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Visual Communication and Design Elements and Principles

Graphic design elements and principles form the basics behind every professional graphic design; and understanding how to imply these into every design work is what most beginners fail to do.

 
Well, in this article, we are going to be talking on two sub-topics major in the graphic design niche:
  • Design Elements
  • Design Principles

Graphic design elements and principles are two different and opposite things and if not well understood, could lead to poorly designed graphic works unknowingly.

 

Elements in Graphic Design

Some of you may be wondering, 

what are the elements of graphic design?

Well, Design Elements can easily be described as the units that make up your design. They usually appear in every design.

 
So the question is, “are they compulsory?”
 
Well, if you are asking this question, try asking yourself if really you can do without a part of your internal organs, like may be your “liver”.
 
Design elements are like the back-bone to every design work. So they are not just compulsory, they are what makes up your design;
… and without them, you can’t have a design.
 
In short, they are the raw materials of your design.
 
So what are these design elements?
Design elements vary in different niches. Whether it is: 

 

  • Elements of design pictures 
  • Design elements of a website 
  • Elements of design photography
  • Elements in graphic design

 

 

they all vary; 

 

 

 

But there are some elements unique to all design niches, and these are;
 
Lines
Forms
Colors
Texture
Typography
Lines
 
Lines are straight strokes which could either be linear or curved that connects two arbitrary points on your work-space. They could be dotted, stroked, rough, smooth, hard, soft, etc.
They are mainly used to separate other elements and center the eye on the main element.
Line direction can convey mood. Horizontal lines speak of calmness and quietness, vertical lines suggest more of a potential for movement, while diagonal lines strongly suggest movement and give more of a feeling of vitality to a picture.
So generally speaking, lines
  • help direct the eye
  • creates emphasis
  • give a sense of motion
Forms
 
The form of a design deals with all kind of shapes that you can find on that design. It literally helps improve contrast and also helps support proportion.
We would get to the words “contrast and proportion” pretty soon.
 
It should be noted that shape is an area that is contained within an implied line, or is seen and identified because of color(s) or changes in value. Shapes have two dimensions, length and width, and can be geometric or free-form.
In a graphic design, the shapes that the designer uses are considered the positive shapes while the spaces around the shapes are the negative spaces. It is very important to consider the negative space in a picture as the positive shapes.

Note that, Space is absolutely not an element. It is the foundation. It is where every other element is placed.

 
Yes! we have positive and negative space as I said earlier, but they are just basically the foundation of everything.
Form helps to describe volume and mass, or the three dimensional aspects of objects that take up space. (Shape is two-dimensional) but forms can and should be viewed from any angles. Holding a baseball, shoe, or small sculpture for an example, you are aware of their curves, angles, indentations, extensions, and edges — thus, their forms.
Colors
 
This is self-explanatory. Colors are simply the heart of designs!
Color has three basic properties.
The first is hue.
Note that, Hue takes the name of the color; So it’s hue or color, they are synonymous!
The primary hues comprise of yellow, red, and blue. Secondary colors are made by mixing two primary colors (hues). Intermediate colors are mixtures of a primary and adjacent secondary color (hue).
The second property of color is value, which is the lightness or darkness of hue.
The third property of color is intensity, which refers to the purity of the hue (also called “chroma”).

Color creates specific moods, atmospheres, channels, emotions and each shade has certain specific connotations associated with it. In short, the choice of color can make or break your design.

 

Texture

Well, personally, I don’t see this as an element because it is a mixture of lines, forms and colors;
…except for natural textures like the clouds, water, rocks,etc,

So, YES! it counts as an element which is not so used by most designers but can be very helpful at times.


Typography

The last and very important design element is “typography”.

You might see it as a mere combination of forms and lines, but you forget that it is the language of the human.

Typography is an element, font is just a property of typography that gives it a feel and effect.

When it comes to typography, another hurdle to leap over is the art of combining typefaces. While it sounds easy, and sometimes it is, it can also be challenging at times.
 
 
Now, with design elements fully discussed, let us proceed to our next case study,
 

Different Principles of Design

Before we dive into the different principles of design, I will like to give you some design rules that are key to cool graphic designs.
 
I call it my “KKP – Strategy”;

 

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Know your audience
  3. Pass your message
Speaking of keeping it simple, I will say this is the major problem for most graphic designers and artists. even the professionals at times fail to comply to this.
 
I can remember quite vividly when I first started graphic design, I’d come up with different color mixtures to make my design look so intense; I thought this was cool,
 
…but it wasn’t!!!
 
Using the “KISS – Strategy (Keeping It Simple Stupid)”…
 

you follow principles of design to implement your projects rather than personal sentiments

Trust me, I used to love colors in my designs just because I like colors; and when I try to implement one or two color designs, it feels awkward, but then I realized the KISS – Strategy.

