The 8 Must Know Principles of Graphic Design
For many modern business owners, graphic design may have been put on the back-burner in recent years. But as any successful B2B leader worth their salt will tell you, graphic design is an essential tool for businesses of all sizes.
Good graphic design can make your business look more professional, help you better connect with your target audience, and even boost your bottom line.
And while there are literally hundreds of different graphic design principles out there, there are a few key ones that every business owner should know.
We like to cut through the clutter here at Huddle, so in this post, we’re going to take a look at 8 of the most important graphic design principles that every business owner should know, providing some stunning B2B graphic design examples along the way.
Understanding Basic Design Principles
Graphic design refers to the use of visual elements like shapes, colour, and images to create a desired effect or convey a certain message. And while it may seem like a relatively simple concept, graphic design is actually quite complex.
There are countless different design principles that expert graphic designers need to master in order to be successful. But for business owners who are just dipping their toes into the world of graphic design, understanding and applying even a few key principles can make a big impact.
Why are design principles important?
To make your design stand out for all the right reasons, and not the wrong ones, it’s important to understand and implement some key graphic design principles.
Design principles provide a framework that graphic designers can use to create visually appealing and effective designs.
By understanding and applying the right design principles, you can ensure that your graphic design projects are on point, helping you achieve your business goals.
Otherwise, you run the risk of your designs looking amateurish, or worse, offensive. Not exactly the reaction you were going for, right? We didn't think so.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at 8 graphic design principles that every business owner should know.
8 Must-Know Graphic Design Principles
To create a cohesive and refined look, graphic designers can choose from a wide range of colour combinations for the background, images and text of the design.
Designers could go for a cheerful and energetic look by selecting a bright colour palette.On the other hand, they could opt for a sleek and modern look using a monochromatic colour palette.
The important thing is to be aware of the effect that different colours can have on viewers, and to choose a colour scheme that supports the message – and core brand values – you’re trying to communicate.
For example, if you’re designing a graphic for a new product launch, you might want to use colours that convey excitement and energy. But if you’re designing an infographic about environmental sustainability, you might want to use colours that evoke feelings of calm, peace and sustainability.
Some core colour principles to understand when choosing your graphic design colour palettes could include:
- Complementary colours: these are colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel and can create a strong visual contrast.
- Analogous colours: these are colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel and can create a more gentle visual contrast.
- Monochromatic colours: these are different shades or tints of the same colour, and can create a more cohesive look.
Remember, don’t be afraid to experiment with different colour combinations to see what works best for your graphic design project.
One of the key visual elements of a design is its alignment. What is alignment? Probably something you've used in a word processor, but the same principle applies here.
Alignment is the positioning and organisation of text and other elements in a graphic on a page.
Your alignment choices create a visual connection between elements such as images, logos, background shapes or chunks of texts.
When alignment is done well, it can make a graphic look clean, polished and professional. But when it’s done poorly, it can make a graphic look messy and unorganised.
Graphic designers use alignment to create visual interest and lead the viewer’s eye through the design in a specific way. For example, designers might use alignment to group together related information or to draw attention to a particular element.
As with colour, it’s important to experiment with different types of alignment to see what works best for your graphic design project.
As this UX study summarises:
“Web users spend 80% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 20% viewing the right half. Adhering to design conventions will help maximise users’ efficiency and company profits.”
Keeping this in mind, you could place the most important information on the left side of your graphic for better instant visibility.
If you want the most important element of your design to stand out, one core design principle to understand is visual hierarchy.
Visual hierarchy gives extra weight to the most important elements of a design over other elements. By adding extra visual weight to a particular element of the design, you can control where the viewer looks first, second and third.
While equally weighted elements can create a sense of balance in a design, using visual hierarchy can create a sense of importance and draw attention to specific parts of the graphic.
There are a few ways to add extra visual weight to an element and make it more prominent in the design. Visual hierarchy can be achieved by:
- Highlighting certain elements by using larger or bolder fonts.
- Contrasting certain elements by using different colours or textures.
- Grouping certain elements together.
It’s important to use visual hierarchy sparingly, as too much of it can make a design look unbalanced.
When used effectively, visual hierarchy can help you control how viewers interact with your graphic and ensure that they see the most important information first.
Use of negative space
The use of negative space is one of the most important principles of design. Negative space refers to the white space or background space around different elements within your design project.
By using your negative space creatively, you can create a focal point or simply make your design look more balanced.
The use of negative space is a versatile tool that every graphic designer should master. When used effectively, it can truly take your designs to the next level.
Some of the ways you can use negative space in your designs include:
- Create a focal point: By leaving more negative space around certain elements, you can make them stand out and become the focal point of your design.
- Add visual interest: By using interesting shapes or patterns in your negative space, you can add an extra layer of visual interest to your graphic.
- Make your design look more balanced: If certain elements of your design are looking too busy, you can use negative space to create a sense of balance.
The use of negative space is a subtle but important principle of graphic design with endless possibilities.
So next time you’re working on a design project, make sure to take advantage of this versatile tool.
In graphic design, balance refers to the even distribution of key graphic design elements, such as text, graphics and other assets within a certain layout. That sounds much more complicated than it actually is.
Basically, when we talk about balance in graphic design, we’re talking about making sure that all the elements of the design are evenly distributed and not too heavy on one side or the other.
As such, designers can opt for either a symmetrical balance or an asymmetrical balance in their design:
- Symmetrical designs balance various elements by mirroring them on either side of the design. This creates a sense of stability and order in the graphic.
