It’s no secret that the first impression makes or breaks the user experience. Rarely does a product leave you indifferent — usually, you know whether you like it or not the second you see it. However, did you know that 94% of first impressions are design-related? And that you have only 50 milliseconds to convince a user to stay on your page?
The entire graphic design relies on basic elements and by layering them, designers produce incredible pieces.
For example, graphic design basics allow designers to create visuals that communicate inspiring and educative messages to customers. Some of the most common visual concepts are brand visual identity (logos, typography and other elements that make the company recognizable), mobile and web apps and website interfaces.
However, graphic design basics aren't limited to digital products; they bring to life material goods, such as books, magazines, newspapers and many other publications.
If you’re interested to find out more about graphic design essentials, you’re in the right place. This guide provides all the necessary information to help you understand your design challenges and elevate your skills to a new level.
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What Are Graphic Design Basics?
Simply put, the basics of graphic design are components or ingredients that every visual medium is made of. Designers use them to create compositions that arouse desired emotions, put viewers in a certain mood, or attract attention to its most important parts.
While graphic design basics are building blocks of any design composition, designers also rely on design principles — a set of guidelines for using the design elements in a way that results in aesthetically pleasing arrangements. The principles specify and regulate how elements relate to one another, their surroundings and their intended audience.
Although design principles are also important to understand, a continuation of our article concentrates on design elements — fundamental aspects of any graphic design medium.
10 Basic Elements of Graphic Design
Whether creating a responsive logo design, an advertisement, or a website, you can choose from various graphic design elements to create an attractive and functional visual medium.
The following 10 elements are fundamental components used in all types of graphic design:
A point or dot belongs to graphic design essentials since it is the origin of any shape or form in design and art. By connecting points, you can create more complex designs.
Points are frequently used in design to add visual appeal or emphasize a specific location since one of their strongest qualities is to draw attention.
Lines are more than long narrow marks that connect two dots. Although one-dimensional objects without width, depth or curvature, lines can serve numerous purposes. They can create shapes, indicate movements, present information and evoke emotions depending on their direction, context, weight, and length.
Designers have a wide range of possibilities when choosing the right lines for projects:
- Vertical, horizontal or diagonal.
- Straight or curved.
- Solid or broken.
- With or without a pattern.
Considering how many emotions and different meanings lines can symbolize, designers should carefully choose them for their projects.
Depending on the context, darker, thicker lines accentuate danger or convey stability. Scribbled-over lines can suggest chaos, confusion, or excitement. Zigzag lines might portray fury or electricity, but wavy lines may symbolize fragility, elegance, unpredictability, or beauty.
Shapes are forms or figures bounded by closed lines. In graphic design, we distinguish between two dominant types of shapes: geometric and organic, the so-called irregular shapes.
Geometric shapes consist of points connected by straight or curved lines; they can be in 2D or 3D forms. They include triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons, circles, spheres and ellipses.
Organic or irregular shapes are far more diverse. They don't have to be defined or symmetrical; they are shapes we see all around us — leaves, flowers, hearts, crystals, fruits or abstractions, such as various types of stains or scribbles.
Just like lines, shapes present different meanings depending on the context, which is why designers choose them carefully. For example, the triangle symbolizes balance and harmony and the growth cycle; the circle signifies completeness, timelessness and infinity.
When a 2-dimensional shape transforms into a 3-dimensional, it becomes a form.
Outside of graphic design, any shape that becomes 3D is considered form; for example, a 2D triangle becomes a 3D pyramid. However, graphic design is more complex.
In the digital world or print media, designs remain 2D shapes, but if designers add elements that make them appear 3D, shapes will be considered forms. This effect designers usually achieve by adding shadows in strategic places. For example, if a triangle is shaded, it can appear to have a 3D structure of a pyramid.
Basically, form in graphic design is an illusion.
Like the shape, form comes in two main types: geometrical and organic. Geometric forms are 3D geometrical shapes, including spheres, cubes, pyramids and cones, whereas organic forms are irregular shapes presented to appear 3-dimensional.
