The Elements of Graphic Design: Tips for Marketers and Business Owners

Posted on January 13, 2023 | Updated on May 29, 2023

When clients need a website refresh or a new look for their brand, graphic designers must be on top of their game. Refreshing yourself by reading about the elements of graphic design is an excellent way to touch base with the foundations of content creation. This guide has everything you need to know about design elements and a few bonus recommendations for anyone who wants to learn more.

The Basic Elements of Graphic Design

Whether you went to college for graphic design or picked up your skills as your career developed, these are the essential tools you’ve used to make great content. Reading through them again will flex your creative muscles and inspire you for upcoming projects. 

1. Colors

Colors are the first impression consumers get when viewing marketing designs. They can be glaring or inviting, depending on the chosen shades. It’s tempting to pick numerous colors for larger projects, but research shows that 95% of the top 100 global companies only use two colors in their branding.

Simplify color choices by sticking with traditional palettes or ongoing trends for short-term campaigns. Vibrant candy colors currently catch the attention of followers on social media platforms and help them gravitate toward following new brands. However, color choices also depend on the brand’s target audience and identity.

2. Shapes

Boundaries are in every advertising campaign, email layout, and marketing material. They create shapes that guide the eye and emphasize wording or links. It could mean adding a box to draw a user’s eye to an email subscription button or the dates for an upcoming event. 

The key to utilizing shapes effectively is thinking about how they interact and draw the eye. Conflicting corners or jumbled lines will make content appear elementary at best. It can also look scammy to have mega-sized shapes around product links while descriptive text and informational content shrinks in the background.

3. Lines

Graphic designs create lines by connecting two points. Artists may also draw the lines by hand with design software and tablets. Lines are essential because they divide available space for sections within newsletters and other visual content. Readers or followers won’t get lost in an email or post because lines clarify which sections cover topics.

Lines are instrumental in minimalist designs because they make it easier to decipher content and help the user reach the end goal, such as locating a subscribe button or hyperlinks to available products. The clear, professional aesthetic adds an authoritative appearance to any marketing campaign.

4. Textures

Textures aren’t just for surfaces people can touch. They’re also in every graphic design project. The appearance of content can use texture to create backgrounds or features that are 3D, grunge, textile, or implied. Marketers and business owners can brainstorm visual texture ideas to refresh logos and websites for brands that want a new aesthetic that more effectively attracts their target audience.

5. Space

Designers can appeal to audiences by filling blank spaces, but don’t forget the concept of negative space as one of the elements of graphic design. It adds depth to images and potential clarity to information-dense material. It can also create shapes that draw the eye to the essential parts of marketing campaigns.

6. Scale

Many websites feature shapes and imagery of various sizes. The different scales align the symmetrical design elements without making everything bland and identical. Slight differences work better for more professional or corporate content, while personal brands or artistic clients may utilize scale to create bold designs that stand out in a sea of competitors.

7. Typography

Using the right fonts and point sizes is essential to graphic design. An ad for a health care company that used a medieval calligraphy script would have a disjointed appearance and likely be unreadable at a glance.

It’s always a good idea to read through the basics of typography to go over concepts like font choice, hierarchy, and combining fonts. An infographic with eight fonts would look too busy or confusing. Using two or three fonts at most could help organize titles, definitions, or subheadings.

8. Harmony

Some people say that the primary goal of every graphic designer should be to create content that has harmony. Harmony includes every element used within a project, like colors and font styles. Everything should work cohesively to guide the reader through easily understood visuals or text.

People will take a business less seriously when something’s out of place — like an unreadable font or a color that clashes with the brand logo. It’s essential to have harmony within each marketing project and align every design with a brand’s overall look.

9. Emphasis

Interior designers sometimes recommend establishing a focal point. Graphic designers can do the same thing for their clients. The focal point of a marketing project will have the most visual emphasis. It could be something like a floral arrangement within the header image for a client’s social media account. Contrasting colors with saturation or shade parking is an excellent way to emphasize a singular point within a project and make it look more professional.

10. Balance

Balance is another way to describe symmetry or asymmetry. Content that leans toward symmetrical design will repeat elements by aligning them the same way or using the same design choices for various parts of marketing material.

Asymmetrical designs don’t line any elements along a single point and may not repeat the same fonts or colors. However, both options need visual balance to make the design choices feel rooted in a brand’s identity or aesthetic to work.

Further Reading for Graphic Designers

Learning from the best in your field is always a good idea. These books contain the latest industry advice that draws from the elements of graphic design to create modernized marketing campaigns.

The Elements of Graphic Design by Alex White

Alex White’s full-color book aims to clarify design elements for creatives looking for advice that works for 2022 audiences. Each chapter contains a deep dive into a specific design choice and features photos that illustrate great and poor uses of that element. Seven contributing essayists also provide input on using graphic design within various fields to maximize a reader’s comprehension of text within stunning projects.

Creative Confidence by Tom & David Kelley

Some people may have marketing jobs and feel less creative than others on their team. Tom and David Kelley want their readers to know that everyone has the potential to be equally and outstandingly creative. Their book teaches readers fundamental creative principles and draft strategies to channel creativity into each new project. Their ideas also emphasize productivity, so there’s no lull between strikes of inspiration.

Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler

Anyone who works on brand marketing campaigns would benefit from reading Designing Brand Identity. Alina Wheeler explains core concepts like researching competitors, design execution, and how to launch brand strategies while retaining a creative core to each campaign. There are also valuable case studies within each section to explain how people applied her selected concepts in real-world situations.

Utilize the Elements of Graphic Design

It’s never too late to revisit the conceptual elements of graphic design. The throwback will elevate future projects because each team member will better understand their field. Reading tips and the latest books to strengthen your creative muscles is an excellent way to invest in yourself and your career.

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About The Author

Coraline (Cora) Steiner is the Senior Editor of Designerly Magazine, as well as a freelance developer. Coraline particularly enjoys discussing the tech side of design, including IoT and web hosting topics. In her free time, Coraline enjoys creating digital art and is an amateur photographer.

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