Graphic design is more than just aesthetics — it's a form of communication between your business and your audience. If you want to catch your customers attention, then there are certain things you have to make sure of when laying out a design.
There are 5 beginning principles to visual design that set the foundation and tone for your layout. These principles apply whether you’re designing a website, postcard, or a T-shirt. Often, these rules overlap and it can be difficult to keep track of them when designing.
1. Alignment 2. Balance 3. Contrast 4. Repetition 5. Movement
It is very possible you do not know the terms, but if you have an eye for design, you are probably familiar with these concepts and even more possible, been using them without realizing it. That’s because a designers eye is naturally drawn to visuals that implement these five basic principles!
Alignment is one of the simplest and most straightforward principles of design. Essentially, you should align all your design elements with each other for the most cohesive look! In graphic and web design, this could mean aligning the edge of your text with the edge of an image, aligning your images with each other, or aligning everything on the center of the page.
This principle comes naturally to a lot of people, to the point where it can be easy to overlook. You wouldn’t spare a second glance at a graphic design that’s in alignment, but you will notice if a design is out of alignment by even a few pixels. It will almost hurt your eye and you might not even realize why.
In this Twitter header, the images are placed diagonally, but it doesn’t feel messy or disorganized. This is because the images are still completely aligned, spaces perfect, with each other.
So, if something about your design looks off, make sure that all your elements are correctly lined up. You can also use a combination of alignments to create a perfectly balanced design - which is a great segue to our next principle!
Balance in design means distributing visual weight evenly. A design with all its elements placed in one spot will look uncomfortable and claustrophobic. A design that is correctly balanced will have elements spread out across the page, making it easy to look at.
Balance is related to the secondary design principle of negative space, also known as white space. This is any area in your design where there are no elements at all. There should be a good balance of positive and negative space in your design. Too much negative space and your design will look barren. Too much positive space and it will look overcrowded. Balance it out to make it look just right.
When it comes to graphic design, symmetrical balance looks neat and orderly. It can give your design a sense of competency, and should be used in professional settings or when there are large amounts of text. Asymmetrical balance comes across as more natural and organic. When utilizing asymmetrical balance, make sure you’re not just haphazardly throwing elements on the page; rather, keep some elements aligned with each other.
If you want your design to stand out and grab attention, you’ll need to use contrast. This can be contrast between colors, shapes, textures, and more. Contrast between sizes is also known as the design principle of proportion.
Contrast will make your design visually stimulating. It will also help your viewer differentiate your design elements. You can use contrast to emphasize the most important parts of your design, like in this poster where size and color are used to highlight the “Shop Small, Support Local” Text.
Contrast is also vital when it comes to accessibility. Any text in your design won’t be legible unless it contrasts enough with its background.
At the same time, don’t forget that your design should still look cohesive. If there are too many different things going on in your design, your viewer will get overstimulated and won’t be able to process what they’re looking at.
So use only a few different types of contrast at a time!
The design principle of repetition is exactly what it sounds like: Repeating visual elements throughout one or more designs. This creates visual consistency and leaves an impression on the viewer.
Repetition is particularly important in brand design, where you want your audience to be able to recognize your brand at a glance. By repeating specific fonts, colors, and graphical elements, your audience will always be able to link that look back to your brand.
Think about some of your favorite successful brands and how they curate their social media posts very carefully, including having a consistent color palette. It’s really not just about looking pretty, it’s about having a strong visual identity that will be remembered and recognized instantly.
Repetition also helps your credibility, and more practically, it helps to avoid confusion. Any UX designer will tell you that it’s important to repeat the same general page layout on a website — headers, footers, buttons, and navigation — so that your user always knows where to click. Inconsistency in fonts, graphics, and other design elements will throw your audience off track and leave them feeling dissatisfied.
The movement of your design dictates where and how your viewer’s eyes should travel. You can purposefully direct your viewer’s eye in a particular direction using repetition, alignment, contrast, and rhythm, which is the spacing between design elements. You can use just one of these design principles to indicate movement, or a combination.
In English, we naturally read from left to right and top to bottom. This means that if you’re designing you need to keep that in mind. This natural flow should be followed in text-heavy designs like magazine spreads and book layouts.
However, in designs that allow for more negative space, you can redirect the natural path of the eye without confusing your viewer. When it comes to infographics, slides, and other designs where there’s a lot of information being presented, placing elements along a curve creates movement while simplifying flow.
All five of these principles are used by designers daily, most of the time without thinking about it. For others, it can be more work to layout a successful design. If you need help getting the right look for your event or business, be sure to give us a call for a free graphics quote. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find out.