10 Basic Principles of Graphic Design

Ana Rawal
5 min readJul 11, 2018


Image credit: Unsplash

“There are three responses to a piece of design — yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.” — Milton Glaser

Graphic design plays a critical role in brand-building and at the same time, in showcasing your skill-sets. Although branding and design are an inseparable experience, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of graphic design before embarking on any new assignment. When working with clients, you get only one opportunity to make a strong first impression, so why not infuse their experience with your knowledge and application of design elements to a range of projects — social media graphics, web and app UI, videos, banners, advertisements, et al. Of course, as a designer, don’t worry about drawing outside the lines and having fun whilst doing it! In fact, you must frequently colour outside the lines to pull away from a mediocre or a repetitive design structure, but, the beginners must first know what those prescribed lines are. So, let’s understand the ten basic design principles that will help you create stunning graphics.

01. Balance

Balance lends stability and structure to an overall design. To understand it better, think that there’s weight behind each of your design elements. Shapes, text boxes and images are the elements that form your design, so it’s important to be familiar with the visual weight each of those elements possesses. Now, this doesn’t mean that the elements always need to be distributed evenly or that they must be of an equal size — balance is either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is when the weight of elements is evenly divided on either side of the design, whereas asymmetrical balance uses scale, contrast, and colour to achieve the flow in design.

A symmetrically balanced design. (Designed by: Anahat Rawal)
This vibrant design is a distribution of elements (stripes and colours) to achieve an asymmetrical balance. (Designed by: Anahat Rawal)

02. Proximity

Proximity helps in creating a relationship between similar or related elements. These elements need not be grouped, instead, they should be visually connected by way of font, colour, size, etc.

The above is an example of ‘Proximity.’ Here, a consistent shape (circle) and colours create an organised design.

03. Alignment

Alignment plays a pivotal role in creating a seamless visual connection with the design elements. It gives an ordered appearance to images, shapes, and blocks of texts by eliminating elements placed in a dishevelled manner.

The text, shape and image have been lined up in the middle, creating an ‘Alignment.’

04. Visual Hierarchy

In simple words, a hierarchy is formed when extra visual weight is given to the most important element or message in your design. It can be achieved in various ways — using larger or bolder fonts to highlight the title; placing the key message higher than the other design elements; or adding focus to larger, more detailed and more colourful visuals than those less relevant or smaller images.

In this design, you can easily point out the heading, date, shapes, image and also, the text at the bottom.(Designed by: Anahat Rawal)

05. Repetition

Repetition is a fundamental design element, especially when it comes to branding. It creates a rhythm and strengthens the overall design by tying together consistent elements such as logo and colour palette, making the brand or design instantly recognisable to viewers.

In this online portfolio, the green colour is repeated across the page, creating cohesion and a ‘Repetition.’ (Designed by: Anahat Rawal http://bit.ly/Anahat_Behance)

06. Contrast

Contrast happens when there is a difference between the two opposing design elements. The most common types of contrast are dark vs. light, contemporary vs. old-fashioned, large vs. small, etc. Contrast guides a viewer’s attention to the key elements, ensuring each side is legible.

This image has been darkened to allow the text to create a sharp contrast against the background.

07. Colour

Colour is an important design basic and it dictates the overall mood of a design. The colours you pick represent your brand and its tonality, so be careful with the palette you choose. As a graphic designer, it’s always helpful to have a basic knowledge of colour theory, for example, gold & neutral shades evoke an overall feel of sophistication, bright colours signal happiness, and blue creates a feeling of calmness. Colour palettes can be used as a contrast or even to complement the elements.

This contrasting colour palette creates a vibrant and an energetic design.

08. Negative Space

We’ve discussed the importance of colours, images, and shapes, but what about the space that is left blank? It is called the ‘negative space’, which in simple words means the area between or around the elements. If used creatively, negative space can help create a shape and highlight the important components of your design.

This is a stunning example of negative space. (Image Credit: Mallika Favre http://malikafavre.com)

09. Typography

“Words have meaning, type has spirit,” — Paula Scher.

Typography is one of the key pillars of design, and it speaks volumes about a brand or an artwork when executed stylistically or even customised. Sometimes, ‘type’ is all you need to showcase your design concept.

An example of display typography. (Designed by: Anahat Rawal)

10. Rules

Once you’re an adept graphic designer who understands the foundations of design, then it’s time to break some of those rules. And, by that, I don’t mean, use pixelated images or an illegible font type. Remember, whatever it is that you’re choosing to communicate, should not be compromised.

Sushileaf’s new album design is a rule-bending work of art. https://apple.co/2JgpSSW

While these principles may require some of you to be more observant and take mental snapshots of novel designs (that you stumble upon), they’re key principles for those who want to create a great brand by way of strong visuals and content.