Golden Rules That Will Improve Your Designs

Janine Dueck


Janine Dueck


January 28, 2022

Golden Rules That Will Improve Your Designs

Graphic design is one of the most incredible expressions of art we have developed today. In the way a picture says a thousand words, graphic design does the same, but with even more depth available for us to explore.

Graphic design is all around us. It’s on the billboards you pass on your way to work, your church’s website, and scattered throughout social media. Its ability to communicate ideas through images, typography, and movement is a thing of pure art. 

Many people have argued what constitutes true artwork. Some have claimed that art does not need rules, while some have advocated that there are set laws in artistry. While there are countless ways to “do” design, especially graphically, we do believe that there are a few golden rules that we should keep in mind during the design process.

These rules exist not to restrain the artist from doing what they do but to serve as a guide to best serve the recipient of said artwork. 

As humans, our eyes are automatically drawn to beautiful things. Our brains interpret image-based messages within a few milliseconds and make sense of them. However, if the golden rules of design are disregarded, the design message can become muddied. 

Our goal as designers should be to marry the beauty of our artistic skills with the guide rails of the rules of design. With these two principles in mind, we can express ourselves as artists and provide a clear message for those who will look upon our art.

Know the voice & vibe

We have mentioned that a photo says a thousand words, but what exactly does this mean? It means that images have the power to convey multiple meanings. What individuals interpret from these images says more than a mere description ever could. 

With each image we see, each person will have their understanding of what the artist is trying to convey. Arguably the best images are the ones that leave us speechless – words simply cannot suffice to describe the striking nature of what we are looking upon.

Whether a graphic has a major textual element or not, the graphic still speaks. The question is: what story are you trying to tell? This is where an understanding of voice and vibe comes into play. (P.S. By vibe, we mean the general “feel” that a certain element gives off). 

Whether you are designing on behalf of a brand or just yourself, a keen understanding of the voice and vibe you want to convey in the image is essential. This understanding will drive how you execute the design project.

For example, say you are designing for a boutique store targeted at Generation Z. The vibe of the brand’s shop is vibrant, maximalist, and youthful. It would be quite “off-brand” to share a social media graphic with a simple black and white, minimalistic, and formal theme. 

While this hypothetical graphic may be wonderful (and follow all of the design rules we cover in this blog), it won’t be effective in capturing the audience’s eyes if it doesn’t fit the brand vibe.

We would be remiss not to mention the importance of brand identity, which in a nutshell is the collection of elements that consumers associate with a specific brand. (You can learn more about brand identity right here). Keeping with the voice and vibe of a brand is simply upholding the integrity of your brand. 

We want to keep these above concepts in mind to create better design, express brand identity effectively, and save ourselves a lot of time (and money) designing stuff that just doesn’t fit the voice and vibe.

Keep color theory in mind

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of rules for design work! 

Superb knowledge of color theory is an integral part of the design process. Depending on the medium we are working with (websites, print advertisements, social media, etc.), our implementation of color theory will differ. Some colors that translate well online may not in print, and vice versa.

We explain in length some of the major concepts of color theory in this blog, but here are a few significant points to consider when designing. 

First off, you will want to make sure you are working in accordance with the brand’s color palette found within their branding guidelines. If they don’t have any, it is a good idea to establish one! This palette is just another essential element in the company’s brand identity and will help keep things congruent. 

When you choose colors, you want to make sure you stick with a solid color scheme, that being, sets of colors that work according to the color wheel. These are the colors that simply play well together, for example:

  • Analogous colors, i.e., blue, indigo, & violet
  • Complementary colors, i.e. orange & blue, red & green
  • Triadic colors, i.e., orange, purple, & green

Throwing in too many colors can be a bit distracting because you’re trying to process too many things at once. Instead, these three basic color schemes are interpreted much easier and make more sense to our eyes.

Avoiding clashing colors that stray far from color theory should be avoided. For example, neon green and hot pink are like oil and water: they do not mix. 

For you rebels out there, we know you’re already thinking, “rules are meant to be broken.” While brutalism design is rising in popularity, basic color theory is a solid default method to fall back on.

