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Graphic Design Fundamentals

We’re always going on about how design is a really powerful tool, so we have prepared a post about Graphic design fundamentals. Design is a complex topic, so this is just a simple and fun way to get you interested in the magic of it. At our studio, we see design as a significant part of brand strategy, and therefore it serves a meaningful purpose for the brand.

graphic design fundamental elements

1. Colour

Colour is one of the most essential and obvious elements of graphic design. It can be applied to every other element, but carefully as colours create mood and generate different emotions. It is therefore vital to create the perfect colour palette for the feeling we want to transmit.

Although it sounds easy, there is a pretty complex science behind it all. If you are interested to learn more, study Color Theory and Psychology of Colour.

2. Contrast

Contrast is one of the most often forgotten graphic design fundamentals. One of the ways to use it is by creating a colour contrast, but it is by far not the only way to add contrast to your designs. You can also use it in relation to other graphic design elements: size, shape or typography. By adding contrast, you are making sure the design is not boring, and the correct elements are emphasized. It also helps in creating a visually interesting composition.

3. Dominance/emphasis

In relation to contrast, an important graphic design fundamental is dominance or emphasis. It helps emphasize the most critical elements of your design – the ones you want to bring attention to, so you help an individual focus on the most important part. A design in which everything is highlighted comes across as confusing and has a hard time passing on its core message – simply put, it doesn’t serve its purpose.

4. Line

Line is a basic element of graphic design. It is used to connect points, divide the space and help the viewer focus on a specific point. Lines can be thick or thin, straight or curved, depending on the purpose of the design they serve for. Lines can be used as graphic elements, patterns, backgrounds or textures.

5. Typography

Typography is a crucial part of the design. It should be well incorporated into the whole brand identity while staying functional. Typography expresses brand personality, so it is not unimportant whether you choose a playful or severe, elegant, minimalist or handwritten font. You will be communicating a completely different message with each of these. Be careful not to exaggerate with the use of decorative fonts. Using them for titles or in small amounts may be okay, but don’t make large paragraphs of the text hard to read by choosing the wrong font.

6. Alignment

Alignment organizes all the elements used in a design. It’s the foundation that makes your design attractive to look at. It is a designer glue – it binds the elements together and makes the design whole and visually appealing. It declutters the design and keeps it from becoming chaotic. An unproperly aligned design is simply painful to look at!

7. Shape

Shape is another fundamental element of graphic design. There are two main types of shapes: geometric and organic shapes. Geometric shapes produce a feeling of order and control, while organic shapes are more spontaneous, soft and natural.

8. Balance

Every element in the design has a weight on it. Its weight can come from colour, size or texture. Balance refers to how these elements are arranged so that the design appears balanced – not all heavy elements should be put in one corner of the design, unless that is the purpose of it (you know, breaking the rules should only be done when you master them).

There are two types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetrical creates balance by aligning equally weighted elements, and asymmetrical design aligns a heavy element with lighter ones to achieve a contrast effect.

9. Space

Space is a graphic design element that can be hard to master. Many beginner graphic designers have a fear of empty space and often cram a design with more elements than necessary. Space is the area around graphic elements. It can be used to bring focus to a specific point or as a negative space that creates hidden shapes when other elements are aligned in a specific way.

10. Size

Size is another basic graphic design element. The rule of thumb goes like this: bigger elements catch viewers attention faster than smaller ones – it is a useful tool that directs viewers’ eyes toward a focal point. Size is also used to create more dynamic in a design. Playing with size can be done across other elements, for example typography and shape. It is also a vital element of creating balance and contrast, and it has a crucial role in the functionality of the design.

11. Texture

Although you (usually) cannot touch the elements in the design physically, they can evoke many feelings and even create a sensation of what it would be like to touch them. This can mainly be achieved through texture. Looking at a design that contains texture activates memories and imagination of what a specific texture feels like. Using texture in a graphic design, therefore adds another sensation to it.

12. Harmony

Harmony is achieved when all the elements are in perfect consonance with one another. No element is out of balance, the colours are compatible, the message is clear, and no element is too much or missing. Harmony is hard to achieve, but it often takes to follow a simple rule of less is more.


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References, sources and further reading:
What is contrast in the principles of design
Infographic: 10 Basic Elements of Design
Graphic Design Fundamental Elements

Founder and lead strategist at studio Atlas Authentica. Her mission is to help businesses form agile and strategy-driven brands as well as mentoring young creative enterpreneurs.