11 Graphic Design Principles Every Graphic Designer Should Know in 2023

graphic design principles

Graphic design is a powerful tool for businesses and with the recent demand for graphic designers in the corporate marketing world, it’s safe to say it’s the most desired thing by many organizations.

The concept of graphic design is about making the general aesthetics of a brand design and make any product look visually appealing and consistent. To create visually appealing designs that make an impact on the audience, it’s important that designers effectively use and combine the right design elements in strict adherence to the principles of design.

These design elements and principles form the building blocks of creative designs and a good understanding of these principles and how it works in a design would contribute significantly to design success.

Hence, in this article, we will introduce you to some of the core elements and principles of graphic design every success-driven graphic designer should know.

Keep reading!

7 Key Elements of Visual Design

Graphic design is the art of combining text, images, and ideas to create works that convey meaningful messages to the audience. Businesses of all kinds make use of graphic design to capture their customer’s/clients’ attention, promote their products, gain new customers, and ultimately increase their business revenue.

Graphic design elements are known as the building blocks of any design project. Even some of the most complex creative designs are designed by effectively combining fundamental elements like lines, shapes, typography, images, etc. There are seven graphic elements and each of them has its strengths and weakness.

We have identified the seven elements you should know and master to create better designs in 2023.

1. Line

principles of graphic design

Lines are the most basic graphic design elements that go beyond adding one point to another. Depending on the weight, length, form, and context, a line can be used to create a visual connection between different elements in a design. Lines are particularly useful in organizing information, defining shapes, conveying emotions, and implying movement.

Graphic designers use lines to lead the eye of viewers in a particular direction and to create a natural focal point. Based on the design needs and goals of the designer, different types of lines can be used in a design. These lines can be

  1. Horizontal, vertical, or diagonal
  2. Solid, broken, or implied
  3. Straight, curved, or freeform
  4. Zigzag or in other patterns.

In most designs, graphic designers use invisible lines in grids as guides to direct the placement or structure of elements in a design. While the visible lines with weight and form are used to enhance the visual aesthetic of the design and communicate a message to the viewers.

Below is a good example of graphic design with lines;

graphic design principles and elements

2. Shapes

elements and principles of graphic design

As one of the key elements of graphic design, shapes are known as areas, forms, or figures contained by a boundary or closed outline. Shapes play a vital role in the structure, appeal, and visual aesthetics of graphic design and are particularly useful in conveying a particular message or spirit.

There are two main types of shapes that every graphic designer should understand and use in their creative designs. These include geometric and organic (free-flowing) shapes.

1. Geometric Shapes are created by a set of pints that connect either by a straight or curved line. They are usually abstract and simplistic shapes and can include two-dimensional or three-dimensional forms. Examples of geometric include triangles, squares, cubes, rectangles, pyramids, pentagons, hexagons, octagons, decagons, circles, spheres, and ellipses.

2. Organic shapes are more proportional, well-defined, and less uniform and can either be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Organic shapes can either take the form of natural shapes like leaves, vines, and crystals or abstract shapes like blobs and squiggles.

Below is a good example of shapes in a graphic design:

3. Colors

graphic design elements and principles

Colors are a significant graphic design element that many designers use to create visual interest and evoke emotions in a design. Designer use colors to enhance the visual appeal. Most graphic designers use color theory and color wheel as a practical guide to use and harmoniously combine different colors.

As one of the most noticeable elements of graphic design, graphic designers use colors to influence how the viewers perceive a design considering how different colors have different meanings which can significantly evoke emotions.

Types of Colors

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1. Primary Colors are key colors in the color theory that can be mixed or combined in varying amounts to create other colors. They include Red, Blue, and Yellow.

2. Secondary Colors are color combinations that are created by combining two primary colors in a given color space. This includes Orange, Purple, and Green.

3. Tertiary colors are a combination of primary and secondary colors in the color wheel. They include Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, and Red-Violet.