Fonts, font, and fonts again

Typography has truly taken on a life of its own. Gone are the days of the same 20 or so stale, overused fonts. Nowadays, there are thousands of typefaces to choose from with a ton of different weights, styles, and variations.

Fonts can often be a last-minute consideration in design, but in reality, fonts can make or break your look. It’s crucial to discover different fonts and learn why some fonts clash and some blend well. This comes with a bit of experience, research, and experimenting.

Keeping with 1-2 fonts in a design is key. For some designs, you may be able to get away with 3, but you can bypass the additional font by trying out different weights and variations of a font already being utilized.

Using your font as a point of interest in the design process is a great way to make the design stand out and change your viewer’s focus. 

Overall, fonts shouldn’t be the last thing you do in design. You need to make sure the type you choose works seamlessly with the design and vibe you want it to give off.

Don’t be afraid of white space

Presenting design work is all about inviting someone into an experience. While the maximalist design is becoming more popular, we can’t seem to help falling back on solid, minimalist design. Let’s use the example of a boutique store design to illustrate this point. 

The primary characteristic that sets boutique stores apart from thrift shops is their minimalist experience. Instead of being cluttered with shelves and shelves of items, there are actually far fewer elements in the store and empty space. The feel is light and airy, items are easy to see and find, and there is a general clean feel to the store.

This same concept applies to design work in the way that we utilize empty space. This empty space, also known as white space, is the exact attribute that we can use to improve design.  

This may seem counterintuitive, but keeping things simple and not adding a billion design elements often yields the greatest designs. It cuts down on the unnecessary clutter and brings the eyes to the important parts we want them to focus on. 

So don’t be afraid to use white space! It isn’t a lazy way out. It is a wonderful method to cut out the chaos and focus on the good stuff.

Remember visual hierarchy

Let’s talk about the glue that holds the preceding elements altogether: visual hierarchy!

Visual hierarchy is all about where the viewer’s eyes are drawn and how the design is structured to direct those eyes. This method is all about the specific placement of text, image, colors, and the utilization of white space. This golden rule is especially important for web pages but applies to all sorts of designs, from social graphics to print flyers.

Without getting into the in-depth theory of visual hierarchy, it is important to know how your reader tends to look at your design at first glance. There are specific patterns your viewer automatically turns to when scanning your design. For example, people typically scan a web page from top to bottom or in an ‘F” or “Z” formation. Knowing this helps designers prioritize putting things like logos and menu dropdowns in the corners or the top and bottom of the page. 

The size of your page elements changes where your eye gravitates towards as well. Big, bold words will stand out so much that they often draw in the eye before even the elements at the top of the page. 

Space and the way we arrange elements also have a part to play in the visual hierarchy. As mentioned, white space has a way of drawing attention from the observer. Elements like drop down menus, buttons, and images can be carefully placed to either draw attention to or from other textual elements.

Colors also have a part to play in visual hierarchy. Colors can serve as a way to highlight specific important aspects of a design or web page especially. Pops of color on an otherwise minimalist design piece are great for drawing in the eye. 

In summary, visual hierarchy is where rubber meets the road in every design. It is where all of your carefully crafted and collected elements exist together in harmony!

Don’t forget the most important part…

One of the biggest creativity killers is focusing so much on theory that we forget that design is artwork. Instead, think of it in terms of robots vs. humans. A robot can have all of the characteristics of a human – language, body movement, intellect – but they still lack the one thing that sets humans apart: soul. 

Every design piece needs a bit of soul or heart put into it. Without this unique characteristic, the design is missing something. Just as without the breath of God, humans are just dust.

Breathing life into your design is what makes your specific design stand out from the crowd. It is that little piece of creativity that you, and only you, can bring to the table. 

It takes a bit of trusting your gut to understand what this “mark” you bring actually is. Regardless of what it looks like, putting your heart into the design has a magnificent way of bringing the pièce de résistance of the design project. 

When you're improving your designs, it is good to get schooled on the basics. The key rules to keep in mind are knowing the design vibe, understanding color theory, considering fonts, implementing white space, and adhering to visual hierarchy.

Not sure where to get started on your designs? PMF Creative can help! We’ll bring these rules, as well as a bit of beauty through a human touchpoint to set your next design projects apart from the rest! Get started on a new design project on our website.

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