The image contains several smaller 3D elements. In the main focus are the uppercase and lowercase letter A. Around them there is a pencil, a magnifying glass, a color picker, an asterisk and pellet - arranged as if they were all working together to design typography.

8 Basic Rules for Good Graphic Design


First, we need to define the meaning of the term “good design.” So, there are two important aspects. It should be appealing and eye-catching; furthermore, it must serve a purpose (to convey the message). Nowadays, free design programs can be found online, but to produce a good design, it is necessary to know certain rules that every designer uses while designing his visuals.

To improve your graphic design skills, we bring you 8 basic rules for good graphic design.


KISS has become a well-known principle that graphic designers apply to their layouts ever since. Keep it simple, stupid – a phrase coined by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works, in 1960. The principle’s meaning isn’t difficult to understand and very similar to “less is more.” Don’t overcomplicate your design. Keep it simple.

A clean and simple design is focused on the audience. With short attention spans and an immense overflow of information, your message must be clear. With this in mind, go to your layout and eliminate everything that’s not necessary. For example, more than three colours, more than two or three fonts, and design elements that don’t transport any message at all or break a long text into paragraphs. Every design element needs to serve a purpose. Ask yourself if you need the element to understand the design.

Further to this, we come to the following graphic design rules, which will better explain how and why simplicity is essential.

A well-known print advertisment of Wolkswagen Beetle

Source: Wikipedia, the advertising campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle, art-directed by Helmut Krone

#2 White space

The most important factor of good design is white space. White space is the space between and around the elements in your design. Space that is not filled with text, graphics, or photos. White space doesn’t have to be white. It can be a colored background or textured, as long as it doesn’t contain design or content elements. Almost every graphic designer faces the same problem – disagreement with the client about white space. While a designer knows about the advantages of white space inside a layout, the client often feels he’s not getting what he paid. For the client, white space equals lost space. For the designer, white space is the golden rule of good design.
Clients usually require that every space is filled with information and elements. That makes it difficult to read, not enough emphasis is placed on what matters, and overcrowded visuals usually result in messages not reaching people. Try to avoid this situation. Suggest creating paragraphs and separating text through headings and subheadings to make things look readable and easy to scan. The reader doesn’t have to search for important information because it stands out in your design. By leaving space around text and graphic elements, you not only create a hierarchy of those, but you can also put the main focus on the most important.

Image from the official Apple's website

Source: Apple’s official website

Putting too much into your design can confuse the viewer. An overload of information can distract from what is important and makes people turn away. We suggest that once you get the brief from the client, spend a couple of minutes thinking about what information is essential to provide and what message is important to send. Make one object of your design stand out from the rest. This is the main focal point, and to make this obvious to the viewer, it should be separated into other objects through white space.

Negative space

Sometimes, people tend to make mistakes and confuse the term white space with negative space. In graphic design, negative space is the process of subtraction. Basically, the form remains when the positive is subtracted from the whole. In other words, it is the space around and between the main objects. Negative space is a technique designers use to apply meaning where there would otherwise be empty space.
A well-known example of Fedex’s visual identity has it. If you look closely, you will see that the letters ‘E’ and ‘x’ are so cleverly placed together to create an arrow. We believe the meaning behind it could be to suggest fast and accurate delivery. The designers have received numerous awards for the logo, and the arrow is undeniably its most recognizable feature.

A logo of the FedEx company

Source: Logo FedEx

So, don’t be afraid to leave the spaces empty. This doesn’t mean your design is boring or unattractive – designers love negative space because it reveals the hidden message and makes the design more layered.

#3 Rule of thirds

Understanding the rule of thirds in design is relatively simple and can make you a significantly stronger designer. So, how the rule of thirds works?

Using a grid in your layout, divide it into three equally sized horizontal sections and three equally sized vertical sections. The resulting grid provides a sort of “roadmap” that helps you choose where to place your design elements. You will end up with 9 fields, and the spots where the lines intersect indicate the prime focal areas within your design. Bringing an element closer to one of these intersections will allow it to stand out more, while objects will receive less attention further away.
In the example below, you can see the orange point that shows where the lines intersect and where is the prime focal areas. The computer screen is placed on the left side and aligned with the upper grid. With that, we determined what the focus would be.

Audiences tend to follow a capital “F” shaped pattern with their eyes whenever they look at a design. The eye naturally starts at the top left section of the canvas, then moves down to the bottom left, back up to the top right, and then finally, the bottom right.
The rule of thirds grid gives you a chance to give your graphic design a perfectly symmetrical appearance—but you’ll want to squash that instinct. The truth is that humans are naturally attracted to symmetry. While symmetry isn’t always necessary for good design, balance absolutely is. The rule of thirds grid is also one of the best tools to help you figure out how to use the asymmetrical balance to your advantage. If your design is imbalanced, it throws off the entire look. Using a rule of thirds grid helps you maintain good balance while still keeping things asymmetrical.

