Graphic design is a highly sought-after skill. Society cares about the way things look, and there is a constant need to produce good designs, whether it’s for advertisements, websites, logos, videos, banners, or web content. You don’t need to be a pro designer to create highly shareable content—especially when adding design elements to photos you already have is as easy as a couple taps on your phone.
Still, slick tools are only part of the puzzle; you still need to develop an eye for what design decisions improve your work and what detracts from your message. Here are eight basic design principles to keep in mind when working with visuals and creating graphics.
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Alignment is an important principle of design. It helps create a sharp, ordered appearance for ultimately better designs by ensuring your various elements have a pleasing connection with each other. Aligning objects properly will ultimately lead to cleaner, better designs and eliminate the messiness or sloppiness that can occur when elements are placed randomly.
In Spark Post, it’s easy to align elements in relation to each other or to your background photo thanks to the dotted line that appears when you move blocks of text or shapes. The app will let you know when you’ve lined up your text or shapes in the middle of your design or with the edges of other elements in your graphic.
When you have multiple visual elements in a design, you want to make sure you’re giving extra visual weight to your most important message. This is called hierarchy and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways—larger or bolder fonts, placing your most important message physically higher than other pieces of information, or using shapes to frame the central point.
Utilizing this fundamental principle of design starts with your message and the goals of your design. Figure out what the most important piece of info is first. Perhaps you want the main message of your design to be a quote, but you also want to let viewers know how to follow you or that you have a sale. Visually establish your main message as the focal point with larger text or shapes to make it pop and then include your secondary message in a way that doesn’t overpower.
We suggest designing your main message first on Spark, then adding additional text and using the design wheel on iOS to get suggestions for ways to add multiple elements in one design project. Alternatively, if you’re communicating on social media, you can communicate your secondary message in the copy or comment area to give your most important message a grand visual design spotlight.
We discussed different ways to play with visual hierarchy in designs at greater length during a Facebook Live broadcast with pro graphic designers from the Spark team. Catch the replay below!
Contrast is an important design principle because it lets you draw out the most important elements of a design and add emphasis. Contrast happens when two design elements are in opposition to each other, like black and white, thick and thin, modern and traditional, etc. High contrast can help guide the viewer’s eyes to the most important parts of your design first.
Repetition is an important design principle because it helps strengthen the overall look of your design work. It also ties together different elements to help them remain organized and more consistent. Consistency and repetition is especially important in branding because you want your particular look to be instantly recognizable.
Blogger Planning Pretty offers a great example of repetition. On her site’s homepage, she repeats a pink bar across the top of every page and in the sidebar (pictured below) to create cohesion in her web design. This not only makes her web pages more memorable, but it can also create a better, smoother user experience.
Proximity is also helpful in creating organization on a page, since similar or related elements should be grouped together to create a relationship between them. Ideally, you might cluster the elements together in a way that helps to declutter the overall design.
However, your visual elements don’t always need to be clustered together for placement—proximity could mean they are connected visually another way, such as by color, typography, size, etc. Look at how our own Brian Nemhauser, the voice behind Hawkblogger, groups consistent shapes and fonts next to each other to highlight a player’s stats.
Balance gives a design its form and stability and helps to distribute the elements evenly throughout your design; this even spacing will offer an appearance that is professional and attractive instead of being jumbled and messy.
Balance doesn’t mean elements need to be the same size, or that they must be distributed evenly across the page—symmetrical and asymmetrical are two effective types of balance. Symmetrical balance weights the elements evenly on either side of the design, while asymmetrical balance uses contrast to even out the flow of design (e.g., dark elements are balanced out by light ones). Need more design inspiration? Check out our inspiration galleries!
Color is a significant design principle and should be considered carefully each time you start a new project. Colors are largely responsible for dictating the mood of a design—each color has something a little different to say.
Green tends to make people think of nonprofits or the environment, while red causes stormy emotions like anger. Blue is more calming and passive, and yellow creates a sensation of happiness. Even different hues can evoke different emotions.
You don’t need to study color theory to get it right—Spark Post suggests color combinations based on the image you begin with. To aid legibility, consider adding a gradient background behind text, especially if your text color is at all similar. It will help make your words pop and capture your viewer’s attention.
The parts of your design you choose to leave blank are just as important as the ones you’re filling with colors, text, and images. Negative space, otherwise known as white space, creates shape and can help highlight the most important pieces of information in your design. Never underestimate the power of simplicity.
Just as developing an ear for good storytelling comes down to recognizing what resonates in other people’s work, developing an eye for visuals starts with identifying these basic principles of design. What makes you engage with a piece of content or out in the world? What elements pique your visual interest and what missteps turn you off? Think about these questions and you’ll be on your way to creating cool designs.