We all know what we like and what we believe is good design, but creating strong and successful designs is a task that requires a careful balance of creativity, accurate message delivery, consistency and overall readability.
There are many ‘rules’ for design, with many of these able to be broken, if you understand how the basics of design work and their relationship and interaction within your layout. Here’s a few key concepts that need to be addressed:
- Use restraint:
Don’t cram large amounts of information into an area, believing more content is better. Allow empty areas or ‘white space’ to give your content room to breathe and make it easier for the viewer to take in the message you are presenting. This also applies to font usage. Restrict yourself to a few font families (weight and style variations: roman, bold, italic, condensed etc…) and create variation with appropriate use of style choices, rather than adding an extra font.
- Lead the eye through the design:
English speaking countries read from left to right and top to bottom, which is why most layouts are structured to be read from top left to bottom right. For example, a typical print advertisement will start with a headline, follow with detailed content (text and images) and end with a ‘call to action’ and/or contact details/logo. Within this general order the key is to create a comfortable path for the eye to follow within the space, resting on the key components reflecting the what, where and who points of the piece. Creating areas of interest and directing the eye to move throughout the design in a logical order will help to ‘sell’ the content on display.
- Provide visual contrast:
A layout featuring a large amount of text (or any other consistent element) will appear somewhat dull, compared to a balanced design featuring contrasting elements and tones. Both effective colour usage and shape/form variation will produce suitable contrast to attract the eye and excite the viewer. Most memorable designs will in some way utilise areas of visual contrast and using this technique appropriately can effectively increase interest and brand awareness.
- Format paged documents with constant elements:
Variation is generally a good thing, however for a professional look across a document featuring multiple pages a standard base should be implemented. A constant and logical design format (column placement/width, header, page numbers etc…) should remain throughout the entire document, with variation restricted to considered adjustment of the base style, for any page(s) requiring a different approach. It is also very important to make it visually straightforward for the reader to follow your hierarchical system throughout the document, so set up a workable and identifiable system (formatting, style, colour) for headings, sub-headings, captions, quotes etc.
- Choose colour wisely:
Use restraint again when choosing colour – a large range of colours may actually look pretty to some, but they generally do not produce a coherent visual result. Develop a small range of colours that work well together to accurately represent your design content, structure and overall theme, and then expand this choice with percentages or tints of these colours to provide some variation. Too much colour can simply distract the eye and confuse your message. Always remember – not everything needs to be colour highlighted!