In-Depth Graphic Design Guide for Beginner and Aspiring Artists

graphic design

Did you know that visuals can increase someone’s desire to engage with content by up to 80 percent? That means the design of your website influences whether someone reads your blog or not.

That number should hammer home why graphic design is so important. Whether you’re a marketer or an aspiring graphic designer, understanding the principles of good graphic design is key. By understanding these rules, you’ll be well on your way to creating more engaging visual content.

The question for those new to graphic design is often where to start. That’s where this guide comes in. It will go over the basics, while also providing more essential information to give you the solid foundation you need.

What Is Graphic Design?

Before diving in to the principles of the discipline, it helps to define what graphic design is. The short answer is it’s a profession that combines words and images to communicate with the audience.

That’s important to keep in mind. Good design is always communicating something to your audience. You’ll use the principles of graphic design to help you get the message across.

Types of Graphic Design

This discipline is quite large, but you can divide it down into a few different “types” or fields. These include:

  • Marketing and advertising design
  • Publication design
  • Packaging design
  • Motion design
  • Web design

Motion design includes animations, which are becoming more and more common. You’ll see them everywhere from websites to apps to video games.

Publication packaging often focuses on print media, like books or magazines. Today, publication designers also work on digital formats, like eBooks.

Marketing and advertising design focus on marketing materials and ads. This can be a billboard or a digital banner ad on a website. Content like infographics also fall under this category.

Web design focuses on websites and apps. It overlaps with many of the other areas mentioned.

There are other types of graphic design as well, such as user interfaces and user experiences.

Where Do Graphic Designers Work?

Graphic designers can work almost anywhere. One person may be employed in a corporation, working on their branding. Another may work for a web development company.

Another designer works for a marketing agency. Many graphic designers are self-employed. They may specialize in one area of graphic design, like animation, or they might do work in several different areas.

What Tools Do Designers Use?

There are tons of graphic design tools out there. Some are meant to be simple enough for the casual user, like Canva. Others, like Adobe Photoshop, are more advanced.

The Adobe suite of products is usually considered industry standard. If you want to draw vectors, then learning Illustrator is a good idea. The publishing industry tends to use InDesign and InCopy.

Photoshop will usually give you the most range. Other tools are preferred for web design and more.

There are also tools that serve specific purposes in the design process. An example is a wireframe tool that lets you sketch out designs digitally.

The Elements and Principles of Graphic Design

No matter which subfield the designer is working in, their goal is to put elements together to communicate with the audience.

The elements a designer needs to consider include:

  • Color
  • Typefaces
  • Shapes
  • Size
  • Texture

If you’re laying out an infographic, you want to make sure the text is legible at several different sizes. You’ll want to pick a typeface that’s easy to read.

You’ll also want to choose visuals that highlight the words. Contrasting colors will help make the text stand out and emphasize it.

As you work on laying out the elements of your design, you’ll want to keep the five principles of good design in mind.

Balance

When designers talk about “balance,” they’re referring to the symmetry of a design. Designs can either be symmetrical or they can be asymmetrical.

Symmetry is highly pleasing to the human eye. It creates a sense of balance and order. Asymmetry, by contrast, can be chaotic and unsettling.

Asymmetrical design is used to emphasize certain elements, making them larger or smaller.

Both symmetry and asymmetry play a role in the structure and stability of the design. They can also be used to guide the viewer through the design.

An example is in web design. You place a large headline flush left at the top of the page, then add an image in the bottom right corner of the page. The design is asymmetrical, but balanced.

The viewer scans the page from top to bottom. The headline leading them across the page, then down to the image in the right-hand corner.

Contrast

Contrast is a key principle of graphic design, and it works with the element of color. Colors can contrast, clash, or blend together.

Contrasting colors are “opposites.” They pair well together, each one complementing the other.

When used correctly, contrast can help certain elements of the design stand out. In that way, it creates emphasize.

The example of text was given above. It can also work with other elements. If you want someone to click a button on your website, you can make the button a contrasting color.

It will then stand out or “pop” against the background color. That makes it more noticeable.

Some colors will “blend” together. They don’t clash, but they’re difficult to see against each other. An example is pale yellow text against a white background.

Proximity

Proximity refers to how the elements of your design are placed on the page. Elements can either be close together or far apart.

Placing elements too far apart can make the page feel disconnected. People may not know what to look at. The design won’t seem to have much structure.

Putting elements closer together connects them visually. This gives the layout structure, helping the eye move across the design.

Proximity can also imply a relationship. If you put a picture of someone smiling near a button, the viewer might believe clicking the button leads to happiness.

The proximity of elements can imply a stronger or weaker connection as well. If two items are very close together, then there’s a strong connection between them. If they’re far apart, then there’s a much weaker connection.

Repetition

Repetition is key to establishing patterns. Patterns can create visual interest. They can also create predictability and stability.

When used the right way, repetition can help people move through the design. It can also tie everything together into one neat package.

Alignment

Finally, there’s the principle of alignment. Alignment refers to how elements line up with the “frame.” The frame is the top, bottom, and sides of your piece.

On a computer screen, this is the top, sides, and bottom of the screen. On a billboard, this is the edges of the board itself.

Elements can be centered, or situated in the middle. They can also align to the left or the right. Vertical elements should align with the sides, while horizontal elements align with the top or bottom of the frame.

Alignment contributes to stability and structure, and it can help achieve balance. It can also help the viewer move through the design.

Common Mistakes in Graphic Design

When you’re just starting out, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s part of the learning process. You can get a head start on that learning curve by watching out for some of the most common mistakes.

These include:

  • Using too many typefaces
  • Choosing hard-to-read fonts
  • Ignoring contrast
  • Forgetting about white space
  • Adding too many elements

The last two tend to go hand in hand. If you have a lot of elements on the same page, you may try to cram them all in. That can reduce white space, which is the “breathing room” the elements on your page need.

White space creates a sense of organization and spaciousness. It also allows people to focus on what’s most important. When there’s no white space, the design can feel cluttered or claustrophobic.

People may not know where to look. If your design feels busy, try taking away a couple of elements or spacing elements out more.

Too many typefaces is probably the most common graphic design mistake for beginners. Try to stick to two or three typefaces.

You should also exercise caution when you choose those typefaces. Yes, that swoopy cursive font is pretty, but can you tell the difference between the letters at a glance? You might design for a store called “Cool Cakes,” but the wrong typeface could make it look like they’re called “Cod Cakes”!

As discussed in the principles, contrast is important. It creates not just interest and emphasize but also makes design legible.

Design a Better Future for Your Business

There’s a lot to take in when it comes to graphic design, but it’s a skill set that will serve you well. Whether you want to be a professional artist or you marketing content, keep this guide handy.

Not sure your graphic design skills are up to the task? That’s okay! Get in touch with the experts and discover what better design can do for your business.

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