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Basics And Principles Of Graphic Design
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Basics And Principles Of Graphic Design

In just about anything new to us, it is hard to know where to start. When you're not one of those people who can observe something or read a book and decipher it right away, taking a class can always benefit you.

Print Design

In print design before there were computers, Printmaking was the primary start to any publication. Designers, Artists, and other skilled crafts people would make their work come to life off the press. Today Printmaking still plays a vital role in the world of Graphic Design.

When I had to take this course as a student, I was in awe of how much it covers, it's history, and its large contribution to Graphic Design. However, for whatever reason, I could never pull off a consistent set of prints to earn the grades I wanted.

In Printmaking the techniques include Woodcuts, Engravings, Etchings, Linocut, Intaglio, Screen Printing, Aquatint, Mezzotint, Drypoint, Lithography, Monotype, Monoprint, and perhaps a few more I'm forgetting. I forgot what it's called, but there is a technique where you could take a drawing or printed text, use this liquid chemical to lightly brush over it, then press it to transfer the drawing or text to a new medium. It's a type of Transfer technique.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of techniques in this class. The various techniques could easily become a life study of their own with separate classes dedicated to them. My first favorite category of techniques was Lithography. I enjoyed it the most because you simply take a Lithographic Pencil and draw on a piece of metal, or whatever medium you want. I love to draw, so this suited me well.

Another large area in Printmaking and Graphic Design is Typography, or commonly called Type Design. I was not too thrilled about this area in Printmaking. I guess I couldn't get too excited about how to design individual letter blocks so that you could use them on the press to make the impression. It was like kindergarten class all over again. Our Professor loved it, but he had to cover the other areas of Printmaking since we would get into to Type Design more with the computers. Before computers Typography was a major field of specialized Artists who to this day take pride in the work they created which helped pave the way for Typography in the Digital Age.

Being able to learn about Printmaking, Painting, Drawing, Ceramics, Multimedia, and other areas in the Fine Arts helped me gain a greater appreciation for these building blocks which were about to lead me on an exciting journey through the computer.

Digital Age

As the computer came along it really transformed our lives in terms of what work could be done, how we communicate with one another, and how fast these processes could take place. It was only a matter of time before the World of Art would clash with the Computer.

In Graphic Design there are primarily three software packages used overall; Photoshop, Illustrator, and Quark XPress. Arguably, InDesign has become the standard for many companies, but there are still places that prefer Quark over anything else. It's good to know both when you're a Graphic Designer looking for work.


It's important that I note in Print Design as you're designing for something that will go to the press, you should set your Color Mode to CMYK(C=Cyan, M=Magenta, Y=Yellow, K=Black) in software programs such as Photoshop.


This way the colors can be properly applied to the work without hassle. People who work at the Press always stressed this fact as they gave speeches to us aspiring Graphic Designers.

I wanted to talk more separately about software programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Maya, but it is hard to pinpoint a direction to go. As my Professor stressed, "No one knows everything about Photoshop, except for maybe the people who built it." I can say that the best way to learn any software program is to do tutorials. That way you get hands on training for yourself. Second, if you can, it's also good to take a class in cases where you're really striving to become a Graphic Designer or Animator because there are Basics to these fields that you must know in order to become a good Artist, by American standards.

Web Design

Web design has really taken off since I was in college. It was too new for my Professor to feel comfortable teaching. He'd always say that as a Graphic Design Professor he has to learn something new every year in order to be able to teach it. Since the scope of Web Design and Interactive Design were beyond him, these subjects were added later to the curriculum, and taught primarily in a different department.

In web design I first learned how to use GoLive and Flash to create websites. Dreamweaver was offered in a separate department of Harding University. Back then it was in Broadcast Design. Later, they added Interactive Design as I was graduating. I guess GoLive fell by the way side, since I no longer see it in the Adobe product line now. Learning Flash was exciting! It was my first taste of animation, which is what I really wanted to study.

    In web design or anything meant for the computer screen, it is important to set your Color Mode to RGB(Red, Green, Blue) in programs such as Photoshop. It's no where near the big deal it is in print design since it's a simple click of the button to fix. In print design color mistakes can be very expensive.

Basics and Principles of Graphic Design

The world of Design and Animation are ever changing ones. Different schools, universities, etc teach differently and things change with the times. Hopefully, I don't point out something that is outdated now. Please take that in consideration as I write upon this. When I studied Graphic Design at Harding University this is roughly what I was taught.

Basic Elements of Design

Line - A continuous point.

Shape - A defined area that stands out from space.

Space - Undefined area that will be used to suit the designer's purpose. It can be two-dimensional or three-dimensional. It can also be positive or negative. Positive space is occupied by something. Negative space is the unoccupied space between things.

Form - Refers to three-dimensional objects.

Value(or Tone) - Relationship between light and dark of objects. It helps create Form.  Additionally, it gives objects depth and perception.

Mass - The weight of an object.

