9 rules professional designers stick to
In my last post, I explained the 10 Most Used Design Terms including typography, branding, and layout terms. But when it comes to creating visuals, what actually makes a good design? And how to distinguish it from bad design?
Related post: 10 most used design terms
For me, good design has two important aspects: it pleases the eye and it serves a purpose. The second aspect is easy to make out. Let me give you an example: you get a flyer for an event. The flyer tells you what the event is about when it takes place and where. You get all the information you need, so the second goal of saving a purpose is accomplished. But what actually makes you want to go? That’s where the first aspect comes into play. And that’s where it gets a bit difficult. The design must be visually pleasing to trigger an emotion (looks like fun), which in turn triggers an action (you go to the event).
Difficult to define
Visually pleasing is something, you can not really define because people respond to design differently. What pleases one, doesn’t necessarily please all. It’s even more difficult today with the immense flood of design we are confronted with all around us, from the package design of your milk carton to the smartphone advertisement on the bus station to the facebook message you read before going to bed. With free design software available online and easy to handle even for non-designers; everybody and their mom can create their own stuff today.
Everybody can be a designer
And don’t get me wrong, I love that it is so easy today and people have access to all those free design tools online. I wish this had been possible when I started out and didn’t have the money to buy one of the professional programs like Photoshop. But, and this has always been the same – free tools available or not, just putting something together and creating a real design, are a different pair of shoes. Designers know and implement some basic rules in their designs. Following are easy-to-implement rules you can start using now to improve your design.
9 rules of good design
Keep it simple, stupid. This must be your first and most important aim. Never overwhelm the beholder. Your message is better transported through simple design. You will often hear “less is more”, with this in your mind, go to your layout and eliminate everything that’s not really necessary e.g. more than 2 or 3 colors, more than two fonts, design elements which don’t help to lead the beholder’s eye or transport no message at all. This leads directly to the next rule.
Related post: Design principle: KISS
Actually it should be written like this: WHITESPACE!!! Not every tiny space needs to be filled in your layout. Leave some space for your elements to breath. This makes the important stuff stand out. Using whitespace doesn’t automatically mean boring. Good design lives from giving it enough space.
Related post: Why white space is important in design
Rule of thirds
Put a grid over your layout, if actually in your layout program or just in your mind’s eye. This will help you to place elements in your design on the right place. The grid consists of 9 fields. Intersections where horizontal and vertical lines meet are main-focusing points. Put your most important elements on these points. Extra tip: when it comes to aligning elements in general, the designer always looks for invisible lines. Take a look at the example beneath.
The Golden Ratio can help you with proportions in your design. A ratio of 1:1.618 is usually found pleasing because it is a ratio we find in nature e.g. in body structure.
Related post: What is the golden ratio?
Give the eye of the beholder a direction
Usually, when we have a page in front of us, our eye moves over it in a Z-movement. Moving from the top-left to the right and to the bottom left and right. With titles, headlines and graphic elements, you can lead this movement, starting with the most important in the top-left corner.
You can create contrast in different ways e.g. with colors, fonts or size. Contrast has the effect that it creates a hierarchy. The beholder can distinguish between more and less important elements.
Related post: How to create visual hierarchy
Never use creative fonts for body copy
Just out of a simple reason. It’s difficult to read. You can use them for headlines but not for the main text. This reminds me of one of my personal rules: Never ever use Comic Sans! Might be my personal taste but I can find no reason why you should ever use this font.
Related post: 10 classic fonts you should know
Never stretch an image
Stick to the proportions of your image. If you need to resize, always do this proportionate. Try to cut in a way, nothing important will be taken away.
Related post: How to resize images in Photoshop
Repeat elements of your design
Take a part of an element e.g. your logo and use it throughout your design.