5 Graphic Design Principles Every Creative Should Know

December 17, 2013 General, Graphic Design

5 Graphic Design Principles Every Creative Should KnowWhether you are a photographer, Web designer or filmmaker, the fundamentals of graphic design are important across the board in creative industries. Principles such as composition, color and layout don’t merely apply to graphic design, but to a number of other creative mediums. Focus on learning a few of these basic design principles and you can improve your work, no matter what creative field you’re in. 


Contrast — the juxtaposition of dark and light — immediately adds interest and variety to your work. Contrast draws attention to certain aspects of your work, making particular design elements pop. However, be careful. Too much contrast makes your images appear flat, dull and uninteresting. The dynamic created by the contrast of lights and darks quickly becomes monotone when all the colors are darkened, and the variety created by the contrast is lost. Be just as mindful of too much contrast as you would of too little.


Be wary of the X. Placing an image directly in the middle of the page creates the dreaded X-shaped composition, which is frowned upon in the design world. An X-shaped composition doesn’t create visual interest and is unlikely to hold viewer attention for long. Instead, place your images to the right or the left of the page to create a more visually stimulating composition.

Create a Focal Point 

Designs usually have several elements working throughout, and without a focus the most important design elements get lost. A focal point, however, creates a prominent or central feature, which draws attention to itself and establishes a visual hierarchy within the design. The focal point becomes the most important design element, and the less prominent features become secondary. Use color, accent, size or directional force — a lost design principle that uses design elements to point to or lead the eye to a specific feature — to create a focal point. For example, use a different color from the rest of the design to create the focal area. Or, add accents around the focal area to draw even more attention. Make the focal area really large or really small to help draw attention to it. Lastly, use a series of small elements that lead to the focal area — the same way stepping stones form a path to a door. Use any combination of these techniques to create a focal point. 


Create movement or direction with the lines and shapes in your composition. For instance, diagonal or oblique lines create a sense of action within the image, making it appear more dynamic. Horizontal and vertical lines, on the other hand, add a sense of balance and stability to the image. Think of it this way: A shape angled into the center of the page from the upper right corner adds more interest than a horizontal line. This principle applies to your work whether you’re a photographer or filmmaker. Shapes and lines can be made by buildings, poles and anything else that creates an angle within an image. Use this concept to compose your images, crop your photos or frame the background of your films.


Placing your graphic design elements toward one side of a page is another method for creating visual interest in your work. Known as dominance, this principle combats monotony by instantly making one side of the page or screen “heavy.” Placing all the design elements evenly across the page can create balance, but it doesn’t produce the most stimulating layout and is likely to leave your viewers bored.

Use these simple tips to compose your images, designs or film backgrounds. You’ll quickly see you don’t have to be a graphic designer to benefit from using these basic design principles.

Photo credit: Stock.xchng