Lay the foundation for great graphic design projects by learning about these quick and easy rules for layout and composition.
Cover image by Nikita Sursin
Composition is important in the design process because it dictates how to put all your visual elements together into a cohesive, attractive whole. You can learn the basics of design layout in just a few minutes and then build your way up from there.
Elements of Design
Image by Cyanart
Every design is composed of a few basic building blocks, including:
- Space – Create the illusion of 3-D space by using perspective, shading, and cast shadows. Also consider the white space and negative space in your design, and how this otherwise empty space affects the elements around it.
- Shape – Shapes can convey meaning in graphic design. For example, a starburst shape may remind the viewer of a sale sticker, a crescent may evoke the moon, and a triangle can represent an arrow.
- Line – Think about the lines in your design and how they naturally lead the viewer’s eye to a focal point. Use lines to your advantage by varying the width, color, or continuity (i.e., a dashed line instead of a solid one).
- Texture – Implied texture can evoke a feeling or mood, from gritty to dreamy and everything in between.
- Typography – Words are important, and so is lettering. Use a typeface that complements the other visual components of the piece as well as the overall message.
- Color – Color is one of the most important aspects of a design because of it triggers an emotional response. Choose a main color that supports your overall message.
Principles of Design
Once you’ve mastered the basic elements, you’re ready to apply design principles to tie them together in a visually pleasing way. Think about the following as you create your design layout:
- Balance – A balanced design is not necessarily symmetrical. However, it has visual weight that makes sense to the viewer. For example, large, intensely colored objects have more visual weight than small, light-colored ones. Balance your design by placing several small objects on one side and one large object on the other.
- Scale – Scale refers to the size and proportion of objects in a design. Larger objects appear to be more important than smaller ones.
- Contrast – The key to successfully using contrast as a design element is to balance the contrasts with similarities. Adding one contrasting element to a group of similar elements is an effective way of creating emphasis. Similarity is good when you’re working with a design layout that will represent your brand on multiple platforms.
- Emphasis – Emphasis, or dominance, can be achieved through scale, contrast, or color. Just make sure you’re emphasizing the right things to make your design pop.
- Harmony – Harmony is essential to creating a cohesive design. A harmonious image is not necessarily made up of similarities, but it can be. Harmony has to do with all the elements coming together to create something better than themselves whether or not they are visually similar.
Once you start learning how elements and principles of design work, you’ll find yourself noticing them everywhere and getting a feel for what you like and don’t like.
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