For many people, design is synonymous with appearance. The design of something is what it looks like, right? Well, to some extent, sure. But design goes way beyond just looks: it's also about function and communication. Good design uses visual elements to clearly, appealingly communicate a message or serve a particular function. It should look great but also work well because design that doesn't can have a major impact on the user experience - and your brand.
Let's take a look at some of the graphic design basics and what goes on behind the scenes of a design graphic project.
The Basic Elements of Graphic Design
Whether it's a website, app, billboard, or digital ad, graphic design involves the thoughtful combination of a handful of graphic design basics. How these are used will depend on your medium, brand, audience, and intent for your project.
- Line. Thick, thin, dashed, broken - lines are used to direct the eye, divide up content and space, and creature texture. Think of a newspaper column or even your favorite social media platform. Without lines, content would just be floating all over the place, and you wouldn't know where to look.
- Color. Warm, cold, soft, or bold? Color is critical for generating a certain mood or establishing a brand. Color also helps communicate the hierarchy of information and acts as a visual wayfinding element.
- Value. Value refers to the lightness or darkness of certain colors and is an important part of generating depth and hierarchy (shadows, anyone?). Contrasts in value are needed so that different elements stand out rather than just blurring together.
- Shape. Whether geometric, organic, or abstract, shapes help add interest and organize information on the page. Some shapes communicate softness and expressiveness, while others feel stable and orderly. Text is included under this group.
- Form. Form refers to shapes that have been rendered into their 3D counterparts.
- Texture. Texture can be visual or tactile. It suggests certain types of materials, such as paper, cloth, metal, plastic, or wood, all of which create certain moods and emotions. A high-tech company might opt for a shiny-looking texture, while a homespun organic goods company might choose cloth or nature-based textures.
- Space. Space involves the configuration of elements on a screen to create depth or perspective. Overlapping and shading are common ways to convey these.
The Basic Principles of Graphic Design
Armed with a brief, a goal, and knowledge of your brand, your graphic designer will take the above elements and thoughtfully work them into a design that delivers on your objectives while adhering to user experience best practices. Here's what they'll take into consideration when designing:
- Balance. This is how the elements of a design are weighted and arranged within the design. Depending on what you're trying to communicate, a design might be symmetrical or asymmetrical. All of the elements described above can be used to create balance (or imbalance.)
- Harmony. This is how "complete" and "together" a design feels. Without harmony, a design can just feel like a bunch of different unrelated elements, and communication and intent suffer. Color, repetition, patterns, lines, and shape can all be used to create a sense of cohesion and harmony in a design.
- Hierarchy. This is the order of importance of elements in a design. Size, weight, and organization help create a hierarchy that tells people in what order to consume a piece of content. Headlines are great indicators of hierarchy.
- Proportion. We have an innate sense of scale and proportion, and things that are out of proportion look "wrong" to us. Your designer will ensure that different elements are suitably proportioned so that they look "right" within the design.
- Dominance. This refers to the main thing you want to highlight in your design. Dominance is usually achieved with size or color, but other design features such as space, texture, and form can also factor in.
- Contrast. Similarity and contrast are useful tools for creating balance, harmony, and dominance. "Like" shapes or colors help connect certain elements, while unlike ones set them apart. In graphic design, contrast is often used in "active" elements such as CTAs or buttons.
- White space. White space, aka negative space, refers to the parts of a composition that are left blank. White space creates hierarchy, groups like elements, improves legibility, and prevents designs from feeling too busy.
Graphic Design Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum
As you can see, your graphic designer is taking into account many things when designing your project. But it's important to remember that they're not doing it alone. Graphic designers usually work within a larger team of creatives, strategists, marketers, and techies to ensure that the design they come up with aligns with current user expectations, is intuitive and accessible, is on brand, and is positioned to achieve whatever goals you've set for your project - whether that's to boost sales, foster brand loyalty, or encourage sign-ups.
This whole process involves market research, user feedback, A/B testing, web analytics, design best practices, and more. It's evidence-based and deeply strategic - because the goal of graphic design isn't just to look great but to make good on a promise to the audience.
Need some expert insight on a graphic design project you're not sure how to tackle? The team at StellaPop can help you create outcomes that bring together form and function exactly the way your audience demands. For more information about our graphic design solutions, get in touch!