4. Texture

principles of design in graphic design

Although this element can’t be touched in the design, and in most cases felt in a product design, texture plays a significant role in the final looks of the design. Graphic design uses visual textures to create contrast in an object in a design or the background.

In simple terms, the texture is the feel of a surface – smooth, rough, soft, gooey, furry, or glossy. Designers use illusions to visually convey texture and suggest how the viewers will feel if they touch the design. If you are looking to create designs that look polished and professional, you must master the art of using texture in design.

There are many ways to incorporate texture in your design such as photography and packaging design. Depending on what the design is about, you can natural elements such as leaves, trees, water, stones, fur, flowers, grass, and soil.

Alternatively, you can create an abstract pattern by preparing two-dimensional elements uniformly, then use that pattern to make textured backgrounds. You can also use textured typography to provide more visual interest.

5. Typography

design principles in graphic design

Typography like color is another highly noticeable element in graphic design. The type and weight of the type or font can significantly influence how the design looks and how viewers perceive the design. Different typefaces and fonts bring different qualities and feelings to a design.

Fonts and typefaces are categorized into many parts, but the most popular ones are serif, sans serif, and script typography. On a general note, san serif fonts are more traditional without strokes (or serifs) and are mostly used to convey simplicity and minimalism in a design. For many years, sans serif has become the most prevalent for the display of text.

Serif fonts have small lines or strokes attached at the end of the letters. They tend to look professional, authoritative, and historic. They are usually very legible and are mostly used in the business world and magazines, books, newspapers, and long-form print documents.

Scripts on the other hand are used to evoke romantic or playful feelings as well as add more humanistic touch to designs.

6. Images

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Graphic designers use images to create a connection with a text and clarify the information presented in a design. Depending on the type of image used in a design – photograph or illustration, it can be used to capture your viewer’s attention and convey specific meanings in a design.

Images are the most powerful and impactful visual elements of communication that designers use to add context, drama, or action to a design and create an overall mood in the design. For the best impact, you must choose images that pass a message or convert special meanings to a design.

7. Space

basic graphic design principles

Spacing is used to create breathing room, balance out heavier objects, increase visual impact and emphasize key elements that should be remembered or noticed in a graphic design. Considering how short the average human attention span is, spacing is important to make designs look visually appealing and well-organized.

Without the right spacing in a design, it can end up looking very cluttered and hard for your audience to understand. When used properly, spacing can separate objects or link them together. Narrow spacing indicates strong relationships while wider spacing makes them look unrelated.

11 Principles of Graphic Design You Should Know

Graphic design principles give designers a set of guidelines that determines how to design visually appealing works that create better user experiences. Every graphic designer must understand how the basic principles of design like hierarchy, balance, repetition, movement, and variety can be combined to create digital products and designs that are effective.

The 11 basic design principles that every graphic designer should be familiar with includes the following:

1. Balance

graphic design layout principles

There are two types of visual balance in graphic design asymmetrical balance and symmetrical balance. Symmetrical balance is when the weight of all the elements is divided evenly into both sides of the design (left and right, up and down, diagonally), whereas asymmetrical uses scale, color, and contrast to distribute different elements in a design.

The principle of balance helps to ensure stability and structure in a design. In simple terms, it is an even distribution of visual weights, objects, texts, images, and space in a creative design. To create compelling and visually appealing brand designs, designers must understand how to balance different elements in a design. You must also know that weight doesn’t equal size.

2. Movement

layout principles in graphic design

In simple terms, the movement principle in design is the path the design user or viewer’s eye takes to go through a design, usually to a predetermined path in the design. Graphic designers use lines, edges, shapes, and colors to control (to an extent) which elements users focus on or simply just direct their attention to focal points in the design.

Dynamic designs mostly encourage lots of natural eye movement patterns while static designs encourage less eye movement. Designers must get familiar with the common eye movements such as F- and Z-patterns, and the layer cake pattern. F- and Z-patterns are achieved with image-heavy designs whereas the layer cake pattern is facilitated by text-heavy designs with headings and subheadings.

