5 Things Every Design Should Have

Why is it that some designs seem to stand out among others, and yet when we stop to look and understand why, we cant?

Here are 5 rules that every designer should know to help them create something that will grab attention… and from the right audience!

1. Hierarchy
2. Balance
3. Contrast
4. Relevance
5. Simplicity

Read on for an in-depth look into each of these principles, and how you can learn from them…

1. HIERARCHY

Possibly the most important design principle to consider when working on a project is HIERARCHY. What is hierarchy when it comes to design? In basic terms, it is the order of which items catch the viewer’s eye in which order. For example, when you look at a newspaper, what is the first thing you see? The bold headlines? The main picture? Newspapers are designed with a very distinct hierarchy to grab your attention so you will keep reading. Look at the two designs below… both are advertising the same thing, using the same colours, fonts, pictures, etc… the only difference, is the hierarchy. Which image is more likely to grab your attention?

The key to good hierarchy is to ask yourself- “What is the first thing I want people to see when they see this design?” You can’t over-analyse something like hierarchy. It’s not about which one you think is better after staring at it for a minute or so. The question of hierarchy is simple- within the FIRST SECOND of looking at the two images, which one grabs your attention more? Chances are, the one that says “free” in huge text- am I right?

BALANCE

Balance can make us feel comfortable or uncomfortable when we are looking at an image- much like it is uncomfortable to be off balance when you are standing up! It is the arrangement of the elements in your design and is affected by the ‘weight’ of different elements (bold text would be ‘heavier’ than thin text, dark colours would be ‘heavier’ than lighter colours, and so on).

You need to make sure that your design is always balanced. Without going into too much detail, there are two kinds of balance you can use.

The first is called symmetrical balance. Simply put, this means that everything is evenly balanced on both sides. So if you have a picture on the right, then you would place something of similar size and weight on the left to balance it out. The second is asymmetrical balance. This uses elements of different sizes and weights combined with different quantities and distances from the centre point to balance each other out. So a large object on the left could be balanced by several small objects on the right.

It is also very important with balance to make sure your designs aren’t ‘top-heavy.’ You can do this by putting most of the weight in the image towards the bottom. Looking at the examples below, do you find it easier to look at the well balanced layout or the ‘top-heavy’ layout?

CONTRAST

I don’t feel the need to go into this too much because I believe it’s pretty self-explanatory. But when you are designing something, it is always good to ask yourself- “Does the message I’m trying to deliver stand out from the background, or do I kind of have to squint a bit and focus on it?” Squinting is the biggest indicator of bad design. If your viewers have to focus too hard, they won’t, and you will lose their attention. It’s that simple!

RELEVANCE

There is no bigger waste of a good design than a good design pointed at the wrong audience. Have a look at the image below. What do you think is the target audience? Do you think it’s 65 year old men, middle-aged parents who live in the city, or 6 year old girls who love barbie dolls and the colour pink? An image like this would be perfect for a youth ministry, not so good for kids. It’s important to know your audience and design your image to be relevant!

If you’re not sure of what your audience likes, think of some of the products or events that already exist and that are popular with your audience and think about the following:

What colours do they use? (Dark, high contrast, pastels, bright colours, etc)
What type of fonts do they use? (Cartoon, handwritten, grunge, old-fashioned, bold, etc)
What kind of images do they use? (Teddy-bears, happy smiling people, skateboards, cups of tea, etc)

SIMPLICITY

This last point is a bit more of a guide than a rule when it comes to design. There are many great designs around that are famous because of their complexity. HOWEVER, if you are not an amazing designer just yet, then you need to cut back on the mess on the page and keep things simple!

Here’s just a few ways you can simplify your work:

Don’t use more than 3 fonts. It’s tempting to try and use all those amazing new fonts you just downloaded from the internet, but let’s face it, nobody really wants to see your font collection. They want to be able to easily read the information in your image without being confused by the large variety of shapes and fonts. If you can stick to 3 fonts or less, you’ll be fine.

Always use simple fonts for large amounts of text. Fancy fonts are great for headings, but can hurt your eyes if you are trying to read a lot of text. Just remember that the easier your information is to read, the more of it will be read and understood by the viewer.

Keep clip art to a minimum. Pages riddled with hundred of little images can just be plain annoying and confusing. Try choosing one or two images that you want to grab the viewer’s attention, and get rid of the rest.

Limit the amount of colours you use. Most designers only use 2-5 colours in a design. It is much smarter to carefully choose a colour palate that works (remember relevance to your audience and contrast), than to have the full rainbow in your image (unless of course, you are promoting something that is directly relevant to a rainbow). Don’t change the colour of your text just because you can. Most of the time, I choose to stick with black or white text and let the images and background colours change the feel of the image.

There’s many more things to consider if you really want to improve your designs, but if you can work on these five things, you are on a great start! Try implementing some of these things next time you are working on something, and see how it looks!

Sarah Clark

I'm a freelance graphic designer, church volunteer and first time mum with a passion for bringing a new level of creativity into churches through inspiring leaders and providing resources. My goal is to be able to self-fund my ministry goals through my freelance projects while being able to work from home and be a full-time mum, and I want to help others do the same.

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Paul Orton says:

    Cool tips Sarah. Well written.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *