The term graphic design was conceived in 1922 by, then typographer, William Dwiggins. This means that graphic design, as an organized and recognized form of expression, has existed for almost a century. Despite that, many professional designers continue to miss the basics!
Graphic design is an art for, and art knows no limits. In fact, the very rule that “each rule can be broken if it suffices the end result” is what makes art, art. That said, graphic design is not the kind of art that gets hung in museums. Instead, it’s a genuine tool used by businesses and marketers to communicate their messages. Tools, as well all know, are to be created with great impetus on precision.
By looking at graphic designing as a tool for communication, you solve most of the problems graphic designers face – multiple revisions, vague briefs and shoddy payments. When you look at graphic design as a tool used for communicating messages crafted by clients/colleagues, you:
- Know that your work has a specific purpose. This puts art in the backseat and logic in the front. While I’m not saying that art doesn’t have logic, you will start appreciating the fact that your work has very specific applications known to the person briefing you. In your first delivery, you will know what the client is looking for and why she is looking for it. This helps you to reduce revisions and understand briefs which can often get wordy.
- are not forced to limit the creativity of your work. When you understand the purpose of your work, you can provide your client/colleague with solutions and directions that they wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Ultimately, you bring more value to the table and value never goes unpaid.
To shed some light into the depths of understanding graphic design, here are five rules of thumb. While following them is no guarantee of great work, you will produce consistently professional work:
1. Maintain uniform kerning and spacing
Every creative person has experienced a moment when the client says, “It seems good, but something is just not right”. That something is the kerning and spacing.
Kerning is the space between two letters and spacing includes both the vertical and horizontal space between two words. The problem with kerning is that when it is done incorrectly, everything just looks wrong; but when it is done correctly, no one pays attention to appreciate it!
It is fundamental - something every professional should address. To evaluate the work of any graphic designer, start by analyzing the kerning and spacing because all experienced professionals are careful to maintain uniformity.
Proper kerning increases the professional look of your work, as well as the readability. It is not easy to immediately identify the proper kerning and spacing; but once you have, you simply need to replicate the measurements throughout your artwork.
In the end, you will be astonished seat the increased readability of the text. To keep readability at its maximum, try to avoid squeezing more than 50-60 characters in a line, as suggested by the UX research published by the Baymard Institute.
2. Start and finish with grid alignment
What kerning and spacing apply to letters, grid alignment applies to all the other elements of the work. Any graphic element should be proportionally aligned. Always start by aligning every element in place.
The final step should also end with the alignment of all the elements. This is important because when creating the artwork, you often add and remove elements that have an impact on the alignment of the deliverable. Therefore, always start and finish with grid alignment.
3. Keep your target design audience in mind
Designers tend to forget that their work is meant to entice a certain audience. Whether or not the client/colleague includes the target audience details in their brief, the designer should ask for them. When applying graphic design as a tool for solving communication problems, you understand the importance of context.
Keeping the target audience in the forefront of your mind creates a world of difference. For example, a written invitation for an alumnus meet-up will be designed differently from one designed for a school event. Having the target audience in mind helps you establish the right context for your work.
4. Define a color and font palette
Inconsistency is the worst thing that can happen to a brand’s communication. Does that mean every piece of communication should be treated differently? No, doing so actually confuses your audience. A defined color and font palette, unique to the brand, will help the audience differentiate the brand’s communication when sitting amongst a crowd of messages.
Additionally, a defined color and font palette provides a defined space for you, as a designer, to work into. This means you don’t have to start from scratch every time, searching for the correct fonts. You can focus on the real idea generation!
When trying to define the right color family at the initial briefing stage, Adobe Color CC can be of great assistance!
5. Avoid crowding your design
The biggest of brands have learned that simple designs bring about the best results. Apple has been practicing minimalism in its communication for decades and the results are obvious. Minimalism helps the designer focus on the execution of the core idea, rather than getting lost in the details.
A minimalist design also helps the audience decipher communication more easily. A designer who can leverage minimalism amidst the clutter of communication and visuals will enable their work to stand out.
Every graphic designer, despite the briefs and businesses attached to them, considers her/his work to be a work of art. Art has always had one job – say as much as possible in as few words as possible. That is the definition of minimalism!