Design is all around us and we often take it for granted. 

You may see an advertisement or walk into a room and instantly know if something is well designed or downright hideous. You know, that moment you cringe and wonder what was going through someone’s mind when they put something together. 

Although, it’s easy to recognize good design from bad design, many of us struggle with the why, the actual process.

There are many design elements that are taken into consideration when a designer lays out their concept. These concept drawings and sketches are often quick, high level sketches or wireframes that don’t seem like much to an untrained eye but are integral to the overall concept.

Let me take you back to when I was in college for my Visual Communication Design degree. I was initially taken aback when I found out my entire first year of design school wouldn’t involve a computer. 

How can you go to school in a technology field and not utilize the technology that I thought I’d use every day? The answer was simple, they needed to make sure we understood those fundamentals of design before we could ever design anything. 

Yep, that’s right, there was a lot of cutting, pasting, copying and these were just grayscale shapes in various sizes and lorem ipsum copy.

At the time I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t be learning the latest software and tricks to make my job easier but now looking back I’m so thankful for my intro into design concepts. You can’t rush things and sometimes the easy way isn’t always the best way. 

Here are a few key elements to any design that you will want to consider in your next project.

Alignment

When you initially look at a design your brain is immediately analyzing it before you realize what is happening. Most elements of design are there to make it easier for your brain to process and understand. Alignment makes a design sharp and creates a connection between the elements in your design. Whether you’re working with words, images or even furniture in a room, good alignment will tell you how to proceed and where to travel throughout the design so it’s understandable.

optical alignment

If something doesn’t look quite right it’s probably the alignment. Most design software provides you with grid lines and measurement marks as you move items across the screen, making it easier to properly align your items. 

One thing that you also need to consider when working with text and objects is visual alignment compared to a measured alignment. Rulers are great but sometimes when you have a round or weighted object it may need to be visually aligned so it looks pleasing to the eye rather than following the ruler.

Hierarchy

design hierarchy

Giving extra visual weight to the important parts of your message is the hierarchy of your design. This concept is conveyed through larger images, heavier fonts, capital letters, and bolder colors. These elements draw your eye into a single focal point, then by placing smaller fonts or visual elements around it you will create the secondary and tertiary levels of your message.

Contrast

Contrast works well with hierarchy. It is simply the opposition of elements, this could be thick and thin lines, color contrasts like black and white, visual imagery that is large and small, or font styles such as script and sans serif. Like hierarchy, contrast helps to guide your eye to the most important parts first as it processes your design message.

Understanding the elements of a design is integral to your main concept and whether or not your message will be received clearly and effectively. Although many viewers will not understand the reasoning and process behind your design, you can take pride in knowing why your design works and that it is effective with your viewers.

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