This article refers to my experience in magazines, but the principles apply equally to other media, both in web design and in print. No matter what software you work on or what industry you are in, these guidelines are universal. Understanding and practicing them will provide you with a solid foundation for a successful career. The rest is up to you!
There is no question that some people have a knack for graphic design, but even the most talented beginners need a tutorial to learn the fundamental basics of design when they are starting out. Without that guidance, many talented designers will not reach their potential. I have seen experienced art directors make high-impact magazine covers and creative presentations filled with dazzling typography and complex Photoshop collages. But the pages that follow are riddled with inexcusable design flaws. Five basic principles, not necessarily in order of importance, that will help you become a better designer from day one.
- Comprehension precedes typography
We’ve all seen designers do amazing things with typography. Separating words individual letters to reflect context and meaning is one of the fun things about design. However, before you go that far, a simple prerequisite: read the copy and understand! For people whose job it is to work with types, many designers have an aversion to reading. Before you can play with text, you must understand exactly what you are being asked to present visually.
- Good typography
Once you’re ready to bend your type to your liking, remember that you don’t always need to spend hours searching for the perfect font. This is a good place for inexperienced designers to test their typographic skills. If you can produce creative type designs with classic fonts like Helvetica, Times, Garamond, etc., you will be well prepared to explore and design responsibly with the most exotic fonts available. This can be done using size, weight, and color, but also consider the style of the fonts themselves.
- Understanding the hierarchy
The laws of hierarchy apply equally to text, graphics, and images. Without them, your artwork hits the first hurdle. List in your head (or write down on paper) the elements of your design in order of importance, then design and assemble them so that the viewer immediately recognizes which part to look at first.
- Combine colors
You will have an idea of the color or not. It’s mostly true, though, a beginner cannot be expected to have the same balanced sense of color as an industry veteran. So, where do you start? Obviously, you will need to consider what type of design you are doing and who you are targeting. But whether you’re working with vibrant primary colors or an elegant earthy palette, there are ways to make sure you’re combining colors that don’t move or vibrate with each other.
Take a nice earthy purple: 50C / 45M / 15Y. Instead of blindly looking for a complementary color, try sliding the CMYK channels together, keeping at least one the same. If we just slide the Magenta down to get 50C / 10M / 15Y, you will find a nice turquoise that works perfectly with the violet. Or maybe you want a warm combination. Return to the original purple and assign the same numerical values to the alternate color channels: 15C / 50M / 45Y. Now you have an earthy pink, the same values, different channels. Again, it works well with purple (in fact, they all work together). Naturally, there is nothing to say that you should rigidly adhere to this rule, but it is a good starting point for a novice designer.
Someone wise once said that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but I guess this was before the world wide web changed the way everyone absorbed information.
The fact is, these days, even in a hardcover bookstore, books with boring covers won’t even get picked up. The competition is so fierce, the colors and design of the book covers are so ingenious that unless a cover stands out from the crowd, a book has no chance of being bought.
Now, you can multiply this scenario by hundreds of thousands of times if it is web pages. The same principle applies. Unless a web page is attractive enough, it won’t get a second look. Netizens will be in and out in the blink of an eye. Design and colors contribute to the way a web page is presented to its visitors. There was a time when it was thought that web pages required all available bells and whistles. This was in the early days of the web when everyone was trying to prove themselves; When flickering banners were thought to be the way to go (now they aren’t if they ever were), where cheesy little animations were thought to be a brilliant addition to a website.
Well, there was a predictable backlash against these kaleidoscopic ‘horror’ web pages from the early days, but surprisingly, you still see some of them, usually made by ‘newbies.’ The fact is that the pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction. Clean, professional, and accurate is now the best approach for a website. You don’t offer too many distractions on your site because you want your visitors to have no choice but to go to an order button if you’re selling or a subscribe button if you’re recruiting. The current idea is that you need to have a professional website with a professional design. All to say it, much more difficult to do. Most design programs these days have more buttons than a video room and require many hours to learn. Universities and colleges even run long study courses on how to use some of the major design programs because they are so complicated.