#4 Golden Ratio

One of the golden rules of graphic design is also the golden ratio. It describes a mathematical rule to build proportions derived from nature. These proportions are believed to be pleasing to the eye and create balance because we can find them everywhere, even in ourselves. Dividing geometrical elements into proportions of 1:1,618. Create a grid in your design program based on the golden ratio. We create our grid in Adobe Illustrator and use it almost always when creating creative solutions, logos, and any kind of visual content.
This doesn’t even have to be calculated to the point. You go by the rule of thumb if you like. Doing so makes it easier for you to see where to put elements of your design, how big you want an image to be, or where to leave whitespace. Use this rule to create balance by finding the right proportions.

#5 Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is a method of organizing design elements in order of importance. In other words, it’s a set of principles that influence the order in which we notice what we see. The most common eye-movement pattern of readers is the F pattern. Because that’s precisely how we read a book, a letter, or a web page. We scan the page from left to right along the top and again for each line of text until we reach the bottom of the page. Because of this natural tendency, designers most often utilize the F pattern when composing websites and other illustrations that rely heavily on text. Reading in some other direction is just uncomfortable when it’s not what we’re used to.
Designs that rely more on images are often composed in a Z pattern. Because the brain processes images faster than text, readers can scan the page quickly by glancing across the top from left to right, then down the page in a diagonal fashion before completing the scan by again crossing left to right (or right to left if the audience typically reads in that direction). Designers can emphasize certain elements of a composition by placing them along with this common “Z” eye-movement pattern. Think of a heading, an image, and a subheading.

Image showcasing the text read hierarchy

Source: Google images

Hierarchy is an inexhaustible topic. We can use the hierarchy in many ways, but we will single out some to better understand the principles of the hierarchy. One of them is the size.  Size is arguably the most effective way to emphasize visual elements. Larger elements draw greater attention than smaller elements. They can be words or images, and they not only will be the most noticeable, but they also will carry the strongest message. Let’s take, for example, newspapers. We will always see a huge headline on the cover to catch people’s attention instantly. But not only on the cover, if we scroll further, but we will also see that more important stories are highlighted and stand out more than other articles.
We will also highlight negative space emphasis, alignment, movement, leading lines, spacing, repetition, and perspective.

#6 Contrast

The way in which you display certain elements in your design works like a guide. Yes, you can guide the viewer. Essentially visual hierarchy is created through contrast. Contrast lets the viewer easily determine the most important element/ information in your design, what comes second, third, and so on. But remember, contrast is not the same as conflict. 
You can create contrast in many ways, one of them is through color.


Color can make special elements of your design pop out. The bolder the color, the more intention we give it.
Dramatically contrasting colors can also emphasize specific elements than a spectrum on a more gentle scale. For example, placing a red object against a green or black background will draw more attention than the same red object on an orange or purple background.
The color combinations used in a design are known as its color scheme. A designer’s choice of color scheme can create unity, harmony, rhythm, and balance within creation, but it can also create contrast and emphasis. The human eye perceives cold colors closer than warm colors. Therefore, color choice can truly affect viewers’ ability to identify a figure from the background within a design. Mixing warm and cool colors can create depth, just like perspective.

Image of 20 blue circles (7 in a row, 3 in a column) with a pink circle in the middle.

#7 Creative fonts

When it comes to creative fonts, we have to be careful. You can use them for headlines but not for the main text. Creative fonts are harder to read, so we never use them for body text. A general rule here is if you have more than 3 lines of text, don’t use a creative or script font.
Classic fonts are timeless. Some of them were created in the 18th and 19th centuries and are still popular. We use them every day. Our eyes are trained to recognize them immediately. Avoid using more than 2–3 fonts in your design. Each time when you think you need a new font, play with different font sizes for existing fonts.

The idea of using multiple fonts in design creates visual diversity. That’s why there’s no point in choosing two fonts that look identical. In fact, the more similar fonts are, the more likely they will clash. But on the other side, you have to find the right balance while you are choosing different font styles.

A sign that says "Well' that's Nice" with some cool letters

Source: Nicky Laatz

#8 Scale proportionally

When you resize your image, always do this proportionately. Many beginners make a mistake while stretching their photos to make them fit. Sometimes the proportions of your image won’t fit the requirements, and you have to crop your image to the right size. The best graphics program for this is Photoshop.

Adobe Photoshop tips

CMYK mode is for print, and you should use the RGB mode for the web. Our advice is always to have a resolution of 250 dpi in your end output format for print. 3oo dpi would be perfect, but in most cases, we do not encounter high-quality images.
For the web, you don’t really need a very high resolution. Large size means a high resolution. It also means long loading time and big storage space. In Photoshop, at the top, you can see the actual size in KB or MB. But you should look for the dimensions and adjust your image depending on where you want to share it on social media. You can check social media image sizes in our blog post here.

We have already written about the principles of good web design; check it out here.