This is a guest article written by Lauren Marie who is a graphic designer in corporate America.
Want to know how to design? Then you should learn the basics of graphic design.
The basic elements of design include colour, line, shape, scale, space, texture and value and these are the fundamental pieces that make up any piece of work. If you ever start a design course this will be the very first thing that you are taught, guaranteed.
But what if you’re not a student? What if you’re not self-taught? What if you are a looking for ways to enhance your design skills? Then this is the guide for you.
Learn Graphic Design Online
If you’re wanting to learn the basics of graphic design, we have a post featuring the best free online graphic design courses including short classes (1-3hrs) and more in-depth courses as well.
Free Software to Learn Graphic Design Basics
If you’re learning graphic design, you should know that Adobe provides the industry-standard graphic design software for creative professionals and that they offer free trials as well as some generous student discounts allowing you to save up to 65%.
Adobe offers a subscription service called ‘Creative Cloud’ which gives you access to several powerful design applications including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more.
- Download a free Photoshop trial for PC, Mac, or iPad now
- Download a free trial of Illustrator for PC, Mac or iPad now
Graphic Design Basics: Design Principles & Elements
Normative Visual Design Guidelines
Designers sometimes disagree over the guiding principles of graphic design, as was already mentioned. The first twelve visual design ideas are most frequently discussed in books and articles on the subject, and these are the ones discussed here. The basic design elements include color, line, shape, scale, space, texture, repetition, and value. Let’s dive in!
Colour and contrast
Colour has a huge impact on the mood of the design. A predominantly red colour usually represents strong emotions—love, anger, passion—while blue can make the design feel calm, cool and peaceful. Color contributes to the unity of a series of flyers, emphasizes important information and leads the eye through a design.
One of the most common problems designers encounter with regard to client feedback is when customers say that a design needs to “pop” more. Even though the customer’s statement may appear completely arbitrary, they are typically referring to the need for more contrast in the design.
Contrast denotes the arrangement of diverse parts within a design, especially those that are close to one another. These differences cause various elements to stand out. Contrast is a key element of designing for accessibility. When there is little contrast, it can be very difficult to see text, especially for people with visual problems.
Select articles on color:
- Using Colour: Real World Examples
- The Colour Wheel and Color Theory
- Pantone Swatches on Squidoo
- Color Wheel – Color Theory on Canva
- The Best Colour Tools Online
Are your lines straight and slim, or thick and squiggly? The quality of the line (hand drawn to precise) can say a lot about the mood you are setting with your design. Hand drawn or thick lines tend towards juvenile themes, where as straight and thin lines are more refined, corporate or intelligent.
How lines interact with each other is important, too. If they are straight, thin lines, but are colliding at all sorts of crazy angles, that is going to be chaotic. If they have a hand drawn quality to them but are more or less straight and orderly, this can give a much needed personal appeal to a design.
Select articles on line:
Besides the fact that shapes can be used to convey moods, did you know they can elicit emotions as well? A square or triangle is a masculine shape, while a circle is more feminine. We are familiar with squares (think of your monitor, paper or TV screen), so they are secure, reliable, and stable. Circles very pleasing to the eye and are organic, whole, peaceful and exude unity.
Select articles on shape:
Repetition is a powerful way to reinforce a concept. It’s also a great way to assemble a design with a variety of intricate parts. One way to use repetition in design is by repeatedly using the same colors, typefaces, shapes, or other elements.
For instance, this article’s heading format is repetitive. Readers are made aware of the importance and interconnectedness of each design principle in this section by the uniform layout used throughout. By uniform headers, these components are unified over the entire page.
Scale and Size
Bring balance, proportion and contrast to your designs with scale and size. Just for reference, size is the actual dimensions of an element on the page, scale is the element’s relation to its original (like putting a person on a billboard—it’s going to be “larger than life”) and proportion is the relation of all the elements on the page in terms of size and scale. Use scale and proportion to indicate the actual size of an object or to emphasize the difference in the sizes of two objects (a child’s hand against its mother’s is a common use of size).
Select articles on scale/size:
Using Scale: Real World Examples
Space is often referred to as white space, and gives the design some breathing room and the eye a place to rest. An ill use of space (or perhaps a very well planned out use) can make the design feel crowded and claustrophobic. Too much space, however, and the design can seem unfinished, like it’s missing something. Once you know the rules (for any of these elements, really), you can also experiment with breaking them in order to push a different emotional response.
Select articles on space:
Texture is a fun element to experiment with and use to bring realism to your designs. It can be effectively used to add visual interest and it really helps make a design unique. Textures are not just applied in the computer; you can take into consideration the materials used in the final printed pieces, too.
Select articles on line:
- Using Texture: Real World Examples
Value can really add unity to your designs if you pay attention to this neglected element. It is also a great way to create a focal point and guide the viewer’s eye through the layout. This little element can bring together parts of the design to make them balanced; using elements similar in a high intensity value (light, towards the white end of the spectrum) can create a subdued tone, where values lower in intensity (darker, towards black) can be ominous and foreboding. Using values on either extreme of the spectrum has a very dramatic effect.
Select articles on value:
- ArtLex: Value
The Purpose of Graphic Design
What “fundamental” design concepts are is surely up for debate. The aforementioned ideas must be understood and applied in order for any design effort to be effective.
The purpose of graphic design is communication. As you go through each stage of your design process, ask yourself how you are using each of these elements of design to enhance the delivery of the message, affect the mood of the piece and relate the product or message to the target audience. Remember that these elements apply to everything in the layout, from composition, to photos, to typography.
We hope our guide to graphic design basics will help you with your creative endeavours! The designer should be aware of the precise effects each of these design principles has on their work. Seeing how other designers have incorporated related principles to organize their own designs may be a tremendously useful technique for learning to develop better designs.