It’s fast, clean and lovely.

To be honest, there is very little to learn about keeping a design simple but beginners just get immersed in the function of those effects that they forget their major aim.

Compare these two designs, which will you pick?

graphic design that does not follow the kiss-strategy
graphic design that follows the kiss-strategy

Keeping a design simple deals with knowing what you want and letting it get out in the most cleanest way ever.

Therefore, the different principles of design will teach you how to make your design simple.

My point is that, the graphic design that does not follow the KISS – Strategy has heavy designs and the other doesn’t;

…but then, the simpler design (graphic design that follows the KISS – Strategy) tends to be more matured, that is because, “less is more!”

So you might be thinking,

“hey Chuks! You saying less is more; what if I have a graphic design work that has much design elements in it, can your KISS – Strategy still work in it?”

Well ya! Sure! Why not!

 
Take a look at this design work for an example…
 
 

…this is where contrast and alignment play a major role

 
 

Principles of Design Examples

 
The number of principles are quite diverse in opinion, but they are not disputed.
 
Contrast
 
I know most will feel that contrast as a principle of design talks of that dark vs light, thin vs thick kind of stuff.
 
Well it isn’t!
Contrast as a principle of design is just the ability to make your message known. Let the first glance be the message, let it come out!
 
How?
 
…through forms, lines and even colors.
 
Taking a look at this design for example,
 
contrast is the size of the typography in this design work
 
…the contrast here is the size of the typography
 
the contrast in this design is the bold “Branded”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

the contrast in this design is the bold “Branded”.

 
 
Alignment
 
Alignment not only makes your design neat and mature, it makes it professional.
 
Every client wants something professional even if their business is not so professional. Alignment is that key.
 
Are you aligning to the left, center or right?
…or are you sharing it? Determine that before starting any design.
 
design based on left-alignment
 
Can you notice the principle of alignment being applied here?
 
design applying center-alignment principle
 
Can you notice the “center – alignment” principle being applied in this design?
 
 
Balance
Every design work-space is like a weigh-scale, if it is not balanced, the trade is not complete yet.
 

Balance is a psychological sense of equilibrium. As a design principle, balance places the parts of a visual in an aesthetically pleasing arrangement/proper alignment. 

 
In visual images, balance is formal when both sides are symmetrical in terms of arrangement. Balance is informal when sides are not exactly symmetrical, but the resulting image is still balanced. Informal balance is more dynamic than formal balance and normally keeps the learner’s attention focused on the visual message. There are three main types of balance, horizontal balance, vertical balance, radial balance.
 
Balance deals with making the weight on the left side of your design equal to that on the right side.
 
See magazine designs for an example, the picture is on the left with a bit of warmth and then the text is on the right;
 
…not scanty!
 
but full text that complements the weight of the picture.
 
Take this design as an example.
 
or this…
 
 
Balance not only calls down your design, it also brings and calls for proportion.
 
This brings us to the next design principle…
 
 
Proportion
 
Proportion refers to how you size and arrange your elements in your design. This is pretty much self-explanatory.
 
 
So far, we’ve discussed,
 
Contrast
Alignment
Balance
Proportion
 
Next, we would be talking on spacing.
 
 
Spacing
 
 
Spacing is more or less the sweetest part of design. The more the space, the better the design.
 
Space improves contrast, creates more balance, supports proportion and improves alignment.
 
Note that, if you are a graphic designer and you don’t use grids or guides in your design, 
 

start now or uninstall your design software!

Hierarchy

How you prioritize your elements which is more important, this is all it deals about.

Hierarchy deals with the sequential placement of elements in a design, from the most important details to the least important details.

Take this flyer design as an example

You can see how elements in the design are arranged from the most important details to the least important details.
 
Aqua Cartitate which is the event theme is placed at the top of the hierarchy, seconded by the time, venue, guest artists featuring in the event. 
 
This sequential in which a design follows is simply it’s hierarchy.
 
 
With all these design principles fully discussed, choose which rules your design should follow and find it’s subordinates.
 
Finally note that:


  • the principles are not fixed but are dynamic and can be broken to achieve a particular solution, but be very careful!
  • you are your design, not the software
  • never underestimate the power of planning
  • keep it simple stupid (KISS)
  • love criticisms
  • never stop learning

 

 

 
When a design is bad, don’t try to criticize it constructively or give yourself credit for it, do away with it and proceed to a better approach.

see also: Interview With Praise Philemon O (WhizGenius) _ Graphic Design Expert/CEO Of Elite Media Hub
 
With that said, don’t fail to subscribe to our free newsletter for daily updates on amazing graphic design tips, interviews and tutorials.

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