Good graphic design is a combination of several factors, including an overall theme or look, attention-getting artwork, attractive typography, and use of space and contrast. In the first part of this article, we talked about choosing an overall design concept, and about selecting photographs or illustrations to give your design some flair. In this second part, we’ll discuss tips on using typography, contrast, and white space to make your work stand out from the crowd.
The Power of Typography
Type seems to be the most overlooked element in graphic design, but great aesthetic statements can be made by using type in the same way as you would an image. The shapes your text blocks make, or the forms of the letters in a headline, can all contribute to the message you’re trying to get across. Experiment with the type, treating it as you would a picture.
Just as with images, the styles of fonts you choose should be appropriate to the subject. You wouldn’t normally use a fussy script font to advertise a line of bulldozers, unless you’re trying to get attention by using ironic juxtaposition. There are also practical concerns; for large blocks of text it is generally better to use a plain serif font like Times or Palatino, because they are easier to read at small sizes. Thick sans-serif fonts, like Futura or Avant Garde, are better suited to headlines and subheads, as are decorative, wacky, or so-called “display” fonts. As a rule, you shouldn’t use more than three fonts in a single design; lots of different fonts tends to look confused and sloppy. Don’t use a script font in all caps. If using more than one font, don’t choose fonts that are too similar to each other in weight or thickness. Contrast is the key.
Using Contrast and White Space
Contrast is one of the most important factors of good design. Very often people with no design experience will put together a piece without thinking of the impact it could make — all the elements are the same size, the fonts are all the same size and weight, and overall the design looks like a big uninteresting nothing. For a design to make an impression, it has to be dynamic, attention-grabbing. Take one image and make it massive, even bleed it off the page. Or type the headline in an enormous fat font that you can see from a hundred yards away. When designing a logo, pair a thick, square, sans-serif font with a thin, delicate script. In a good design there only has to be one big attention-grabbing element; the rest of the elements can be relegated to lesser prominence. If you draw a viewer’s interest with one bold element, they’ll be intrigued enough to check out the rest of the design.
Space is another important element that is often overlooked. Just because an advertiser paid for X amount of space doesn’t mean you have to cram information into every square millimeter of it. Let the elements of the design breathe. Think of the space around the words and pictures as yet another design element; notice the shapes the space makes as you move the elements around. Having strong graphic elements surrounded by flowing, pleasing “white space” gives the elements that much more impact. And good design, at the end of the day, is all about impact.