7 Basic Elements of Great Graphic Design

Have you ever come across a poster design that highlighted the best features of a product so well that you couldn’t help but buy it soon after? Ever chosen one product over another because the former seemed more convincing when presented visually? Or were you able to recognise the visual signature of certain brands or products long after they have been pulled off the market? you can also get free udemy courses on graphic designing.

The three examples above demonstrate what’s possible with great graphic design. Not all of us may possess the aptitude to create splendid works of graphic design, but we can at least try to understand the elements that designers work with on a daily basis. What we do know is that graphic design combines photography, illustration, typography, and page layout techniques to yield unique visual compositions that carry their own messages. And whether we know it or not, we are constantly in the act of distinguishing a great design from overly complicated, unoriginal, or ho-hum ones—we affirm the former for how well it evokes feelings in us and how persuasive it is in getting us to pursue certain behaviours. 

Behind every well-executed design is a graphic design and print services team that has mastered seven important elements, namely line, colour, shape, positive and negative space, texture, typography, and scale. Designers worth their salt can manipulate these elements for their purposes, even in the absence of the most expensive tools and software. For those curious about what constitutes stunning and memorable design, here’s a brief on the integral characteristics of these seven elements.

  1. Line. The line is considered the most fundamental element of graphic design, and with good reason. Its purpose is to divide a visual space in a certain way, thus drawing the viewer’s eye in a particular direction. In a contemporary piece of artwork, you may see dotted lines, straight lines, or curved lines leading you to focus your view on particular elements of the piece. If the lines have led you to look where the designer wants you to, then they will have done their job.

  2. Colour. In graphic design, colour is usually evocative of certain moods. The designer can draw from deeply rooted social expectations when they are choosing which colours to use in their design—for example, red is a colour that conveys romance and sexuality, while green is a colour that emphasises nature and healing. The proficient graphic artist is one who can use colours to their advantage—whether it be several colours or just a few, whether it’s dark colours or bright ones, or whether it’s complementary or contrasting colours.

  3. Shape. Shape is an element that lends visual variety to a design, which in most cases, is what a viewer would want. For example, would you be drawn to look at something that seemed too “plain” or “flat”? Probably not. The careful designer, however, knows that there’s a fine line between drab-looking and overly busy design. There’s a risk of using too little shape, or too much of it so that the purpose of the design becomes lost in (visual) translation.

  4. Positive and negative space. Every other element that’s used in a design occupies space. But good designers know the value of occupying certain spaces, while leaving some alone. Negative space, or space that’s left blank, is particularly important because that’s what gives a viewer “breathing room” when they see the piece. Space also determines layout, or the way that pictures, icons, and text are arranged. A seasoned designer will know to economise this space and not cram too many things all at once.

  5. Texture. If you’ve ever found a design appealing for the 3D effect it achieved—for example, shadows that emphasised the height and immensity of a mountainscape, or hues that hint at the astonishing depths of an ocean so cleverly depicted on paper—it’s because the designer sought to add textures to an illustration or a photograph using a graphics editing program or other tools. Often, it is because of this added texture, and the success in how it is rendered, that viewers judge what’s portrayed in the design as lifelike and believable—and therefore worth their attention.

  6. Typography. In visual art, the way that words are represented is arguably just as important as the choice words itself. Let’s say your designer is doing a poster advertising a “Back to the ‘80s” event. Wouldn’t people feel more compelled to go if the event details were spelled out in a colourful, retro font that was reminiscent of the ‘80s decade? In contrast, imagine if “kiddie-looking” font was used instead of more professional-looking lettering for a corporate advertisement. Don’t you think the company would turn off its clients, and therefore miss out on an opportunity to profit?

  7. Scale. Scale pertains to the size of objects relative to one another. Different objects can be scaled as bigger or smaller than the other, in order to give emphasis and demonstrate a certain value. For example, in a design work comparing an advertised health product to its competitor, the former will likely be enlarged and have a greater visual impact over the other—thus successfully conveying its superiority. 

Taken together, these seven design elements achieve harmony, or the quality of disparate things working together as one. It is what most people aspire for in art, and definitely what graphic designers pursue for every work they’re commissioned to do. Those with an aptitude for creating great works of visual art constantly manipulate these elements in order to create new, original, seamless, and imaginative graphic designs. 

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