Four Design Keys Every Novice Can Master

Ever feel stuck in a rut when it comes to your print or graphics capabilities? “It’s impossible,” you say. “I just don’t have an eye for design.”

There’s hope for even you!

In today’s generation, incredible graphics, fonts, and digital capabilities are literally at our fingertips. And while design may not come naturally to you, everyone can make their projects look better. Whether you’re creating newsletters, small advertisements, or presentations, here are four concepts that are fundamental to every well-designed print project.

1) Proximity

The main purpose of proximity is to organize.

When you begin your layout, remember that items relating to each other should be grouped close together. This reduces clutter and gives your reader a clear sense of structure.

When you’re thinking about proximity, organize your elements as groupings that form one visual unit rather than scattering around several separate pieces. Physical closeness implies a relationship, so items not related to each other should be spaced apart, while elements you want to connect should be grouped.

Don’t be afraid of white space! Sprawling elements throughout a page to avoid white space will make a piece more visually challenging for your viewer to comprehend.

What to Avoid: Too many separate elements on a page, grouping unrelated items in proximity, sticking things in the corners or the middle to avoid empty space.

2) Contrast

Contrast is one of the best ways to add visual interest in your page.

Contrast excites the atmosphere, draws the eye, and clarifies communication. Contrast is nothing if not bold, so one goal of contrast is to avoid elements on the page that are merely similar. If fonts, colors, or outline borders are not the same, then make them extremely different: white on black, 24-point font above 12-point font, or neon shapes near pastel text boxes.

What to Avoid: Being wimpy, using similar typefaces, highlighting a non-focal element, creating unnecessary chaos on a page. 

3) Alignment

Alignment unifies a page and creates flow and personality.

Nothing should be placed on your page haphazardly. Every element you use should connect with other elements to create a clean, sophisticated look.  When items are aligned, the result is a stronger cohesive unit. Be conscious of where you place elements and align pieces in a page even when the two objects are physically far apart (like a top headline with the bottom footnote).

What to Avoid: Using multiple alignment styles (i.e. some center, others left) on one page or always defaulting to centered alignment.

4) Repetition

Repeating visual elements of design throughout a piece will bring consistency and strengthen the unity of your projects.

Repetition can be used with colors, fonts, bullets, graphics, borders, subheadings elements, or anything a reader will visually recognize. Repetition is a conscious effort to unify all parts of a design: elements repeating through various pages, colors displaying patterns, drop caps in lead paragraphs or sidebars in successive layouts.

What to Avoid: Making repetitive elements too subtle or infrequent, being haphazard rather than intentional, or repeating an element so often it breaks the flow or the document as a whole.

While design may not come naturally to you, everyone has room to grow. By using these four principles, your work will look more professional, unified, and interesting. And you will have more fun creating!

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