Graphic design is not as easy as you think. It combines a lot of concepts and theories (or deliberately breaking them) to get design that is pleasing to the eye. Yes, getting a graphic design degree will really help you understand all of this, but you do not need to go to school or hire one to start creating designs. Instead, you just have to take time to train your eye to pick out good design.
Four Major Principles of Design
When you look at any design, there are four guiding principles that help create good design. And it so happens that the acronym for it is CRAP. And yes, I think that is hilarious.
So it stands for Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. So let’s break it down:
Contrast means presenting elements in two opposite ways to create visual interest. Or how to make things “pop.” To create contrast, you can do things like use colors on the opposite side of the color wheel. Play with proportions of various design elements. Use two different fonts/typefaces. Mix different design elements. Also, you can use white space to create balance.
Your eyes and your brain need contrast to keep attention and to guide your eye through a specific design.
As you can see in the example above, the picture on the left has text in all the same color and relative same size. There is not much that makes your eye look for interest, so it just glazes over and goes one the next thing. In comparison to the picture of the right, which visually pops. It has various size and color font, it even has some that goes in a different direction. This causes your eyes to stop and read it.
Repetition consists of repeating elements throughout a design (or multiple) to create unity. This is accomplished through using similar heading styles for mental recognition that there is a new section. You can add patterns as a way to unify a design as well as choosing the same body font for copy. You can reuse design elements for continuity. And finally, if you want something to hit home, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it!
In the examples above, the design on the left is trying to be fun and creative. adding in colors and fonts as it pleases. But the design on the right is inherently easier to read, there is repetitive text styles that help you understand what you are reading.
Alignment is the concept of placing text and/or elements in design so they line up for readability and connection.
This is probably one of the trickiest concepts for beginners to understand, because we want to center everything. But guess what? That is the weakest alignment you can chose. This is because our brain is looking for ways to sort through and comprehend the elements on a page and centering something makes it hard for our brain to distinguish what it is.
For beginners it is highly suggested that you stick to one alignment for text as well, and if it is text-heavy design, stick to convention and use left-aligned. If you want to bring in different alignments, I suggest that you do that with design elements outside of text, which will bring contrast to the spread. (examples of the different alignments)
TIP: If you want to center something so bad, instead play with ways to make is justified, or spread out across the whole width of the design. This is the best way to give the feel of center alignment, yet be visually pleasing. (graphic: example of justified)
In the designs above, you can see that the left aligned design (on the right) makes for a streamlined look. Your brain is not trying to make sense of what is going on. It looks more professional and does not take up as much white space as the center alignment.
Proximity refers to placing alike elements together for better mental comprehension. When it comes down to it, design is basically laying out elements so you can make sense of them. When you are working on proximity, your main goal is to create visual hierarch to organize information and improve flow. You can do this by grouping similar things together and embracing whitespace between groupings to guide the readers eye.
In the designs above, you see how the left takes a while to collect all the information in comparison to the right side. You are able to understand that you are looking at contact information because it is grouped together.
How I work through a design
Ok, so you know the design principles, now it is time to apply them. Yes, people approach design in different ways, and here are the steps I prefer in taking:
- Put all relevant information on design area.
- Add structure to the design. This means start grouping like things together, make sure everything is aligned appropriately, and then start planning out headings and other repeated elements.
- Add contrast/visual interest. This is where you can start introducing your visual aesthetics. This is the step your design starts to become interesting.
We all know there are many programs out there to help you with designing. My two favorites are Photoshop/ InDesign (adobe products) and Canva. Photoshop tends to be for more advanced designers while Canva is intuitive and comes with plenty of templates for you to start using right away.
You are now equipped with basic design principles to help train your eye and enable you to understand how a brain functions design. I wish you luck as you adventure off and start playing with all your designs.