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  • Nayda Cruz

Graphic Design Principles

Graphic Design Principles

Be nice

Imagine if you would live your life screaming to everyone around you. Probably people will feel uncomfortable around you. Instead, if you are someone overall nice, with a good attitude and treat people with dignity, people will want to be by your side.

Design is the same thing; it’s all about communication.

Sometimes we look at a design and we -feel- something is not right. It may be easy to point it out. The most common situations are that there is too much going on or things look messy.

Other times we look at a design and it makes us -feel- like we can trust it’s message.

From point "A" to point "B"

On our last blog post we learn about the elements of graphic design that gives structure to a design. Today, we are going to learn about the guidelines to artistically arrange those elements. They are known as the principles of graphic design.

A design should look like a whole, but it also should take your eye to go from point “A” to point “B”. We can achieve that by following some principles when organizing it.



Balance provides stability to a design. It distributes the visual weight of the elements to look balanced or “right”. An unbalance design gives the feel of not been right.

There are two types of balance: symmetrical or asymmetrical.


If you draw an imaginary line on a piece of paper, dividing it evenly, top to bottom and left to right, a symmetrical design will distribute the weight of the design equally to each section.

An asymmetrical design would not distribute its elements evenly. Still the way they are distribute creates a balance of the visual weight withing the tension created.

Languages rooted in Latin are read from left to right. When designing in asymmetrical style, it is a common practice to arrange the visually heaviest elements to the left and the rest to the right. Because the eyes of the viewer will naturally move in that direction.



Emphasis is a structure in which one of the elements of the design draws the attention of the eye before others. This is also known as the focal point. This is usually done by creating hierarchy in the scale of the elements, but it can also be done with color, shape, or contrast.

Hierarchy means that the design will have something dominant, subdominant and subordinate. The dominant element would be the one with the biggest weigh in the composition and the first thing to capture the attention of the viewer. The subdominant element would be the one with secondary dominance or the second thing that the viewer pays attention. Finally, subordinate, means the final element that the viewer pays attention to and one with the least visual weight.

This is really evident in magazines. Where the heading or main image takes the center stage, then the text and then the captions. Still, Illustrations also have focal points and elements that fill up the space. In which case, a good use of hierarchy helps to tell the story.



Movement is structure in which the design moves and unite the viewers eyes in certain direction. This is traditionally achieved using the elements of line and space.

It can help the viewer read the text or image in the order that message need to be communicated.



Repetition is a structure that uses the same or similar element in the composition to create associations or consistency. It can be symmetrical, asymmetrical or it can use the principal of hierarchy.

When it uses the same element or object it creates a pattern. Some graphic designs thrive in the use of repetition. It helps to group elements that should be together. A repetition with defined intervals creates a movement with rhythm.



Contrast is a matter of opposites: light & dark; small & big, straight & curve, horizontal & vertical…and so on. It is one of the best ways to create emphasis or hierarchy. It helps to organize the design.



Alignment gives order and unity to a design. Our eyes will immediately go to an aligned side of a design. It is the creates a starting point on a design. It is usually the most neglected aspect in design. A good, aligned design shows experience and knowledge as a designer.



Proportion is the relationship between the weight and size of an element in the design and the others. It can be harmonious or unbalanced. When the scale of an element is disproportionated it give the feel of being unbalanced. A used of elements in proportion create a balanced one.



Unity is the relationship between all the elements in the design that makes it feel “as a whole”. At the end of a design process each part of the design must come together as one. They must belong together. Our brain must understand what is being communicated. If not, the design elements and principles must be reevaluated.

Breaking the rules

These are the basic principles of design. You may find more depending on the focus of the article. The important thing is that they apply to every aspect of design. From layouts to illustrations.

Sometimes, breaking them is even part of the visual expression. But to break the rules without getting caught, you must first know them; and know them very well.


This blog is the third one of a blog series called “The Building Blocks of Graphic Design”. You can read the first one here "What is Graphic Design". The next topic is “Graphic Design Mistakes”.

They support my Skillshare class “Design for Non-Designers: How to Create a Functional & Attractive Design”. Skillshare is a paying platform with thousands of classes about design, business, creativity, and lifestyle. As a teacher, I an able to invite you to join a free trial for 1-month! If you are interested, click here.

This blog is a space to learn about design and how it intertwines with life; and also about technical aspects of design. I invite you to join my email list. This way you will receive a message every time I publish a new blog. I respect your privacy and will never share your personal information.


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