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Four Essential 'Must-Follow' Graphic Design Rules
By: Larissa Harris
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When I was little, I hated when the instructions for a project from school included “Use your imagination” or “Be creative.” To me, this meant that I had no rules to follow, and then what happens to my grade if I take the project in the wrong direction? Is the teacher being lazy and won’t take the time to tell me or write out what they want? It’s amazing that I became a designer. And probably a really good thing that I didn’t become a teacher!
 
I discovered that design has rules to follow, a direction, a path, a course; it even has trends! That’s when I began to love design. I found that if I designed information a certain way (and followed the rules), that information became easier for the audience to understand. How cool is that? Maybe it’s not cool, but it was freakin’ amazing to me. A drop shadow here makes the image stand out, negative space there forces the user’s eye toward the item I want them to look at first; words, color, and layout work together to help the user understand the message.
 
Here are a few rules your websites, print ads, billboards, and brochures should follow. Create superb design with superb content and make a superb product. People will not attempt to read poorly organized and designed pieces.
  1. Be simple. Use clear language that is meaningful, and use images and copy that support the message. Leave them out if they don’t. Choose colors that compliment the message instead of taking away from it. “I like it” is not a good reason to include an element in your design. The minimalist look is almost always “in.” White space is imperative around text, images, and lines. Nothing improves bad design like an ample dose of nothing.
  2. Be structured. Organize the design with purpose, in meaningful and useful ways, based on clear, consistent wireframes that are apparent and recognizable to users. Align each item with something else. Step out of this rule only for emphasis. Put related things together and separate unrelated things. Items that are similar should have characteristics that make them look like “like items.” Use design elements such as white space and lines to help the reader understand the content.
  3. Be focused. Your design should keep all needed options and information visible without distracting the user with extraneous or redundant information. Draw attention to important elements by contrasting size (scale), color, and page position. Make sure the elements have a function that supports the content. Good designs should never overwhelm or confuse the user with unneeded information.
  4. Be consistent. Your design should incorporate internal and external components and behaviors that are familiar to your audience. This is where marketing to your audience comes into play. If your audience is not “techy,” don’t use a design element for that demographic. Maintain consistency with purpose rather than arbitrary consistency. If the user already understands the element, they don’t need to rethink and remember.
Graphic design is a visual depiction of structured thoughts; communication using color, layout, and organized elements. Remember, "I like it" is not a reason to include something in your design. Logic, clarity, and meaning should direct your finished product.


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About the Author
Larissa Harris is a graphic designer, Web developer, and social media marketer. Read her blog, LarissaHarris.com; "like" her Facebook page; or follow her on Twitter
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