Beginning Graphic Design Fundamentals The fundamentals of design are the basis of every visual medium, from fine art… to modern web design… even small details, like the fonts that make up most compositions. What do these examples have in common? Some very basic elements, including line, shape, form, texture, and balance. They might not seem like much on their own, but together…
they’re part of almost everything we see and create. The fundamentals can be intimidating, especiallyif you don’t consider yourself an artist. However, there’s a lot they can teach youabout working with different assets and creating simple visuals from scratch. Let’s start at the beginning with one of themost basic elements of all… the line. A line is a shape that connects two or morepoints. It can be fat or thin… wavy or jagged. Every possibility gives the line a slightlydifferent feel.
Lines appear frequently in design; for example,in drawings and illustrations… and graphic elements, like textures and patterns. They’re also common in text compositions,where they can add emphasis… divide or organize content… or even guide the viewer’s eye. When working with lines, pay attention tothings like weight, color, texture, and style. These subtle qualities can have a big impacton the way your design is perceived. Look for places
where lines are hiding inplain sight; for example, in text. Even here, experimenting with different linequalities can give you very different results. A shape is any 2-dimensional area with a recognizableboundary. This includes circles, squares, triangles,and so on. Shapes fall into two distinct categories:geometric (or regular) and organic (where the shapes are more freeform). Shapes are a vital part of communicating
ideas visually. They give images heft and make them recognizable. We understand street signs, symbols, and evenabstract art largely because of shapes. Shapes have a surprising number of uses ineveryday design. They can help you organize or separate content…create simple illustrations… or just add interest to your work. Shapes are important because they’re the foundationof so many things.
Learn to look for them in other designs, andsoon, you’ll start seeing them everywhere. When a shape becomes 3D, we call it a form. Forms can be 3-dimensional and exist in thereal world… or they can be implied, using techniques like light, shadow, and perspectiveto create the illusion of depth. In 2-dimensional design, form makes realismpossible. Without it, a bouncing rubber ball is justa circle.
A 3D building is just a series of rectangles. Even flat designs use subtle techniques tohint at form and depth. In everyday compositions, the purpose of formis the same, but on a smaller scale. For example, a simple shadow can create theillusion of layers… or give an object a sense of place. Basic forms can bring a touch of realism toyour work—a powerful tool when used in moderation.
Texture is the physical quality of a surface. Like form, it can be 3-dimensional—somethingyou can see and touch—or it can be implied, suggesting that it would have texture if itexisted in real life. In design, texture adds depth and tactilityto otherwise flat images. Objects can appear smooth, rough, hard, orsoft, depending on the elements at play. For beginners, textures make great backgroundimages and can add a lot of interest to your work. Look closely, and you may find texture inunexpected places, like distressed fonts… and smooth, glossy icons.
Just be careful not to go overboard—toomuch texture in a single design can quickly become overwhelming. Balance is the equal distribution of visualweight (in other words, how much any one thing attracts the viewer’s eye). Balance can be affected by many things, includingcolor, size, number, and negative space. Mastering balance can be tricky for beginners,because it does take some intuition.
Luckily, the design world is full of examplesthat you can help you understand its different iterations. Symmetrical designs are the same or similaron both sides of an axis. They feel balanced because each side is effectivelythe same (if not identical). Asymmetrical designs are different, but theweight is still evenly distributed.
The composition is balanced because it callsattention to the right things. Many people use a strategy called the ruleof thirds. This imagines your work area divided intoa 3×3 grid. The focal point of the image is placed onor near one of these lines, creating visual balance with the rest of the space.
We find this type of composition appealing because, according to studies, the human eye naturally follows this path when scanning design. The fundamentals of design are all about the bigger picture—in other words, learning to appreciate the many small details that make up every composition.
This insight can be applied to almost any type of project, whether you’re creating your own graphics… or just looking for simple ways to enhance your work. Thanks for joining us for the fundamentals of design. Check out the rest of our design topics, including color, typography, and more. Beginning Graphic Design Fundamentals