While graphic design is often touted as a highly creative skill, like many artistic artforms, there are often guiding principles that are followed by many of the greats. Whether you've never created a design before, or are an expert, the five principles of the design listed below will help you create an attractive design, every time.
LEFT: The Balance is shifted to the Left. RIGHT: The balance is even.
Balance, like physics, determines how weighted a design is to a certain area. If your content stands out in one particular area of your space, the balance (and attention) will be shifted to that area. An unbalanced design can create a dynamic feeling, but can also cause people to miss things as the entire page is harder to absorb at once.
LEFT: The eye is lead quickly from one corner to the other. RIGHT: Though using the same shapes, more time is needed to absorb the new information within each one.
Repetition can be a great tool for leading the eye across a page, but without variation, it can quickly become monotonous to look at. Consider how fast you want people to be exposed to your content. The more repetition you use, they quicker your audience’s brain will register your design, but the quicker it will get bored! Try using some slight variations within your repetition to keep interest.
Contrast occurs when two opposites are placed near each other. This is an especially useful element in design because it is what most attracts attention and causes elements to stand out. This “pop factor” can be the difference between your design leaping off the page and it being flat and uninteresting. It’s a well-known fact that in pretty much every case, a design needs at least some element of contrast in order to be interesting.
LEFT: Dominance of shape avoids monotony. RIGHT: Dominance of size creates dynamism.
Dominance is the treatment of one element over another. This principle catches your audience’s brain by surprise and causes them to process the information in a more detailed way. Usually, the dominant area of the design will be the area in which the most important information is, or the focal point that your eye is first drawn to. This is why on magazines the cover is dominated by a large photo designed to catch your eye, with smaller text containing the information overlayed in small font once you’ve been reeled in. This concept leads us to our last principle…
LEFT: Hierarchy in order of size. RIGHT: Hierarchy from Darkest to lightest.
Hierarchy refers to the order in which elements are viewed or “order of importance”. This is the crowning principle of design and which all other principles work towards supporting. Simply put, hierarchy determines exactly what path the eye will be taken along in a design. If you’ve got a simple message like an album cover, your hierarchy won’t have to work very hard as it will simply need to grab attention with an image, then supply the artist name once your eye has been drawn. Something like a newspaper, however, has to work harder as there is so much varied information on the one page. This is why headlines are in bold capital letters, followed by a large image, followed by the small body text. Less important articles are pushed to the side or underneath with smaller headings so your eye is drawn to them last.