Texture represents the external appearance of a surface and is related to tactile properties. It can be smooth, ribbed or rough, soft or hard, shiny or matte.
The faithfully rendered texture creates visual interest and gives the graphic design a realistic feel — as if you could reach out and touch it.
Designers can imitate organic elements from nature to create the texture of wood, sand, stone or grass. They can also combine two-dimensional shapes and color saturation to create abstract textured backgrounds.
Balance in graphic design refers to the even distribution of visual weight in all parts of the design to create an impression of cohesion and harmony.
The balance in the visual medium can be affected by all other design elements — colors, shapes, forms, lines, and positive and negative space. Your composition should be balanced vertically, horizontally, diagonally or between the backdrop and the foreground to obtain the best balance.
It can be challenging to attain balance because it requires intuition and experience, but it's essential to differentiate it from symmetry. You can also balance asymmetrical designs if you distribute visual weight evenly.
Colors are one of the most potent tools of graphic designers because they are very effective in creating and conveying moods and emotions and emphasizing certain parts of a composition. 39% of customers consider color the most important visual element on business websites. Depending on the desired effect, colors can be used alone or in combinations.
Here are some of the most popular color categorizations:
- The primary colors (red, yellow and blue) are pure pigments that create all other colors but can't be made by mixing different colors.
- Secondary colors (purple, green and orange) result from mixing primary colors.
- Tertiary colors (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet) are six colors created by mixing primary and secondary colors.
Color choice will set the tone of your project.
- Pastel shades are carefree and bright.
- Bright colors project cheerfulness, good mood, fun, happiness and optimism.
- Dark colors symbolize elegance and depth but can also be mysterious and ominous.
Different colors and their combinations evoke different psychological responses in people. Get to know your target audience well and choose shades that match the goals of your project.
The lightness or darkness of a color in graphic design is called value. A gradient, which shows a sequence of variations on one hue sorted from lightest to darkest, is a standard method of showing a color's values.
Each color in the spectrum has its value, from white, the lightest, to black, the darkest. For example, yellow and orange will belong to light value, while teal or maroon are considered darker.
Value isn't an independent graphic element. Designers always combine it with others — colors, shapes and lines — to create contrast, depth, volume and mass.
The role of typography in graphic design is both practical and aesthetic. It must be legible and attractive to convey the design work's message and tone.
When it comes to typography, designers have many choices. They can use pre-made fonts or create their own, which will perfectly suit the needs of their project.
Whether you decide to use premade or create original solutions with the help of the best graphic design software, make sure that your font is clear, striking, readable and matches the project's tone.
Think carefully about whether the letters should be printed or scripted, rounded or with modern, straight edges, because it will affect the overall experience of the visual medium. Bold and large letters emphasize your message's importance, while thin letters appear fragile and elegant.
If your project demands it, you can mix fonts but don't overdo it — don't use more than three different styles in one design.
Space is another necessary component that emphasizes the importance of all other design elements. It balances the design elements and highlights the most important ones, while without it, the design can look cluttered and messy and, therefore, unclear to your audience.
A small spacing between the elements indicates their connection, while a large one demonstrates that they are independent.
In graphic design, we also encounter the concept of positive and negative space. The area occupied by the visual components the designer wants readers to pay attention to in his publication is positive space. Everything else, including the background, is considered negative space. Both types are equally important for creating visually appealing compositions.
Graphic Design Basics: Key Takeaways
Points, lines, shapes, forms, textures, balance, colors, values, typography and space are graphic design basics.
An even representation of these elements, arranged according to the principles of graphic design, will result in striking visual mediums that successfully convey your brand's message and evoke your consumers' desired emotions.
Now that you have all the necessary information to comprehend the fundamentals of graphic design, all that's left is to use them, alone or with the help of a graphic design agency, and create stunning designs that will make your brand stand out from the crowd.