3 Key Principles of Graphic Design

3 Key Principles of Graphic Design

Every discipline comes with a set of rules and graphic design is no different. Sure, there are plenty of concepts and aesthetics that graphic designers will argue about forever, but there are also certain principles which all designers agree are essential for successful designs.

These principles are basically the building blocks for your designs and without them your designs are going to fall flat on their face. And, you know what? I don’t want that to happen, so let’s take a look at 3 of the most important principles of graphic design!


Yes, the world of graphic design demands a steadfast dose of unity to keep it ticking over nicely. Without any sense of unity then it would be a chaotic, headache inducing affair. Sounds terrifying, don’t it?

But how does unity help you achieve this?

Every graphic design project starts with a problem which you have to slave over with all your visual acuity in order to solve. And the key to this is by communicating your solution visually. However, if your solution lacks unity then it’s going to come across garbled and incomprehensible.

Now, if you break down all the design elements of one design and lay them out individually then they’re probably not going to make much sense. Sure, they’ll look pretty, but when they’re not arranged in the correct order they’re just going to look like a bit of a mish mash.

However, this is where unity brings a little bit of magic to the party. You see, unity is achieved when all these elements complement each other be it through traits such as repetition, alignment, contract and proximity.

With these traits acting as a backdrop, strong ties will form between the individual design elements and bloom into a harmonious whole. And it’s this harmony which allows your visual solution to be easily grasped by inquiring eyes.


There’s only one guaranteed route for your designs to reach that elusive goal of grabbing people’s attention and that’s by standing out. Achieving this can be a tricky task, but you can make things a whole lot easier by getting to grips with the principle of emphasis.

As discussed when looking at unity, a design is, when broken down to its constituent parts, just a seemingly random selection of design elements. And unity is certainly a great way to tie all these together, but certain elements have to be a little bit different.

You see, humans love being guided and taken from A to B with the minimum amount of fuss, so a design where nothing stands out presents an issue. That’s why emphasis presents a fantastic opportunity for you to take the viewer by the hand and walk them through your design for maximum impact.

And there are a number of simple, but effective ways to communicate this emphasis and create amazing focal points to secure people’s attention such as:

Size: Yep, bigger is better when it comes to creating a focal point, so always make sure this is reserved for your most important design element.

Contrast: Contrasting colours really stand out to the old human eye, so by creating these opposing colour relationships you’re forcing viewers to really concentrate on what’s unfolding in front of them.

White Space: Sometimes less is indeed more and this is testified by the importance of white space in creating emphasis. The sparse surroundings of white space force viewers to focus on what’s at the centre of that white space be it a logo, call to action or a button which has to be clicked.

Weight: The weight of design elements (especially fonts) needs to be carefully manipulated in order to draw attention to key points of a design. That’s why making headings bold is essential for dividing designs (or even blogs) into defined sections that a viewer can easily navigate through.

By attributing the correct levels of emphasis to your design elements you’ll discover that viewers are intuitively guided through your designs. It’s very much like writing a list of instructions for someone to follow, but instead of written cues you’re handling visual clues.


The final principle of graphic design that we’re going to go through is another simple one, but one that should never be ignored!

Most designs that graphic designers take on will be two dimensional e.g. in print or on screen. Yeah, there will be a couple of three dimensional projects along the way, but the majority will be confined to the two dimensions of height and width.

This is pretty limiting for a graphic designer and it can make for boring visual titillation for viewers, but graphic design, much like a magician, has plenty of tricks up its sleeve to present an illusion of depth.

Some of these visual tricks are:

– Overlapping images which promotes a sense of depth by tricking the brain into thinking one object is in front of the other

– Using a large object in the foreground and a similar, but smaller object in the background and higher to make it appear in the distance

– Integrating linear perspectives such as motorways receding into the distance to create the illusion that both sides of the motorway are joining in the far distance

By playing around with space in your designs you’ll find that they become much more engrossing designs which really suck viewers into a three dimensional world they can explore. And you don’t get much more engaged than that!



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