Whether you’re creating a newsletter, email or blog, learning the basics of graphic design can help make your work more pleasing to your audience’s eye . . . and more likely to be read. After earning this badge program, you will be able to identify issues and avoid them in your own design.
NOTE: This badge program could go into our Crafts category as Art is included in it. However, graphic design interacts with all aspects of Communication and a poorly designed piece actually interferes with it.
1. What is graphic design?
Graphic design is incorporating text, fonts, images and other elements into a well-organized and ordered document. The size, shape or distribution method doesn’t matter. It supports the material, draws the reader in and then delivers its message. A badly designed document does the opposite. Review graphic design terms to make completing this badge program easier.
2. Copyright considerations.
Before you begin, be aware of copyright issues. Any originally created document, from text to images, belongs to someone. If you’re doing the work yourself – writing copy and taking photos, it belongs to you. If someone is paying you to do it, it belongs to them. Find what copyright marks you need to include for legal protection.
3. Three seconds.
Attention spans are getting shorter as the amount of information available grows. You have three seconds or less to grab someone’s eye. Test this yourself. What grabs your attention and keeps you reading? What causes you to move away?
4. Examining your audience.
Your design will depend on your audience. A newsletter for a kids’ club will be vastly different from one for corporate distribution. Fonts, images and even colors will change depending on what your audience responds to. Visualize your ideal reader and search the Web for designs that appeal to them.
Write down specifics about what you find that will appeal to your ideal reader. What colors are popular with that group? Should your documents have more images or more text? Do you need to entice your reader with puzzles and paper games or some well-placed quotes? Refer to this as you’re creating your document.
5. Create a style guide.
As you create your documents, keep notes of what you’re doing. When you are done, create a style sheet or style guide. This will give you rules to follow when you’re making new documents in the future. By following the style guide you create, you will be creating a consistent look for your documents, eventually building a brand. See the Enrichment Project (EP) style guide supplement for an idea of what you might want to include.
Search online and review style guides from at least two different organizations. See what they find important and how they communicate with others how their documents should look.
6. Distribution: digital or physical.
The document you create is dependent on how you will distribute it. It affects the fonts you choose, the image resolution you provide and more. Brainstorm ways you think your document will be received by readers. Refer to the EP supplement for considerations for types of distribution.
Get to work
7. Digital tools.
You will probably be creating your document digitally. Review types of software first. Which will meet your needs? Then, choose a final software program. If you already have software chosen, find out what you can and cannot do with it. Things to look for include:
- How much control you have over element placement (fonts, images, margins, columns, etc.)
- Fonts your software can accept
- Images your software can accept
- Output for distribution
Hardware is another major consideration. A small monitor makes it difficult to see the entire design as a whole. A lack of RAM can have you waiting long periods of time to complete a simple task. Look at the minimum requirements of your software. If your computer doesn’t support it, find a solution.
Your purpose and content needs to be reflected in your design. If you are creating “do it yourself” content, you don’t want to have a complicated design that your audience will never hope to duplicate. If you are presenting a top-of-the-line newsletter that screams “quality”, you’ll want to focus on full color and great design. Examine sites and printed pieces to see how well the design fits with the message that is being communicated.
Font faces can be individual or families. Individual fonts can be used for headlines or items you need to draw attention. Families are groups of fonts with a similar design. You can then add italic, bold, etc. to your plain (roman) font for extra emphasis. For example, the font Arial comes with most computers. It can be roman (regular), italic, bold or bold italic – these four fonts constitute a font family. Look at fonts and select a few you might use for your document.
NOTE: Some fonts are free while some can be quite expensive. While you may find a good font for free, frequently the cost of a font is a reflection of the quality work put into creating it.
Choosing your fonts is the easy part. Many design schools do not teach much about typography, focusing instead on graphics. From limiting the fonts in a document to grammar, typography can be intense. Go to the Web to find out about how to look at type, kerning, widows, orphans and more. Remember to limit your font families to three.
11. Working with grids and lines.
When you read, you take in chunks of information. Using an underlying grid system allows you to consistently place elements within your design. It creates the structure of your document. With a ruler and pencil, trace the following elements on a page of a magazine, advertisement or even Web page so you can see how a grid works. Elements line up to carry your eye through the page’s design.
If you’d rather review a Web page, put a piece of paper over your monitor. Identify the following items.
- Margins (blank outside edges)
- Body copy
12. White space.
Don’t fill every piece of white area on your document. White space allows your reader’s eye to rest. It adds interest to your document. Try reading a page that is packed full of information and one that has white areas on it. Which do you prefer reading? Think of how you can incorporate white space into your design.
13. Working with color.
If you’re looking at digital color, your choice is RGB (red-green-blue). If you’re looking at print, your choice is CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black).
Look at a color wheel. Find out which colors are complimentary and which are contrasting. See how they work together. Choose two or three colors for your document. When you’re done creating your document, look at your colors again. Are they working for you? If not, change one or more.
Not confident in your decision? Check out Colour Lovers online for preselected color palettes, community resources and more.
14. Logo specific.
A logo is a quick way to identify your group, organization or document. It needs to look the same or similar every time. Look at logos on the Web or in print. Printed documents and the Web can utilize logos that can be simple or complex. However, if you’re planning on creating an embroidered logo for your shirts, you want something simpler. If you’re planning on creating a stencil for tote bags, you need to be able to adjust your design for it. Keep this in mind.
Brainstorm words and images associated with your goals. Education might feature books. Your troop might feature stick figures like our EP badges. Search for each of these keywords in your favorite search engine to see what others have done to get ideas for yourself.
Create a logo and make versions in black only, reverse only (white) and color. Brainstorm all the places you may want to put it. View your created logo critically and make adjustments so it can be used everywhere you want it to be.
15. Adding other images.
Images will make or break your design. The correct image will tell the story for you. The wrong image will leave your reader confused. It should add to your text. It should help carry your story. Don’t place an image just because you can. It needs to have a reason for being there.
In addition, image size varies greatly depending on distribution. Find out the resolution requirements for the following and decide what adjustments you need for your document.
- Monitor viewing
- Screen printing
- Desktop printing
- Offset printing
- Magazine printing
16. Newbie mistakes to avoid.
Look through this list and find the mistakes new designers and non-designers make all the time that let you know immediately that they are new to graphic design. Many forget the principle that “less is more.” Watch your own work to make sure you don’t make these mistakes yourself.
- Image overload
Find more information about these mistakes in the Design: Basics supplement.
17. Critical eye.
Now that you’ve gotten through the basics, look critically at printed materials, signs, Web pages, etc. See what works for you and what doesn’t. Can you pinpoint what does or doesn’t make the piece work?
- Brief glossary of design terms, visually identifying type, type tips, design tips and how to spot a newbie
Sites to Explore
- bigbrandsystem.com (Free Design 101 e-course)