If you can apply contrast to your creations they will look good and stand out.
What’s the first principle?
Usually, this is where the topic is revealed, but in the spirit of contrast, the mould has been broken.
Colour = Contrast
Typography = Contrast
Composition = Contrast
Contrast is so important that half of the studies for my degree in Digital Design should have been dedicated to different forms of it. It’s kind of crazy how all the fundamentals come back to the same principle. It’s the thing that separates those who are good from those who aren’t, at all skills levels. You may know your tools, you may know the rules. But if you don’t know contrast, then your designs aren’t cool.
What are the essential rules?
Contrast is about the difference between one thing and another. It’s about the changes in shape, tone, weight, size, position, texture, style that convey different meanings. Exceptional designers will be able to blend and balance contrast across all of these different forms to create truly stunning designs. Here’s how contrast plays a role in some of the fundamentals.
To create contrast in colour, you first need to know what you can apply changes too. The three areas within colour are (1) hue, the colour itself, (2) saturation, the intensity of the colour and (3) value, how much black or white is added to the colour.
In the golden principle of colour (and most of design) is the 60%, 30%, 10% rule. These proportions create a satisfying difference in the amounts of each colour, or group of similar colours. In this context black and white are counted. If you are deviating from this principle, think about what you are intending or conveying by doing so.
For hue, the colours you choose, you need to understand their individual meanings and associations when paired. Look into the psychology of colours and the roles that colour harmonies have in your creative discipline and region. Once this basic understanding is there, you can then look at juxtaposing these meanings to convey a deeper message, making your work stand out.
Having a range of saturation across the colours you choose is essential to forming a visual hierarchy. The more intense or different a colour from the rest used, the more attention it will attract. This doesn’t mean you should only use intense or different colours. Doing this will crease too much contrast as there will be multiple colours fighting to be seen first, making your design overwhelming.
The contrast in the value of your colours can be used to check them. Turn the image to greyscale and you’ll be able to see if there is a sufficient difference between the colours used. If the contrast in your colours is correct, there will be a significant difference between the lightest and darkest areas of the image and the colour you want to draw attention to will still stand out when monotone.
As with good colour, good typography requires distinct values and meaning, but the choices and rules are more detail focused. Is it a title that draws attention or a paragraph that should flow through the mind? How do you want it to be read? What personality do you want it to have? No matter the answer, knowing the difference in options and how to blend them together is all a form of contrast.
Make your heading stand out by skipping a weight and doubling their size. Intentionally split sentences up on different lines to change the way they are read. Use upper and lower case to give the text a different authority. Stop the unjustified edge of your paragraphs, drawing too much attention by making line endings inconsistent, not rolling like hills.
When choosing your fonts, either pick them to have distinct similarities or their differences. If you want more contrast, go with a serif and a sans serif, but give them meaning and understand how they read. It’s best to make paragraphs sans serif, as a small serif type is harder to read. No matter what the height of lowercase in relation to the uppercase should be consistent between paired fonts.
And know contrast in typography doesn’t need to go all the way to the extremes, remember this because doing it will destroy legibility.
The golden principle, psychology of associations, importance of distinct values and impact of patterns in details, should be applied to all of design. But how do you put them together? Through composition, the art of quantity, scaling and positioning to create a visual story through the order of discovery. Composition is about choosing which elements get your attention in which order and the impact each has.
Think about the purpose of what you are creating? What initial impression do you want people to have? What characteristic should elements have? What should be identified first? What should be identified last? Create a story with it, create a visual order that the eye follows. Use the phycology of style, shape, texture, type and colour to choose the impact each element has. Create interesting relationships by contrasting the characteristics of these elements, and with it, a story will form.
The psychology of these elements is unique to every design. There is only one universal rule to composition, use one really big thing, one or two medium sized things and loads of very tiny things.
This is a short introduction to the use of contrast in the fundamentals of design. As contrast takes a lifetime to master, a young student can’t provide much more than an emphasis on how good design requires creating meaningful differences in elements that are significantly distinct and naturally proportioned.
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