This week I was listening to a radio show and heard someone who was saying something like “visual design is not so important than the brand”, and for some reason that got me thinking. Thinking about who makes who? Design makes the brand or vice versa? I’ve been consuming content for a long time but I never put this question. Today is the day this changes.
I decided to write today about something close to my heart, Visual Design (aka graphic design), more specifically, 10 basic principles I learned to use which I consider essentials for me to perform my job well @ ZONK.
I will keep this article short and I will try to explain this as simple as I can, each of these principles. And for sure I’ll make you understand how important graphic design is.
“Ready for take off?”
It all starts with…
1. Point + Line = Shape
This is the simple foundation of any design, no matter what it is. With these principles you can create anything you want, from simple shapes to very complex forms. Everything is made with the combination of these simple elements.
As we have learned in geometry, a point is a combination of x and y coordinates.
If you connect two points you’ll get a line. A line that is formed by a plurality of points. If you add a third point and connect them all you have a shape, whether a square, triangle, trapeze, diamond, etc.
To your eyes, these shapes are too simple, until you add something to it…
We can see over 10 million different colours from red to violet, and from a young age all of us learn to attribute certain values or meanings to specific colours. A simple example, traffic lights. They’re just colours but we learned that red means stop, green means go and yellow means step on the metal because you can make it before it turns red. What I want to say is that we take very different actions just based on a colour, sometimes even without thinking about it. And here begins the long story about how brands use colors for certain purposes, but we will discuss this more extensively in another article.
All this to say that you can add meaning, intention and a tone just by picking the right colour, you just need to make sure you understand very well who you’re designing for.
I consider one of the most important, and difficult, things for designer to get right. It’s not only about what you write but how you present it. Typography is how your words look like, and for example a typo for a logo counts a lot.
Depending on the font you choose, you can offer a professional look (straight fonts) or you can offer a childlike look (curved fonts). There are thousands of different typefaces to choose from but unless you need something whimsical or you’re trying to make something very specific I would always advise to stick with the classics.
Typography, as well as colour, allows you to define a tone.
Spacing can be a maker or a breaker, specially in typography. You have to consider how each element relates to each other, give them the precise distance they need. Space can be powerful and help your client navigate through your design. It can also be a place to rest the eyes.
But be careful, with too much space your design will look unfinished, and with too little space your design will be too cluttered.
Now is time to make your design look more interesting and appealing by adding some contrast and balance. Balance your elements on your design by considering their visual weight. For example a big red form in your bottom right corner will sink your design from that side.
The solution is to move it to another position or compensate for that weight.
In your design not all the elements should have the same importance, and the solution for that is to play with the element’s scale. For example, in a logo, small things sometimes offer a professional look, but when we talk about a blog article, titles are the biggest and shortest, so you can scan the page quickly and see if there’s something interesting for you to read. Then we have the subtitles that are smaller but give you a little more information about the article, and finally we have the article that has the smallest font size but also the most comfortable to read a long piece of text.
So, it’s all about the size. 🙂
7. Use the grid
You’ll see them if you open a magazine or a newspaper, but following a grid will structure your design and make it more pleasant and easier to digest. For me, as a graphic designer, grid option in Photoshop are so so important but symmetry is not always pleasing to the eye.
Even if you’re making a chaotic design purposefully, there must be an order for that chaos.
This concept is a key in photography but also in graphic design, Whether you’re using a picture, an illustration or something else, framing something properly makes all the difference.
Direct the eye to what matters, crop elements to make your subject stand out from the rest. It’s all about telling the right story and telling it well, and if you feel something missing, try to play with it…
9. Textures & patterns
In my vision I see textures and patterns like some accessories, you don’t have to use them all the time but sometimes they can change your graphic, in a positive way. Unfortunately, these elements are no longer fashionable, as they once were, but can add more dimension to your design. For example you can use them in printing process and add things like bevel, emboss or UV varnish.
Regarding the pattern, I see them mostly used as a way to add dynamic feel to a flat design and a way to compensate the excess of negative space.
10. Visual concept
This is the most important step behind your design. This step is usually done with my colleagues from ZONK, because I like a lot the brainstorming and I want to hear another opinion, even critics. Why not?
Don’t forget, If your concept is strong you’ll be able to defend it and sell the idea to your client/boss or whomever you’re presenting it to. Just focus on the destination of your graphics, it’s all that matters
As a final note I must mention: graphic design is objective, but the perception that develops from it has always been subjective. Thus being said, graphic design matters because it is a form of communication and it has the power to change subjectivity.