Have you ever stopped to think about what goes into creating a print ad for your organization? Or the steps that a designer or creative team takes when crafting each and every element of your brand?
While it may seem like an effortless task or a situation where someone can “just” whip up a few options, there is actually a lot of thought, creativity and overall principles that go into each and every design element you see (and some you may not even notice).
The Principles of Art and Graphic Design
The elements and principles of art are the foundation of the way we can even begin to communicate about art itself. The elements of art are the visual tools that an artist uses to create a composition: Line, shape, color, value, form, texture and space. The principles of art represent how the artist uses those elements to create the piece and convey the overall intent and emotion. The principles of design are balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm and unity. The principles, specifically, are what help us to know if the piece—whether it’s a painting or a brochure—is fully complete.
Balance refers to the visual weight of the elements used in a design piece. When you look at text on a page, for example, if you see that the headline is incredibly thick, bold and masculine, and the body text is scripted, thin and feminine, you may see that the font together lacks balance. Balance is what helps us to tell that something “feels right”. Balance can be viewed in 3 different ways:
- Symmetry – Both sides having the same elements in the same position, much like a mirror image.
- Asymmetry – There is a contrast of elements. For example, a large circle on one side may be balanced by a small square on the other.
- Radial Symmetry – Elements that are equally spaced around a point (think of the spokes of a bicycle tire)
Contrast is the difference between elements and the way they work together to make each other stronger. A great way to think about contrast is by thinking of positive and negative space. The use of white space is a prime way in which a designer or artist can achieve contrast.
We can achieve contrast through:
Emphasis is when an artist navigates the eye of a viewer. We think about emphasis a lot, especially with print design, because we’re working with a static design. Rather than a website or video, which uses movement or other functionality to navigate someone through something, artists and graphic designers must use emphasis to let a viewer know where to look first, then second, then third, and so on. Emphasis is often achieved by contrast (above). So when you notice that your designer has created space in an ad and used a hierarchy of type sizes, it’s because they are trying to show priority to certain elements and let the viewer know where to go next.
Movement is similar to emphasis in that it lets the viewer know where to look and what to do next. Along with using contrast to show hierarchy and priority, designers can use movement in diagonal lines (for example) to keep visual interest and let the viewer know something has changed.
We utilize movement a lot in web design—either with simple scrolling banners or by creating small functionalities that cause buttons or text to move when hovered over.
In the graphic design world, however, movement can be a bit more tricky when working with a static image. So, graphic designers will use patterns, angles, repetition or the illusion of space to help create that interest.
Pattern is exactly what the name implies: A uniform repetition of elements of art. Pattern, when applied appropriately, can be used to let a viewer know what to expect next, but it can also take a flat canvas of color and create dimension. For example, consider a piece of paper with a flat blue color all over it. Then, imagine a very subtle geometric grid that’s used in the background of that flat color. The use of the pattern doesn’t affect the overall design, and it doesn’t detract from the information that will be added to it, but it creates a warmth that wasn’t there before.
Rhythm is created by movement but, unlike pattern, is used in a more non-uniform way. The best way to understand rhythm is to consider music. Think about your favorite song. The musician doesn’t use the same beat over and over throughout the entirety of the song, right? Instead, they start with a basic pattern and then build on that with rhythm so that the song builds and creates emotion and harmony. With graphic design, the sentiment is similar. A graphic designer can use alternating elements, gradients or intricate details to add organization, but not identical uniformity. Rhythm can also come through in the use of typography, by interchanging different fonts or weights in order to create a hierarchy of information, while still being able to lead the viewer’s eye in a composition.
It can be argued that unity couldn’t exist as a design principle without all of the other principles. Though we would argue the same for any of the principles listed above. Unity as a design principle essentially wraps all of the other design tactics up together and positions them in a way so they work in complete unison and harmony. That means all sections of pattern, words and images work together to make each other feel complete—no one single element detracting from the other.
Why the Principles of Design Are Important for Your Brand
When it comes to targeting new customers, or even delighting the ones you already have, you’re often dealing with an unforgiving audience. If you operate under the assumption that you only have one impression to give to a prospective customer before they make a decision on you (and that is often the case), you need to do more than put your best foot forward—you need to put something out there that works. The principles of design aren’t just for making materials that are aesthetically pleasing. They are about subliminally communicating information to your audience to help them make their best decision. They’re about telling them the most important information, eliminating confusion and creating a standard for expectations.
At 434 Marketing, design isn’t just a service that we offer. Our artists and graphic designers live and breathe the principles of art and design, and know what it takes to make a successful marketing piece for you. We’re always here to help.