Graphic Design Basics

Good graphic design is no accident

Young designer discussing with custmer in cafe.
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Graphic design is the process and art of combining text and graphics to communicate an effective message in the design of websites, logos, graphics, brochures, newsletters, posters, signs and any other type of visual communication. Designers achieve their goals by combining the elements and principles of graphic design.

Basic Elements of Graphic Design

In addition to the obvious elements—images and type—graphic design elements include lines, shapes, texture, value, size, and color.

Graphic designers for print and web pages use some or all of these elements to generate effective designs. The goal is usually to attract the viewers’ attention, sometimes to motivate them to take a specific action.

  • Lines - Lines are the most basic of the design elements. Lines can be straight, curved, thick, thin, solid and not- solid. They are used to connect two points, separate sections of a design or focus the user's eye on an element. A jagged line conveys emotion, a line that ends in arrow forces the viewer's eye to look in a specific direction. A line that meanders among several elements guides the viewer from one element to the next and on to the next. 
  • Shapes - The basic geometric shapes are squares, circles, and triangles. They are used as boxes or borders on a design or as solid shapes for decorative purposes. Shapes are also icons, symbols, and dingbats. Shapes add interest to a design. 
  • Texture - Visual texture is created with certain graphics techniques to draw attention to an element on a page or to serve as a background on a web design. Texture increases the overall visual appearance and draws attention. Texture can be added to a type, images, and other elements.
  • Color - Color is an obvious element that is used to attract attention and to represent emotion and mood. Red presents strength, anger or passion, for example, while blue invokes peace and security. 
  • Value - Value refers to how dark or light an area of the design looks. Value creates contrast and emphasis. 
  • Size - The size of an element in a graphic design is an indication of its importance. A large size indicates the most important information and draws the viewer's attention.

Basic Principles of Graphic Design

The elements of graphic design combine with the principles of alignment, balance, repetition, proximity, contrast, and space to create effective page compositions.

Principles of graphic design address ways in which a graphic designer can assemble the individual elements into a cohesive whole. Designers draw the viewer's attention to an important element by placing the important element in the place where the eye naturally falls. Other classic principles of design include:

  • Balance - Most good graphic designs achieve visual balance by using symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial symmetry about a visual center. In symmetrical balance, both sides of a page layout are the same in weight, shape, lines and other elements. Asymmetrical balance occurs when the two sides of a website aren't the same but they have similar elements. Radial symmetry places elements in a circular pattern. Although it is popular in print layouts, radial symmetry isn't seen n much on websites because the circular placements are difficult to achieve. Note: Occasionally, a graphic designer will intentionally produce an unbalanced design, usually in an effort to focus attention on a single element.
  • Alignment - Alignment refers to lining up the elements of a design along the top, bottom, center or sides of the elements. The aligned elements aren't necessarily of the same type. They are frequently aligned along the left edge of the layout. Different size photos appear as a unit when they are aligned across the top or the bottom. 
  • Repetition - Repetition duplicates the characteristics of similar elements to contribute to design consistency. Repetition can also create rhythm in a design. A series of bulleted points of interest in the same color, type and size for a complete unit.
  • Proximity - Proximity maintains a relationship between items that go together. The elements don't have to be positioned closely together but they should be connected visually.
  • Contrast -Contrast occurs with the juxtaposition of opposing elements—big versus small or dark versus light, for example. Using contrast can highlight important elements of the design. Contrast is easily achieved with color, but it can also occur with texture, type, and graphic elements.
  • Space - Space is the part of a design that is left blank. It includes empty space that is intentionally placed within the design and also margins and gutters between other elements, which are usually referred to as passive space. Space in a design adds emphasis to an area of the design because the eye is strongly drawn to the part of the design that is not empty. Both positive and negative space should be considered in the graphic design.
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Bear, Jacci Howard. "Graphic Design Basics." ThoughtCo, Oct. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/graphic-design-basics-s2-1074288. Bear, Jacci Howard. (2017, October 16). Graphic Design Basics. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/graphic-design-basics-s2-1074288 Bear, Jacci Howard. "Graphic Design Basics." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/graphic-design-basics-s2-1074288 (accessed November 24, 2017).