Design Basics: Learning The Language of Effective Graphic Design

designbasicsCombining and coordinating graphics and text to create a powerful message is the art and science of graphic design. There are five parts to basic graphic design–lines, mass, shapes, color and texture.

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Lines

Lines give direction to the reader’s eye, and work to anchor various sections or elements of the page. Lines can be dotted, solid, dashed or take on a random pattern. They can zigzag, swirl, curve and dance across the page. There is an infinite variety of ways they can be employed to focus attention on a designated area in order to elicit a specific response.

Shapes

Circles, triangles and squares are the basic shapes that combine to create the building blocks of visual communication. Shapes can also be implied by graphic design elements. Text also has shape. It comes in a wide variety of fonts and typefaces. It can be large or small, italic or regular, and the letters can be spaced closer together or farther apart. All of these elements contribute to the weight of the typography and how its presentation works with corresponding graphics.

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Texture

Although we normally think of texture as the feel of a physical surface, it can also be communicated over the Internet by using design elements that resemble real world objects like a stone wall or a colorful fabric. Incorporating different textures in the design of a webpage gives it warmth and personality.

Color

Color is excellent for drawing out specific emotions from the reader. For example, blue is a calming color, while red communicates danger or excitement. Of all of the different basic design building blocks, color is the best way to elicit emotion.

Each color has an opposite complementary color. They are used to balance out the main color and provide interest and engagement. A little-known trick is to use split complementary colors. These are colors that reside next to the main complementary color.

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Another interesting approach is to use triad colors. Triad colors consist of three colors on a color wheel that form an equilateral triangle. They are not as directly applicable as complementary colors, but in the right context can provide a unique look.

Mass

Every element on a page has its own mass. Mass can be thought of as size. One of the tricks in developing effective visual communication is understanding how the mass of different elements affect the overall page. For example, the size of a photo can seem very large or small, depending on the size of the page it appears on, and the proximity of other design elements on the page.

The size of an object can communicate different moods, create contrast or emphasize one idea over another. Adjusting the mass in conjunction with the other design elements produces different emotional reactions from the intended target audience.

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Adjusting the design elements of mass, lines, color, texture and shape can communicate wide variety of different messages. Effective graphic designers employ these different factors to meet the visual communication goal they have for their specific project.