First, we need to define the meaning of the term “good design”. So, there are two important aspects. It should attract attention as well as please the eye of the beholder and it must serve a purpose (that is, 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 design skills, we bring you 8 basic rules for good graphic design.

#1 KISS

KISS has become a well-known principle that graphic designers apply to their layouts ever since. Keep it simple, stupid – is a phrase that was 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 immense overflow of information, it’s necessary to be clear in your message. With this in mind, go to your layout and eliminate everything that’s not necessary. For example, more than three colors, more than two or three fonts, 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 rules, which will better explain how and why simplicity is essential.

#2 White space

The most important factor of good design is white space, or also called negative space. White space is the space between 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 hold elements of design or content. Almost every designer faces the same problem – disagreement with the client about white space. While a designer knows about the advantages of negative space inside a layout, the client often feels like he’s not getting what he paid for. For the client, white space equals lost space. For the designer, white space is the 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 in order to increases the readability of content and makes it easily scannable. 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.

Below is a good example of a clean and simple design. The main message has been conveyed, and with this approach, people will be intrigued to visit our website to find out all the details.

White space good example

So, don’t be afraid to leave the spaces empty. This doesn’t mean your design is boring or unattractive. 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 the 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 negative space.

#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 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 that are further away will receive less attention.

In the example below, you can see the orange point that shows where the lines intersect and where is the prime focal areas. We can see the computer screen placed on the left side and aligns with the upper grid. With that, we determined what the focus would be.

Rule of third examples

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 the 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

The golden ratio describes a mathematical rule to build proportions derived from nature. These proportions are believed to be pleasing to the eye and to create balance because we can find them everywhere around us, 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 we use it almost always when we create creative solutions, logos, and any kind of visual content.

Golden ratio proportions

This doesn’t even have to be calculated to the point. You go by the rule of thumb if you like. By doing so, it becomes 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 patterns. Think of a heading, an image, and a subheading.

Hierarchy principle: size

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 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 emphasize, alignment, movement, and 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 make out easily what is the most important element/ information in your design, what comes second, third, and so on. But remember, contrast is not the same as conflict. 

There are many ways you can create contrast, 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.

#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.

Choosing right combinations of fonts

The whole idea of using multiple fonts in design is creating a 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

#8 Scale proportionally

When you resize your image, always do this proportionate. 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.

proportional scale

CMYK mode is for print, and for the web, you should use the RGB mode. Our advice is always has 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 are 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 already write about the rules of good web design, check it here.


Author

Dina Matijević

Designer at Kontra. Love to cook, drink good craft beers and take care of plants.