Texture - The perceived surface quality. There are a few terms or labels to describe how we perceive textures.

Color - The use of hue in artwork and design.

It is very important to study color and how it can affect us. Artist are required to take Color Theory to explore how color affects us directly and indirectly. Out of all the elements, it was emphasized that Color and perhaps Texture make the strongest impact upon people initially.

Basic Principles of Design

Often said in Graphic Design: Form follows Function. Form is what something appears to be. Function is how it works. I can remember studying a lot of history on Beaux Arts with both Design and Art History to emphasize this point.

As you prepare to design a logo, flyer, poster, or whatever you want it's a great idea to sketch out what you have in mind first. Plan ahead, so that when you go to the computer, press, canvas, or whatever, you at least have a sense of direction to take. This will help you establish your composition.

- Composition - How the work of art is arranged in accordance to the elements and principles of design.

- Golden Mean or Rule of Thirds - Based on the traditional Greek idea that things created in thirds is exceptionally beautiful.

- Off-Center - Do not place things in the exact center of the design. This does not apply in other cultures or countries.

- Monocular Cues - How we see things in space and in correspondence to something else: Scale(or Size), Proportion, Perspective, Overlap, Motion Parallax, and different schools teach more.

Motion Parallax is when you're moving, objects closer to you seem to zoom by really fast while objects farther away seem to move more slowly. For example you're riding in a car and the power line pole zips by really fast while that airplane in the sky appears to be moving slowly.

- Use of Positive and Negative Space - Positive space is where information is such as text. Negative space is where it is not. It's very important to design the white space of the work as well as the space occupied by text, photos, and graphics. It helps obtain the unity of the work.

Hierarchy - How we want the viewer's eyes to flow through the work. For instance with text we do this with size, bold, underline, italics, indent, margins, and so forth lead the viewer along.

Might I add, that having white space can also be a good thing. Many people and designers fear white space. They often try to cover it up. I for one enjoy having some white space.

Emphasis - establishing a Focal Point, exactly what we want the viewer to see over anything else, in the design. Thus, Hierarchy leads the viewer to the focus of the design.

Balance - Symmetrical Balance where two sides are identical. Asymmetrical Balance is when two sides are not identical.

Cultural views differ here. In the West, America, Symmetrical Balance is highly favored over Asymmetrical Balance. As I studied cultural differences between America and Japan, because of my love of Anime, I found that the Japanese prefer Asymmetry over Symmetry when it comes to design.

Rhythm - How things flow in the design. This can be achieved with Repetition, therefore these two relate closely to one another.

- Repetition - Repeating elements or patterns that create a sense of consistency, weight, etc.

Patterns can be quite appealing. Not only are they used a lot in our everyday designs from interior designs, furniture, or packaging, they're quite apparent in fashion as well.

Patterns always remind me of when I was a kid staring through a kaleidoscope and being intrigued by the animating patterns before my eyes. Sometimes repetitious patterns can be overwhelming or even unsettling to the viewer. It goes to show that you never know what the creator's intent is.

Contrast - Creating visual interest by accentuating the differences of things. For example something big in comparison to something small.

Variety - One of the more mysterious principles of design. Well, I'm being silly. Variety relates to Contrast in that the Designer wants to find a balance between the two. In general, everything is not the same size, shape, color, and so on. Vary it up. This creates interest, and is more appealing because it's a reflection of reality. The popular example of this one is us ourselves. People come in various shapes, sizes, color, and so forth.

Unity - How well the elements come together according to the principles of design. This is related to Proximity, how close or how far apart things are.

I'll use myself as an example: Ideally, when you create a title with a slogan, you group them together. Once this is done with a title, it has good Unity. Generally, people look for things in groups. I'm a weirdo, I would create things and place them off by themselves. Luckily, my Professor got onto me about this so that I would conform to the standards.

Harmony - Combining elements that relate to one another, which come together well. In essence this relates closely to Unity. Combining things that are alike or similar creates harmony, while combining things that are not alike creates discordance. It's that eery, off-balance feeling. These designs most often suggest motion or action. They are uncomfortable and may work well in situations where the content and intent is to get people to think about something. A good example would be designs pertaining to politics.

A way to tell the difference between harmony and unity is that harmony applies to things within the design while Unity applies to the design as a whole.


Since Harding University is a Christian college, they did adamantly stress that we as Artists really consider the content, or message, of our art work, so be aware of what it is that you're trying to say with your work.


As I went to Savannah College of Art and Design(SCAD) the Basics and Principles varied, but because of the grueling experience I got at Harding University, I excelled at SCAD when I had to take a Graphic Design course for a prerequisite!

Once you go through classes or whatever training you do to gain an understanding of the Basics and Principles of Design, you'll finally be ready to take on any creative task. I leave you with one final, yet important design rule: You can't break the rules until you have an understanding of the rules.


Street Talk

Cassie 1  

Great information I really enjoyed and learned from this

  about 9 years ago
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