Recently we unveiled for you part 1 of our feature 20 Unignorable Rules of Graphic Design adopted from Timothy Samara’s Visual Elements: A Graphic Style Manual. If you missed it you can find it here. In this second half of the article, I will break down for you ten more unignorable rules that constitute graphic design. As always remember that these rules aren’t set to never be broken no matter what. Rather, when you do choose to break them do so with a specific intent in mind to better convey your message. On that note, happy designing and let’s get started!
11. Be Universal; It’s Not Just About You
Artists often create for themselves, but as a designer you create for everyone else. Your audience must know what it is you are trying to say with those shapes and lines and colors, not just a few ‘enlightened’ folks. Your designs are ultimately being used to promote a concert or relay instructions in a manual or something else communicative. While you should most definitely leave your own creative mark on every piece of work, you will be ultimately judged by how effectively you convey the message, not how pretty your piece looks.
12. Squish and Separate
If it’s your intention to make your piece look dull and lifeless, then by all means align everything with equal proportions using the same color, shape and typeface. On the of chance you want to give it some actual life (which hint, hint you should always be doing), move things arounds and squish some elements together. Give the viewer’s eyes some curves to follow by creating a breathing, flowing piece ramp with contrast and density.
13. Distribute Light and Dark
Incorporate a full range of tonal values in your piece or you risk not letting it living up to its full potential. Mix in light and dark values, like firecrackers lighting up a night sky. This does not mean, however, you should distribute the spectrum of values evenly throughout the piece. Bunch some of them together. Put contrasting values on opposite sides of the page. You piece will have more interest and keep the viewer engaged.
14. Be Decisive
Place visual materials with complete confidence. Make clear decisions about size, arrangement and distance from each other, and stand behind those decisions. The viewer will trust your instinct and readily believe the message you are trying to convey. Any weakness or insecurity your design may have will be picked up by the viewer and summon negative thoughts, even on the subconscious level. Design with confidence and believe in your reasoning for putting things where you put them. You are the pro in this arrangement. Remember that!
15. Measure With Your Eyes
The human eye is often fooled by optical illusions. Ironically thought, optical illusions account for nearly ninety percent of logic in visual composition. You must make the judgement calls on behalf of your audience. Are two objects the same size or not? Circular forms always look smaller than square ones that are mathematically the same height. Compensate by making one bigger than the other. And how about the form. Are two objects aligning or not? Should one element touch the edge of the format?
If a viewer perceives that two objects are aligned, he or she will assume they actually are (even if they in fact aren’t). Conversely, if two objects are really in alignment but appear to be off kilter, them being within the grid doesn’t matter. The viewer will only see it as a flaw by a careless designer who forgot to make sure everything was in place. make it look right.
16. Make What You Need; Don’t Scavenge
Make the puzzle pieces you need the best you can, or pay someone else to make it for you. Avoid relying on what already exists even if that may be the cheaper or easier route. Nothing is more meaningless in a design than a commonly used stock image or graphic that pops up everywhere. It will instantly kill your piece and credibility as a designer. Sometimes a solution is no further away than a couple of dots or lines and a personalized scribble that becomes original and will connect much better with your audience.
17. Ignore Fashion
This can be a difficult rule to follow because you design for an audience that lives in the present. However, when possible steer away from following the latest design trends in an attempt to relate to your audience. Your work won’t stand out and will more often than not get lost in the shuffle. Trends come and go relatively quickly and your newer design to already look dated when new style becomes the next big thing. Be a trendsetter and design based around the content you are looking to communicate, not the current market.
18. Move It! Static Equals Dull
Painters and designers have been working for over a thousand years to create 3-dimensional looks in their work. This is because flat designs look lifeless. Move thing around to trick the audience into having a dynamic experience. By keeping things static the viewer’s brain will get uninterested too quickly and miss out on the full message of your piece. Ready, set, action!
19. Look At History, But Don’t Repeat It
Designs of the past have their place serving as inspiration and influence to aspiring designers. It also can be fun to venture back in time and see how communicative strategies and aesthetics have changed across certain periods. Reproduce an older style because you think it looks cool or your client wants a very specific, ‘retro’ look is simply unacceptable, however. Become inspired by old work but make something original.
20. Symmetry Is The Ultimate Evil
Just because symmetry exist everywhere in nature doesn’t mean it is good practice for your designs. Similar to the “Move It” rule, symmetrical design comes across static and with little movement. Even worse, symmetrical arrangements make implementing asymmetrical any sort of images very awkward to look at. It’s shouts that the designer is lazy and lets the format do the designing. You tell the format who’s boss. You do the designing.