10 Graphic Design Basics Everyone Should Learn

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Dec 31, 2018

Dec 31, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

Have you ever looked at a website or advertisement and thought, "Wow, I wonder how the person who designed that made it look so good,"? From the outside, good graphic design can look like magic. All the elements blend together to make something that is as much art as it is advertisement. 

The thing at the core of all those pieces is solid graphic design basics. There are certain rules that, if you follow them, can make a piece look amazing. Read on to learn about a few principles every graphic designer should have a good grasp on.

Use Negative Space

One of the most powerful tools at your disposal in graphic design is also one of the most overlooked: negative space. Basically, this represents all the space that isn't taken up by specific graphic elements. It's the color of your background, and it can be a great way to manipulate the "feel" of your design.

For instance, if you want something that feels open, airy, and clean, use a lot of white space between design elements. If you want something to look busy, high-energy, or loud, cutting down negative space can do that. You can also make clever use of negative space in logos (as companies like Dairy Queen and FedEx have done).

Use Color Cohesion

When you were a kid and playing around in Microsoft paint, we're willing to bet you spent some time coloring with every single color in the lineup. It's fun to experiment with color, and as a graphic designer, you may want your designs to be packed with color. But there are rules to follow, and ignoring them can make for chaotic, eye-melting designs.

As a general rule, you want to stick to the basics of color theory when working on your designs. Use complementary colors together, and try to stick to one color grouping. This can be primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors, complementary colors, analogous colors, or even split complementary colors.

Keep Quality Consistent

Part of the goal of graphic design is to make many disparate elements feel like one natural piece. Balance and harmony are huge parts of this, but so is quality. When you're working on a design, you want to make sure there aren't differences that will jump out to the viewer.

When you're trying to source images for your design, you'll probably wind up pulling them from a few different sources. Just make sure all the images are of the same high quality. No matter how good a designer you are, if you try to combine a pixelated stock photo with a high-quality one, your design is going to look bad.

Make It Readable

A lot of the times, you'll be designing projects that have textual elements. And much like with Microsoft Paint, a lot of us loved experimenting with all the different fonts available to us when we were kids. A font can set the mood for a piece in subtle and powerful ways, but you have to be careful.

If you're designing a menu for a fancy restaurant, it can be a natural inclination to want to use a curly, script font that will convey the classiness of the establishment. But if the diners have to squint to make out the names of the dishes, your customer won't be pleased. Make sure when you're choosing a font that you stick to one that is easily readable.

You also want to make sure to size text so that it's easy to read. You can do your entire design using Helvetica Bold, but if your text is tiny and squished together or set in colors that clash or blend in with the background, it won't be any more legible. If you're interested in learning more about how people have used textual design on challenge coins, click here.

Respect the Hierarchy

Part of what you'll need to keep in mind when you're working on your design is which elements you want to be most prominent and which you want to fade into the background more. Having a clear focus is important, especially in advertising. But likewise, having some details that only show up on closer inspection can be cool, too.

There are a number of ways to achieve that hierarchy in your design. One of them is to play with scale (which we'll talk about in a moment). But you can also use color, shadow and highlights, and even other design elements such as arrows to achieve that.

Remember Texture

When we're designing, it can be easy to get caught up in color and fonts, photo quality and proper use of negative space. But some of the richest designs out there look so amazing because of the ways they use texture. Adding a texture to your piece can give it a depth that you can't achieve any other way.

In a world of shiny graphics and bright, flat colors, having a little texture gives the eye something to grab onto. Think about the way you can recreate the feel of blue jeans in your head when you see a picture of denim. Use texture swatches that you can find online, and incorporate them into your work.

Play with Scale

Okay, so that hierarchy thing we were talking about earlier? One of the quickest ways you can establish a visual hierarchy is to simply make your focus point the largest element of your design. Humans' eyes are drawn to larger objects first, so playing with the scale is a great way to establish focus.

But it can also be a fun way to draw viewers in a little further. For one thing, having elements of a few different sizes can help a piece feel balanced. But inverting viewers' expectations with scale (such as in forced perspective photos) can keep them interested and looking at your piece.

Learn More Graphic Design Basics

As the world becomes more and more digital, graphic design continues to grow. Whether you're learning about graphic design basics for fun or as a way to grow your freelance business, it will be a useful skill set. The most important thing is to experiment, don't be afraid to try new things, and have fun.

If you'd like to see those graphic design principles being put into action, check out the rest of our site at Ad Exchanger. We enable the exchange of ideas between all members of the advertising ecosystem. Check out our resources page for some cool pro tips today.