Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rules of Good Design

Design and rules are two things that don’t seem to go together, but there are some basic principles everyone should follow. They can help you create appealing layouts that are both effective and pleasing to the eye. They can better communicate your message to your target audience.

They can also help you understand why your design works – or why it doesn’t. The next time you’re feeling like your design doesn’t look quite right, try adjusting it to fall in-line with some of the four basic graphic design principles.

Do you have enough white space? Is there alignment between elements? Is there a consistent, underlying organization? Asking yourself these questions can help make your design better. Try applying these principles to your next graphic design project. And if you need help, we’re just a phone call or email away.

Q&A: I need to plan a design. Can you give me any tips to get started?

Begin with the end in mind – decide whom you want to reach and what you want them to learn or do. Try using these questions to organize your thoughts.
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What must this creative design accomplish?
  • Are there any perceptions of the target audience that must be created or overcome?
  • What is the single, most important, message the target audience should take away from this design?
  • What is the overall or primary benefit to the target audience?
  • What tone should be conveyed to the target audience?
  • What elements or information must be included in this design?
Today people with no background in graphic design are creating a wide variety of printed marketing tools. There are, of course, many projects that definitely deserve the investment in professional design. Give us a call at (215) 923-2679 if you’d like us to assist you with a project, or if you would like us to create a template for you to use.

Design Challenges

When your task is to fit a lot of text into a small amount of space, or if your project consists entirely of text, you face some significant design challenges. Over the years, we have developed some tricks for organizing text to improve readability. Try some of these techniques.
  • Add contrast to large blocks of text by using headlines, subheads, headers, footers, pull quotes, sidebars, and bulleted lists.
  • Make headlines larger and use a different font than the body copy.
  • Add a one-point rule above and below a subhead and make it span two columns of text.
  • Base your design on a grid and use white space for balance.
  • Create a drop-cap 3-6 times larger than the body copy.
Good design does not come easily. It is a result of studying and applying good design principles, understanding how to analyze design problems, knowing your audience, developing a sensitivity for good design, and lots of trial and error. If you think your layout or design may have a problem, but you’re just not sure – we can help. Just email or give Brigid a call at 215-923-2679.

Four Principles of Graphic Design

Whether your task is to design a sales brochure, a magazine ad, or a newsletter, the purpose is the same: to communicate a message to the audience that will produce the desired response. What this means is that the design you develop is not just about appearance – it is also about performance. Thus, good design is measured equally by form and function. According to Robin Williams in her book, Non-Designer’s Design Book, she sites four principles of design that underlie every design project – alignment, proximity, contrast, and repetition.

Alignment refers to how text and graphics are placed on the page. Alignment creates order, organizes page elements, indicates groups of items, and emphasizes visual connection. Interestingly, good alignment is rarely noticed by the reader, while misalignment is immediately detected. There are two basic types of alignment: edge and center. Edges can be aligned along the top, bottom, left, or right. Center alignment can be either horizontal or vertical. When designing a page, be sure that each element (text, graphics, photographs) has a visual alignment with another item.

Proximity describes the distance between individual design elements. Close proximity implies a relationship between the elements; conversely, lack of proximity separates them. Like alignment, proximity is a visual organization tool. Placing elements in close proximity unifies them and communicates a sense of order and organization to the reader. When it isn’t possible to group items proximately, unity between two elements can be achieved by using a third element to connect them.

Contrast adds interest as well as organization to the page and is created when two elements are different. Common ways to create contrast include varying size, color, thickness, shape, style, or space. The greater the difference between elements, the greater the contrast. Besides adding interest to the page, contrast can be used to direct the reader around the page and to emphasize importance or differences. Contrast is only effective when it is obvious.

Repetition brings visual consistency to page design. When the same design elements – such as uniform size and weight of headline fonts or use of initial caps to begin a chapter – are used, it becomes clear that the pages are related to each other and therefore part of the same document. In this way, repetition creates unity. Some examples of repetition are using the same style of headlines, the same style of initial capitals, or repeating the same basic layout from one page to another.
The four principles of design are interconnected and work together to communicate the message. Contrast is often the most important visual attraction on a page. If the page elements are not the same, then make them very different, instead of making them similar. Repetition helps develop the organization and strengthens the unity of a page. Repeating visual elements develops the design. Every element should have some visual connection with another element on the page, creating a consistent and sophisticated alignment.

Basis of Good Design
There are five steps that form the basis of good design:

Step 1: Set the Goal Every design task begins by defining
the end to be achieved – in other words, the goal of the design project. The goal is most often related to the action desired by the target audience. Is the purpose to invite an inquiry? To generate a purchase? To persuade the reader to a new point of view? Keep the goal in mind and allow it to determine the design.

Step 2: Compose the Message The message is the most important element of any marketing piece because it states the benefits of the reader taking action. Affecting behavior is the result of explaining to the reader what to expect from the product or service; or stated differently, answering the reader’s question, “What’s in it for me?”.

If you have a limited amount of space, devote most of it to benefits. Leave the list of features and the company story off altogether, or abbreviate it. The reader cares a lot more about what’s in it for them, than they do about your company story. Make the message reader-centered, and clearly describe the enjoyment the reader will experience or the pain that will be relieved.

Step 3: Choose the Medium The project’s purpose and message both determine the layout. Sometimes the layout will be obvious – a business card, for example, or a magazine ad. Other times the choices will be broader. A postcard or a brochure are both viable marketing pieces; the medium of the message might be determined by the method of delivery to the target audience – for example, via direct mail, at a trade show, or mailed in response to an inquiry.

Step 4: Select a Design To achieve maximum effectiveness, a design must take into account a myriad of elements related to the target audience such as age, education, language skills, visual preferences, cultural expectations, level of knowledge, and desires. These and other factors affect the selection of color palette, fonts, illustrations, and photographs.

Step 5: Illustrate the Message Photographs and illustrations work the hardest when they reiterate and reinforce the message, or show what can’t be said. Secondarily, they set the tone or draw attention to a specific element of the design. It is always desirable when a photograph or illustration can do both simultaneously.

More Tips for Good Design
  • Be sparse and simple. Carefully select the design elements so a few will convey your message. A design cluttered with too many elements may confuse or overwhelm the reader. For example, use one large photograph or graphic on a page rather than several smaller ones. And use lots of white space – studies show that designs with significant white space are more pleasant to read and attract more attention.
  • Use color sparingly. As a design element, color is very important, but too much color can be counterproductive. Use a consistent color palette. Use contrasting color sparingly so that its impact is increased.
  • Limit fonts. Select one typeface and size for body copy and one typeface for headlines, then use these throughout your design. Using too many fonts can be distracting and may interfere with page organization. 
  • Write clear, comprehensible copy. Remember that a good design effectively conveys a message. Write in short rather than long sentences. Avoid jargon and clich├ęs. Use a vocabulary level appropriate for your audience.
By paying close attention to the four basic principles of design, the five steps that form the basis of good design, and the additional tips, you will ensure that your design communicates effectively.

Reach Out for Help
We know you want the best possible design and layout.  We will be happy to look at your preliminary layout and make suggestions. Email a PDF of your design to, with your name and phone number. We’ll apply our extensive graphic design knowledge to let you know whether your design is compelling or could use modification.