Good design can sometimes appear to be magical, or that the designer simply stumbled upon a great combination of components that attract and illuminate the viewer. In reality, graphic designers use a set of tools, known as design elements, to build and perfect that perfect design.
Remember that each piece of design is trying to communicate a message. Design can tell us which emails are not being read in our inbox, which brand of socks to buy, or even watch out for falling rocks. Design elements are tools that a designer uses to create meaning and bring clarity to a confusing mess of ideas. They will make sure your design is as powerful as possible.
So what are the elements of design? Here’s an overview of the six design basics you need to know.
Here we have an explanatory video of Nicholas gratzl that helps us explain the elements of design.
Great use of simple lines to create a minimalist design for an architecture firm. Via -Z-.
The edge of the building creates an impressive visual line in this website design. Via Hitron.
Lines enclose and contain parts of a design creating outlines. They can be smooth, rough, continuous, broken, thick or thin.
The lines also send subliminal messages. A diagonal line, for example, has kinetic energy and motion, while a straight line is neater and cleaner.
Lines can be used to emphasize, highlight particular information in a busy composition, and draw attention to a particular area. They can be formed into shapes or frames (more on both a little further down). The eye will also see lines in other places, such as buildings, tree branches, a horizon, or a set of train tracks, that offer a natural edge or edges.
Designs are often undone by sloppy, sloppy, or inappropriate color choices. Color is incredibly important and should never be an afterthought. Even a completely grayscale design needs to be properly balanced and contrasted.
In addition to hue (red versus blue), consider the saturation and brightness (or “value”) of each color. Learn the basics of color theory to make sure a composition is in the right mood, temperature, and hue. Finally, consider which color space (CMYK or RGB) is best for the printer or screen where the design will be viewed.
While all of our kindergarten teachers expect us to know what a shape is, for our purposes, a shape is any enclosed space defined by lines or in contrast to its surroundings. They can be geometric (squares, ellipses, triangles, etc.) or organic (a speech bubble, a bubble, those little pointy things that appear on screen when Batman hits someone).
Other components of a composition, such as text blocks, are also shapes. A designer progresses by leaps and bounds once he sees everything in his design as shapes that must be ordered and sized based on an invisible grid.
Texture is everywhere as we navigate the world around us with sight and touch. While we can’t feel them on websites and printed pages, textures from the outside world can be incorporated into a composition to bring it to life.
Do you want to imply softness, comfort and convenience? There is no faster way than a cotton textile background. On the other hand, if you are selling building materials, you will probably lean towards concrete, stone, and brick, with more gritty textured text.
More than with any other element, the textures serve as a nod to our natural environment.
This design uses two contrasting frames (a circle and horizontal lines) to create a strong logo design that maintains its structure when used in a composition. Via Project 4.
This super whimsical design from Cross the Line extends the frame beyond the text and incorporates it into a dog leash.
Frames can be subtle, but once you train your eyes to search for them, they will start popping up everywhere.
Frames organize information and create hierarchy for the eye and highlight the information most important to the viewer. They can be pretty and decorative or basic and utilitarian. Frames also help define shapes in blank white space on a page.
Typography is an important design element because it literally conveys the message you want to communicate. But type can also be more than words: if used intentionally, type can also be an eye-catching visual or shape, as well as provide structure between content and images.
Conclusion: Time to experiment!
Graphic designers use most or all of these design elements while being guided by a set of principles, known as the principles of design. If the principles of design are the instructions, the elements are the tools.
The best way to master these elements is to experiment. Once you see that something as simple as making a slight adjustment to the color scheme or adding a shape can be the one! a-ha! The moment you elevate your design, you are on your way to creating more meaningful and effective compositions.