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An Introduction to Graphic Design Fundamentals & Principles for Effective Visual Communication

Graphic Design is the process of creating visual content to communicate messages. Designers use a combination of several key elements including colour, typography, branding, logo design, image manipulation which make up part of the fundamentals we use everyday and apply these principles to client work.

Colour theory

An important tool in a Graphic Designers bag. It’s used to create colour schemes that are both visually appealing and effective in terms of communicating a message. The seven major color schemes are:

  1. monochromatic
  2. analogous
  3. complementary
  4. split complementary
  5. triadic
  6. square, and
  7. rectangle (or tetradic)

We love playing with colour here in the studios.
You can jump to the Colour Theory post here to read more.

adgenix introduction to graphic design colour



The art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed. It’s one of the most important aspects of graphic design because well-designed type can make a project look professional and polished and stand-out against the competition. Good typography can also help to effectively communicate a message and lends itself to everyday usability. There are many rules around typography and professional designers are incredibly strict within this discipline. Font Foundry’s are a whole thing too.
Enter the world of type here.

adgenix introduction to graphic design typography


Layout Principles

The basic rules that Graphic Designers use to create orderly and visually appealing designs. You’ll often hear about symmetrical & asymmetrical balance. The most common layout principles are grid, hierarchy, and contrast. The grid being one of the most fundamental layout principles. A system of evenly spaced horizontal and vertical lines and you can spend a lot of time on laying out your designs.
We’ll explore more layout principles in its own post here.

the grid port


Photography & Image Manipulation

Another key element of Graphic Design. It’s used to capture real-world objects or scenes and to create digital & print designs. Good photography can add a professional touch to any project and make it look more polished. In design world, there are two main types of photography: stock and custom. You can get more into this topic here.

adgenix editing raw photo lightroom
Editing RAW photos in Lightroom


Mockups & Moodboards

When designing for a client, Graphic Designers often create mockups & mood boards to help them get a better understanding of the client’s needs and to communicate their ideas. Mood boards are a collection of images, colour, type, sometimes materials and other graphic elements that represent the look and feel of a design. They can be physical or digital, but either way they’re a resource used to help start the visual process.

adgenix space series moodboard


Principals of Art & Design

Week one of Art School the teacher got up and talked about the principles and we all fell asleep with boredom so, I’ve added this section later in the post so as not to bore you. But it is important as it builds our foundation.
I’ll break it down into biscuit sized bites.

Elements of Art & Design

The simplest and most fundamental of all the elements of design, the line is usually defined as a point moving in space. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal; straight, curved, or free-form; thick or thin. Implied lines can also create visual movement and tension within a composition (lines created by negative spaces, for example).
Shape Shapes are self-contained areas of two-dimensional space, defined and determined by other elements of design (such as lines, colors, etc.). Like all elements of design, shapes can be used to create visual interest, balance, contrast, rhythm, unity/variety, and all sorts of emotions.
Form A form is a three-dimensional object, either natural or man-made. Forms can be geometric (cube, sphere, cylinder, etc.) or free-form/organic (a human body, a tree, a rock).
Value Value is the lightness or darkness of a color. It’s created when a hue is mixed with black, white, or gray. Value can also create the illusion of space and depth.
Space Space is the area within, around, above, below, or between things. Negative space is the empty or open space around and between the subjects of an image.
Colour Hue + Value = Color. In painting, color can be used to create mood, convey emotion, unify a composition, provide contrast, create the illusion of space and depth, and determine which areas of a painting will advance or recede.
Texture Texture is the way a surface feels to the touch or looks as it may feel. It can be smooth, rough, soft, hard, etc. Textural interest can also be created with line, color, and value.

Principles of Art & Design

Rhythm Created when one or more element of design are used repeatedly. Rhythm can be regular or irregular, discreet or continuous, literal or implied.
Balance The distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, space, and form. There are three types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial.
Emphasis The center of interest or the area of greatest visual attraction. Emphasis can be created through the use of color, value, shape, form, space, and/or texture.
Proportion/Scale The relationship in size between two or more elements of a composition. Scale is the size of an object in relation to another object.
Gradation A gradual change in one or more of the elements of design. A way of combining elements by using a series of gradual changes in those elements. (large shapes to small shapes, dark hue to light hue, etc)
Harmony Harmony is the use of compatible elements that work together to create a unified whole.
Unity Unity is the sense of oneness that is achieved when all the elements of a composition are unified. Harmony is similar to unity, but with a focus on achieving agreement or compatibility between the elements.
Variety A principle concerned with diversity creating visual interest and movement to direct the viewer’s eye, but without unity a work of art can feel like a random collection of unrelated objects.
Movement The path the viewer’s eye takes through a work of art. It can be created by the artist through the strategic placement of elements of design such as line, shape, color, value, space, and texture.


The Business of Graphic Design

Before every project begins, it’s important to take a client brief. Designers rely heavily on client feedback in order to create the best work possible. In order to get that feedback, it’s important to understand who your client is and what they’re looking for. Listening to a client, understanding the requirements, writing a brief and executing on a brief is what makes a project successful or a flop. And it’s not a one way street, having a good client that is responsive and works with you is imperative to the overall execution and success of every project you touch.

Another way to drive this point home is it will have great impact on whether you get paid or not. Design is a lot more than just creating pretty pictures. Designers must be able to understand the requirements of their clients, and write a brief that accurately communicates the client’s wishes. It’s only by executing on a good brief that is clear and concise that projects are successful.

As a Designer, you’ll often be working with clients to create designs for their business needs. And your working with them is another business unto itself, so it’s going to be super important to understand the business side of Graphic Design in order to make sure you’re getting paid properly for your work. There’s a whole other layer to being a designer, we’ll discuss how to quote a project, how to invoice a client, what payment terms are typical & acceptable to both sides in a later post.

In our ever-changing Graphic Design industry, it’s important to be aware of Copyright and Intellectual property laws. Copyright infringement is the unauthorised use of another person’s copyrighted material, and it can be a big problem for Graphic Designers. There are many ways to protect your work from being infringed upon, and it’s important to take measures to protect yourself. It feels weird writing this knowing that everything is copied or inspired from somewhere and there is very little original work anymore. You can read more about Copyright & Intellectual Property here.


Winding Up

I’ve only covered the main basic areas. Graphic Design requires a deep well of not only skill and talent, but a thick skin accompanied with determination & perserverance. It involves understanding all of these core components as well as the legal side of copyright and then there’s a business layer as well. And don’t forget that in order to be successful as a Graphic Designer, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and resources. And you can fall down that rabbit-hole over at our resources page here.

We hope you found this quick introduction helpful. As a special note, it was written by the Jasper AI and guided somewhat by myself, a regular human. If you have any questions or comments, head over to the facebook group here. And if you want to learn more about Graphic Design, be sure to check out our other blog posts on the subject.

Thanks for reading!