The Key Elements of Graphic Design and Why They’re Important

Bringing an idea to life through graphic design takes a lot of work. Remember: beautiful visuals mean nothing if they don’t communicate your message. This is why a good graphic design company endeavours to understand the most basic elements of art in order to create effective work.

Below, we discuss the key elements of graphic design and how they contribute to visual communications.

Colour

One of the most important components of design is colour, which can either stand alone or be used with other elements (e.g., lines or typography).

What makes colour so important to graphic design is that it’s what dictates the mood of a piece. It can also establish the personality of a brand. Moreover, using colour psychology can evoke certain emotions or reactions from the audience. This is why plenty of food companies use reds and oranges, as these are known to inspire feelings of hunger.

At the same time, the right colour combinations can change the tone of a message. Contrasting colours can be used for emphasis, for example, while monotones can imply stability. Lastly, the right colour space (RGB or CMYK) can also affect the quality of the visuals. RGB is best for the screen, while CMYK is best for printed media.

Line

A line is more than just a stroke of a pen that connects two points. It’s also a useful tool for dividing a space or drawing the eye towards an element that you want viewers to focus on. For example, social media sites can use lines to indicate separate sections on a page or prevent multiple images from looking crowded.

Graphic designers also use lines to communicate certain characteristics. A good example of this is the diagonal line, which can stand for energy and motion. Meanwhile, curved lines can mean elegance.

Do note that a designer or artist may choose not to use lines implicitly. They may draw tall buildings or railroad tracks, whose edges can serve as the lines that “cut” through a page.

Shape

Shapes can add dimension and interest to any kind of design. Created using lines, colours, or both, shapes can either interact harmoniously or clash with each other depending on the intended message by the artist or the brand.

Ultimately, everything can be a shape. Even blocks of text in a magazine layout or a speech bubble in a comic page fall under the umbrella of “shape.” Thus, a designer needs to understand that shape composition can affect the cohesiveness of any work.

Space

The area that surrounds the elements in a design is called the space. It can be used to separate groups of text or images, or even to give the eyes a bit of rest from an otherwise busy design.

In this manner, space can also be used to lead the eye. Just imagine seeing a poster with a crowded top half and an empty bottom half. You will probably wonder why the artist left that space that way, and therefore inspect it, leading you to a message that the artist deliberately left there.

Note that space, particularly negative space, can also be used to create shapes and lines. If used wisely and strategically, an entire graphic design piece can be made entirely of space.

Texture

Obviously, you can’t touch graphic design that’s meant for visual consumption using a screen. Even printed mediums are limited when it comes to this aspect. Still, a talented designer can create the impression of texture, giving the design more depth.

Texture can also create a more immersive and “sensorial” experience. This is why some designs can seem soft or cosy, even if you can’t physically feel the softness and cosiness.

Backgrounds are usually the easiest ways to include texture in graphic design, but they can also be applied to text and other elements.

Typography or Type

Last but not the least, typography or simply type is an essential part of design. It can make or break visuals, especially if you’re trying to convey a message. Remember: words are important but the way you present them is also crucial. This is why most news sites (think The New York Times) use serif typefaces for their text, while blogs can opt for more playful typography.

Do note that there are also artists who use only typography to create their designs. A good example here would be logos that use the name of the company (which also sometimes form shapes). Typography can also be used to draw attention.


Remember that good graphic design doesn’t have to use ALL of these elements at the same time. What matters is how these elements are used to achieve the design goal. An artist can make use of only colours and shapes and still be able to communicate the cheerfulness or tranquility of a brand.

The key here is to completely understand how each element works and how they can influence one another to create a good design.