The principles of graphic design control the relationships between design elements and organize overall composition. The very best graphic design uses these principles to communicate its message effectively, making that message more impactful yet comfortable for viewers. Here’s a look at the six principles of graphic design and an exploration of what makes them important.
Balance refers to the equal distribution of visual weight in a design. Every design element has visual weight that is determined by its darkness or lightness, size, and line thickness. The three basic types of balance are symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial balance.
Symmetrical or formal balance occurs when design elements are evenly placed to the left and right or top and bottom of the central axes. Asymmetrical or informal balance occurs when design elements with unequal weight are unevenly distributed on the page; the elements add more visual interest and a sense of movement while retaining a feeling of balance. Radial balance is a sort of symmetrical balance in which all design elements radiate outward from one central point.
Design elements can establish balance. Colors have weight in that black or navy blue—darker colors—are heavier than pastels like pink or baby blue. Thicker lines and fonts have more weight than finer lines and fonts. Larger design elements tend to have more weight. Just as you might balance a seesaw by placing a larger weight closer to the fulcrum on one side and a smaller weight towards the end on the other side, to achieve balance in graphic design you would pay attention to the weight distribution of your design elements.
The more proximal design elements are, the stronger the suggested connection between them. Therefore, simply by grouping elements together they appear more organized, and are therefore more likely to be seen and remembered. Proximity means more than simple physical closeness; it also indicates a visual connection.
Alignment as a principle means that no design element should be arbitrarily placed; every piece of the design should have a visual connection to something on the page to organize and unify the page and the overall concept. The alignment principle also suggests that elements should be kept in line horizontally, vertically, and across all linear planes. Finally, elements should be consistently aligned on the page.
The Repetition principle says there should be some repetitive element such as a color, a font, a spatial relationship, a certain bullet, a thick line, or something else, that appears throughout the design. This repetition makes the element into a consistent theme and helps to further unify the design, strengthen the branding, and tie the whole thing together. The trick is to repeat the element enough to create unity and visual interest but not so much that it becomes monotonous. This principle is also called rhythm.
Contrast is the best way to add visual interest and organize your page. Add contrast with careful choices of colors, line thicknesses, spacing, sizes, shapes, typeface, and other design elements. Bold contrasts work best because they are more interesting and less likely to seem dull or underdeveloped.
White space is the absence of graphics and text that breaks up the design elements on the page and gives the viewer a visual break. White or negative space—whatever color it is, since it just means blank space—can make a page less confusing, and render a design less cramped and cleaner looking. It can also clarify text elements, suggest elegance, eliminate clutter, and add emphasis.
To achieve the best designs possible, remember and apply these six principles pf graphic design to all of your work. The more you refine your ability to apply them, the more skilled you’ll become with them. Furthermore, consider these six principles one by one the next time you’re working on a design that just doesn’t seem to be coming together. If you tweak your design carefully based on each of the six principles of graphic design, you’re likely to find where your design is falling short.