- Asymmetrical designs, on the other hand, balance elements by placing them unevenly within the design. This type of balance creates a sense of movement and dynamism in the graphic.
It’s important to note that both symmetrical and asymmetrical balance can be used to create effective graphic designs. The key is to choose the right type of balance for the specific design you’re working on.
Take a look at this graphic website design that we put together for breakthrough customer ID mapping platform Adbrain, for example.
Our goal was to design a website that walks the user through a clear journey, relevant to their needs. By using an asymmetrical design, we were able to foster a gentle sense of movement, with a clear focal point that draws the user’s attention to the key message of the website.
One of the most fundamental principles of any visual asset is contrast.
Contrast refers to the distinction between different elements in a graphic, such as the distinction between the foreground and background colours.
Let’s face it, a graphic with little to no contrast is going to be pretty boring. By using contrasting colours and elements, you can create a more visually interesting graphic that will catch your audience's eye!
Creating contrast in your designs is also important because it ensures legibility.
Nobody wants to read a graphic that’s difficult to decipher, so aim to find that sweet spot of contrast in your design to ensure that your text is legible and easy to read.
Here are a few tips to help you create effective contrast in your graphic designs:
- Choose colours wisely: When it comes to creating contrast, the colours you choose are going to be one of the most important factors. For example, using a light coloured background with dark coloured text is going to create high contrast, while using two similar colours is going to create low contrast.
- Think about the level of contrast you want to create: Not all designs need to have a high level of contrast. Sometimes, a low level of contrast can be just as effective. It all depends on the mood of the design you’re going for.
- Don't overdo it! Too much contrast can be just as bad as too little. Try to strike a balance with the amount of contrast you use in your graphic design.
For example, if you’re wondering how to start a blog that captures and maintains users attention, the above principles will ensure the design aspects do their bit. Contrasting colours that maintain legibility will be vital.
Rhythm? In graphic design? Yes, rhythm!
Just like in music, rhythm is an important principle of graphic design. Visual rhythm refers to repeating elements in a graphic design to create a more refined look.
By repeating similar or related elements such as shapes, colours or patterns can create a sense of movement and flow in a graphic.
This is an important principle to keep in mind, especially when working with larger graphic designs such as posters, infographics or banners. When using a poster maker, things can get much simpler since the tool is already there to do all things needed.
Repeating elements can also help to create a more polished and professional look for your graphic design. So, if you’re looking to take your graphic design up a notch, make sure to incorporate some visual rhythm into your design!
Here are a few tips to help you create rhythm in your graphic designs:
- Use repetition: As we mentioned, repetition is key to creating visual rhythm. Try repeating shapes, colours or patterns throughout your graphic design to create a more polished look.
- Create a pattern: Another great way to incorporate visual rhythm into your graphic design is to create a pattern. This can be done by repeating shapes and colours in a specific order.
- Think about the overall look: As you’re incorporating visual rhythm into your graphic design, make sure to step back and look at the overall design. You want to make sure that the rhythm you’ve created enhances the look of the graphic, rather than taking away from it or making it too confusing.
In this example of a website redesign we undertook for global recruitment agency Salt, you can see a clear sense of rhythm to the page design.
From the natural starting point of the eyes on the page, the viewer is moved through all of the key touch points we needed to cover naturally.
This simple design principle allowed us to effectively communicate a lot of information in an easily digestible way, which was essential given the time-poor nature of the user's on-page journey.
Proximity works to declutter the overall structure of your design by ensuring adequate space around all of your graphic elements. Let's translate that into English: proximity makes sure that your design is not too busy or cluttered.
If everything in your graphic is scrunched up together, it's going to be difficult for your audience to decipher what’s going on.
By ensuring there’s adequate space around all the elements in your graphic, you can create a design that’s easy to understand while looking more polished and clean-cut.
Here are a few tips to help you create proximity in your graphic designs:
- Arrange elements accordingly: The key to creating proximity in your graphic design is to arrange elements accordingly. Make sure that all the related elements are grouped together and that there’s ample space around them and they're not overlapping.
- Consider different size elements: Another factor to keep in mind when creating proximity is the size of the elements in your graphic. Using smaller elements will help to create more space around them, while larger elements will leave less space.
What do you need to prioritise? Which elements need to be more prominent? What unnecessary elements could you remove?
These questions will help you to create a graphic design with the right amount of proximity.
Graphic Design Principles FAQs
What is the main purpose of graphic design?
In the business world, the main purpose of graphic design is to communicate a brand message. Graphic designers use various elements such as shapes, colours, images and text to create a visual representation of a message.
How do I incorporate graphic design principles into my work?
There are many ways to incorporate graphic design principles into your work. Try using repetition, patterns, space and different size elements to create a more polished and professional graphic design, or follow some more of the tips we've outlined above!
What is emphasis in design?
In visual design, emphasis can be used to create hierarchy. It's all about giving certain elements more importance than others in order to draw attention to them. Emphasis can be achieved through the use of size, colour, placement or other graphic design elements.
Need support with your digital design? Trust the experts
Hopefully this blog post has helped to demystify graphic design principles for you.
If you could use a little more hands-on support with your graphic design, the Digital Design Experts at Huddle can help. Over the years, we've helped client after client to create stunning graphic designs that get results for their brand.
Whether you need help with a one-off website project or ongoing graphic design support, we can tailor a bespoke creative package to suit your needs. Pop us a message and let's level up your brand.
Alternatively, Request Your Free Creative Proposal today to learn exactly how you can improve your digital design.