3. Proportion

principles of graphic design pdf

Proportion also known as the scale is the size of objects or elements included in a design. It is the creation of various elements in a design and shows how different parts of design relate to each other. Larger elements essentially stand out more and appear to have more importance to users than smaller elements.

Graphic designers can use proportion to add elements in different sizes to create a focal point or enhance visual interest by drawing the viewer’s attention to specific elements in a design. However, take note that making some elements too small can make them get lost in the design.

4. Rhythm

crap principles of graphic design

The rhythm principle describes how different elements or objects are repeated in a design to create a feeling of organized movement. It refers to the way graphic designers set the mood or tone of a design through variety. The five key types of visual rhythm include random, regular, alternating, flowing, and progressive.

5. Emphasis

what are the principles of graphic design

Emphasis is the way designers add extra visual weight to a design crucial element or message. It is that part of your design that attracts the attention of your viewers. Emphasis can be achieved by using various techniques, for example, using contrast to make a part of the design stand out from other areas.

Alternatively, designers can use larger or bolder fonts to highlight the title or put the most important elements through color. Graphic designers generally create emphasis with size color, texture or shape, etc to create a focal point.

6. Contrast

graphic design principles book

Contrast principle in graphic design is used to create a big difference between two opposing design elements Although there are other principles like balance, and hierarchy that designers use to create differences in a design, contrast appears to be the most critical principle in graphic design.

Graphic designers create contrast in designs using dark or light colors, small or big sizes, or traditional or modern styles to create visual interest and focus the attention of viewers on key elements of the design.

7. Negative/White Space

the essential principles of graphic design

A Negative space also known as white space is the area of design that is left blank or empty. It is the area between or around the elements in a design to create an organized and scalable design. It is one of the most important principles that can help you create better/positive user experiences.

Cluttered designs can make people lose interest in the content or message of the design. However, leaving a negative space in a design gives room for design elements to breathe and help users stay focused on the most important parts of the design as well as create a focal point.

8. Hierarchy

7 principles of graphic design

Visual hierarchy in design is an arrangement of elements in a certain structure in design to enable viewers to absorb the information simply and understandably. Graphic designers achieve visual hierarchy by highlighting the importance of every element in a design by using different sizes and colors.

Alternatively, designers can also use different typography to create visual interest and help viewers focus on what they need to read or see.

8. Repetition

5 principles of graphic design

As the name implies, repetition in design is the repeated use of certain elements such as colors, shapes, lines, etc., in a design. It is a significant principle in branding design and ad design. The consistent use of colors, logos, imagery, symbols, and messaging helps audiences to build brand image, and increase brand recognition and loyalty.

Essentially designers use repetition to help viewers learn and remember the visual language and symbolism.

9. Variety

what are the graphic design principles

Variety in design is the use of various elements of design to attract the attention of viewers and create unity between all parts of your design. Although variety is the complete opposite of balance and repetition, it is used by designers to make the design look less monotonous and boring by giving it a fresh look.

Variety can be achieved through colors, images, shapes, typography, and other elements in your design.

10. Proximity

the principles of graphic design

Proximity in design is the visual closeness between two objects or elements in a design. It is mainly focused on the relationship between the elements.

Graphic designers achieve this design principle by aligning similar or related elements so that the viewers can perceive a connection or distance between them using different colors, textures, shapes scales, and movement of lines.

11. Harmony

Harmony otherwise known as unity is the marriage of all elements and principles of design. It is the way these different elements or principles are used at the right time and in the right measure. The goal of harmony or unity in design is to ensure that the design still maintains visual unity even when the rules are broken.

Conclusion: How to Apply the Principles of Design

The concept of graphic design goes beyond the colorful design or bright, funny images mixed with some really cute texts. It is understanding how to combine the important elements and design principles in a creative design.

Learning and adhering to this principle of graphic design allows you to create more visually compelling and attractive designs that delight viewers and create amazing user experiences.


January 7, 2023
10 min read
6 reads

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