Great Graphic Design (and How to Know it When You See it)

Great graphic design is artful and can’t be reduced to a formula, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t simple building blocks, like color, texture and typography, that help to produce an effective design.


In this post, we’ll explore some of the basics of good design and why they matter. We’ll take a look at three concepts—negative space, hierarchy, and alignment—to break down how they work and how you can recognize them.


Negative Space

Negative space, also known as open space or white space, is pretty easy to spot. It’s where something isn’t. But that doesn’t mean a graphic designer taking advantage of negative space is being lazy.


Effective use of negative space can be an excellent way to declutter a design and allow its other components to breathe. As you might have guessed, giving the other elements of a design more space will also bring attention to them.


We’ll talk more about hierarchy below, but leveraging negative space is a great way to show that something is important. In a way, it’s like framing a particular aspect of your design—the eye will naturally be drawn to an item surrounded by negative space.


Hierarchy

What exactly is hierarchy? Think of it as the varying importance of each piece of your design. We measure importance in design by each element’s visual weight, or its tendency to catch the viewer’s eye. In other words, the first thing someone looks at in your design is at the top of its hierarchy.


Because the larger an element is, the more important it tends to be, visual hierarchy is often all about size. Generally, hierarchy is working well in a graphic design if the viewer feels that their eyes are being drawn to elements in the proper sequence and taking in information in descending order of importance.


Alignment

Balance and alignment go hand in hand and thinking about them more critically can help designers fix projects that feel overcrowded or chaotic. Every element in a piece of graphic design has a certain visual weight created by its qualities including its size, color, texture, and typography. Finding ways to balance and align these elements to create a sense of equilibrium is critical for effective graphic design.


You might choose to create a balanced design by placing equal-sized elements directly across from each other. Or, you add some energy and a sense of movement to the design by setting a large element next to several smaller elements.


If a viewer looks at a design and immediately feels their eyes bounce off of it, that’s a great sign the design was lacking balance. In other words, they might have been interested in looking at it but didn’t know where to look next in the design.