7 Attributes of Great Graphic Design

This week, we’re kicking off a series of posts from local partners specializing in related areas in the marketing & tech fields. Sean is one of our partners for clients who need brand and print design in Colorado Springs. We love his professionalism, creative eye, and thought-process. In this article, he covers the elements that separate basic designs from great ones and lets us in on his brainstorming process. – Hannah

What makes graphic design go from amateur and homemade looking versus appearing avant-garde, sophisticated and intelligent? This may seem like a subjective topic, but it seems just about anyone can spot an amateur design within seconds. Unsuccessful design can lead to an unsuccessful campaign. So what is successful design? There are 7 fundamental elements of art, which coincide with the art of stellar graphic design.

Elements of Art:

  • line
  • form
  • shape
  • space
  • shape
  • color
  • texture
  • value, or the degree of light and dark

Even if one is able to captivate an audience with great art, the challenge becomes creativity and intentional design that the viewer can easily view, at a glance know what is going on and take appropriate action. Awesome graphic design goes beyond the average call of duty. It is clever, inspired and professional. The type is cleverly manipulated yet it feels “right,” maybe even simple and approachable. The layout is carefully crafted. Colors are consistent with the branding and appropriately implemented. Sometimes, great design can bend or break the rules completely stimulating the senses and defying our expectations of the status quo. Often less is more. Use of negative space and shape is clearly defined and far from default. Large companies like Apple and others implement this to perfection and have attained much success just by branding themselves in the right way.

Type is Art

It is up to the graphic design to convey a message. This is done through type. Type is art (or it can be), but it can also rub us the wrong way completely and turn a viewer off if done poorly. It should feel fun! Size and scale are carefully considered to guide the viewer through the message. For example, larger or darker type can draw the eye the appropriate place as the reader is skimming a page. Or, when the type is anthropomorphic or interesting in other creative ways, it commands our attention. It sets the tone and says a lot about the brand at first glance. It communicates what we need to know and carries on the legacy of a brand. So do it right! Your reputation is at stake. Flee from the default and embrace elegance.

Thought Process

Artistic ability is paramount, but the key to great professional design is in the thought process. It is important to view the possibilities and explore the best idea through brainstorming exercises and experiments in design. I often explore possibilities before even drawing or designing on a computer.

Mind Mapping

I do a simple word association exercise called mind mapping. Start with the main topic or keyword or brand name or tagline. Then just write the first things that come to your mind. If you have ideas about the word you just wrote, write associations to those words. In the end, you might be surprised with some of the words that are associated. Often you can take these words and create something out of them like a brand icon, or even the main image for an advertisement.

7 Elements of Art and Graphic Design Fuse For Success

Great graphic design utilizes elements of art to invoke emotion and response. Line is used to create eye movement and often flows into one mass creating shape, texture and form. Adding value creates a sense of space and familiarity establishing properties of light and physics. Warm and cool colors meld and stimulate the viewers’ senses with psychological effects.

I conclude with an example. Consider the below image, an award-winning design. For me, this is a great demonstration of successful graphic design. While you or I might not speak French, the message is obvious. Our senses are stimulated. Our eyes move carefully down the page and then back again. The concrete steps and shadows make us feel like we are in a modern day, photographic Escher style painting. There is intrigue within the urban nature of the setting and the strange, yet artful posture of the man. It is captivating, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Type is cleverly manipulated to achieve depth and style. It is fun, unexpected and exceeds expectation. This is great graphic design.

Source: Festival Paraille 2014, Marseille (DA. Tabas, photo Samuel Guigues)

About Sean Stennett

I love design and creativity! I am a passionate freelance graphic designer driven by a hunger for excellence in design. In the past 9 years, I have helped many clients establish a corporate identity that gives them an edge. My goal is that my clients stand out in the marketplace in a crisp, clean and professional manner.

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