a grid pattern.
Asymmetrical designs have two different sides that aren’t exactly alike, but share similarities, which creates a sense of balance. For example, you might have your business name in large text on one side of your flyer with a bulleted list of your services in smaller text on the other side.
Radial designs are when things are laid out in a circular pattern. This design can be harder to read, so isn’t necessarily the best choice for text-heavy designs but can add visual interest and make for a dynamic look.
It doesn’t matter which type of balance you incorporate into your design – just as long as you have balance. Haphazardly throwing design elements onto your flyer without thought to placement – a photo here, a text box there – makes for a sloppy, hard-to-process design.
Color is one of the most important design elements. And one of the most important design principles? It also has to do with color.
We’re talking about contrast. Contrast is pretty self-explanatory – you need to make sure there’s enough contrast between each of the elements of your design so that each one pops out. For example, if you have an orange background, using pink text doesn’t create enough contrast; the pink blends into the orange and is hard to read. Instead, you’d want to use a color that stands out – like white – that would create enough contrast for your text to easily be seen and read.
You can use contrast to call attention to the most important elements in your design; for example, if the most important element of your flyer design is the date, time, and location of your event, you’d want to create the highest level of contrast between that text and the background. That way, it jumps out at readers and demands their attention.
The last design principle you need to master in the world of graphic design is a little less specific than the others, but it’s not less important. Cohesiveness.
When we talk about this principle, we’re talking about the need for all of your design elements working together to create one, cohesive design. There are some elements that work together and some that… well, just crash and burn.
Let’s say you’re designing a poster to advertise your after-school art program targeted towards children, and you had great illustrations, fun typography… and a color palette full of dull, drab colors. What feels out of place in that picture?
Using a neutral color palette in that kind of design isn’t cohesive – it doesn’t go with the other elements. When you see a children’s flyer with fun illustrations and whimsical fonts, you expect a bright, vibrant color palette to go with it. On the flip side, the vibrant color palette would feel totally out of place on a flyer advertising a financial services firm.
The point is, when you’re creating a design, all the individual elements need to come together to create one cohesive whole. So, as you’re choosing each element, make sure you’re considering how they’ll work with the other elements in your design.
You’ve got the basics… now get out there and start designing!
Now that you understand the basic principles behind great graphic design, it’s time to get out there and start designing. And, if you need a little inspiration, feel free to browse our library of flyer templates for ideas!