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The Basic Principles of Graphic Design Explained

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Good graphic design takes more than just artistic flair and creativity. There is actually a science or formula behind what works to communicate key representations, messages, values and emotions with the target audience. The way that all the visual elements such as lines, shapes, colours, sizes and textures are arranged or laid out is known as applying the principles of design. These principles are essentially the ‘rules’ for communicating with your target audience visually and when used properly, can help yield higher ROI on campaign activity. Experienced graphic designers like those at 4040 Creative are there to help businesses understand and implement design principles.


Read on to find out what the six principles of graphic design are and why they matter to your artwork.

1. Balance

Balance in design can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Unless there is a specific purpose or intent in having a section of the layout more weighted than another designers should ensure that there is equal distribution of elements across the page.

2. Proximity & Unity

The distance between objects in a design matters. It represents the relationship between the elements. The further apart elements are, the less ‘related’ they’re considered to be unless they’ve been tied together by an additional component of the design.

3. Alignment

The way that typography, text and graphics are aligned in a layout can impact on the readability and effect of the design. Ideally, you should apply a grid style layout or some sort of common configuration between the blocks of text. However, you can create a particular mood by not having elements in alignment, so it’s worth experimenting.

4. Repetition

By consistently applying some elements – way finder marks like page numbers and headings, for example – you can help the audience to navigate the document. Creative repetition of shapes and graphics, fonts and colours can be really effective and give more impact than trying to incorporate too many different concepts into one layout.

5. Contrast

There’s an adage in graphic design that says ‘if two items aren’t the same, they have to be really different’. Large and small. Dark and light. Round shapes and square. Contrast creates impact and when done well helps to make important features or details stand out.

6. Negative or White Space

Sometimes, less can be more. Don’t be tempted to cram as many elements and features into the layout as possible because you will lose impact. By leaving some areas intentionally blank and giving consideration to line and character spacing in typography, you help to give a focal point and some structure to the design.

When you only have a limited marketing budget, it can be tempting to buy software and try to do your design work in house. Unless you have design industry experience, it can be better for your bottom line to enlist an agency to produce and design your documents. Understanding how to implement these principles (and when to ignore them) is something that a short training course can’t teach you.

Are there any other design principles you would add to this list?

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