The fundamentals of graphic design

graphics design 101

When it comes to being a great graphic designer who knows their s…stuff, I’m not going to lie to you. It takes dedication, practice, discipline and some passion…ok, a lot of passion. Nobody becomes amazing overnight. No art teacher, jedi or even Banksy himself can teach you how to create amazing art. What they can teach you (and what I plan to cover in this post) are the fundamentals, a path that you can follow where you can put imagination and creativity into structured building blocks. Now, I know most people will argue that ‘art has no rules’. I agree, but designing with a purpose does. When you’re creating for a client, that purpose needs to be clear, so you can’t very well go nuts with your work.

Remember that you have your own unique style, so when you’re researching other artists it’s best to take from their work what matches YOU and adapt it to your own style. How do you plan to develop your graphics design if you only make carbon copies of other people’s work? I’ve seen this mistake way too many times, especially from beginners who follow tutorials. Don’t get me wrong, tutorials are a great starting point. However, they’re meant to act as a guide. I believe it is best follow the steps loosely, so you have room to inject your own personality into whatever you are making.

With that said, I want to share with you some ground rules that will come in handy when you’re venturing into the design world.



Research, research…research! I can’t stress this enough. Picking a decent font to match your work is no easy task, especially when there’re so many to pick from! But it doesn’t have to be super hard either. Often you can play it safe by sticking to the ever so popular Helvetica font and call it a day (if you’re lazy!). However, if your design is more complex and you’re trying to add a little more character to your work, then do some research into other designers and see what works. Trial different fonts and don’t be afraid of using that “too crazy” looking font, a lot of the time you’ll find that it looks better put into practise than it looked in your head. Photoshop and Illustrator come with a tonne of settings and options for you to play around with, so your typography doesn’t have to be boring. With these programs you can even edit premade fonts and turn them into something completely unique and exciting. Heck, you can even scribble something down on paper, scan it in and rework it digitally! Check out this amazing custom typography tutorial, it’s so simple! Now that you’re all inspired and itching to create awesome stuff, here are some free nifty fonts to mess around with. Check them out at out!

Colour Theory

There’s a science behind picking a great colour scheme and everybody should (assuming you paid attention in your art lessons) at least know the basics. Picking great colours to go with your design starts with knowing your complementary colours; if you really want to go deeper, you can also look up how each colour affects a person psychologically. The latter is recommended if you’re designing for a target audience. To create a great visual experience you must pick colours that harmonise. When there is no harmony in colour arrangements, the brain will find the object either too boring or too chaotic for the viewer to be engaged. For example, putting white text on a cyan background is big no-no; t is too bright and chaotic that you may as well be shining light in someone’s eyes. It pays to do some research into the product you’re designing for and the audience you’re trying to reach. Have a look at what others have done before you, what is trending and why people are drawn to it. Pick contrasting colours to draw attention and make your statement. Need more information on how to pick colours? There are tonnes of information online, here is a great article on basic colour theory to get you started!


The key to creating a unified and readable graphic design is consistency. Text, lines, images, whatever elements used in the design, they should look like they belong to the entire piece. Too many pictures, colours or a wall of text hitting someone in the face creates inconsistency and can put people off. A clean, concise layout that is easy to navigate with appropriate repetition of the design elements is what unifies a piece of graphic design. When working on one piece for a long period of time, it is advised that you take regular breaks. This is because you need to “cleanse the brain palette”.  Most artists suffer from the “my work looks like a piece of [censored]” syndrome when exposed to their own work for too long. They no longer have the ability to judge the flow of the piece. Taking a break and perhaps getting a second pair of eyes to look through your work can help you to better spot mistakes and any inconsistencies; it can be something as miniscule as slightly moving that text box to the left to create better eye flow. If you find yourself squinting, rubbing your eyes or losing motivation…go put on the kettle, or take a short walk to have a change of scenery and give your eyes a rest! Trust me it works wonders.


Understanding composition and articulating it through a piece of art work isn’t easy. Composition is the combination and arrangement of all the components in your work. It is visually ordering your layout in such a way that you create flow throughout the entirety of your piece. Each component of your work should be able to relate to one another and to the whole piece in order to be truly dynamic. It is up to you to decide what the centre of focus will be in your piece and then apply elements around it accordingly. There are a range of techniques you need to know in order to achieve composition; one of the most utilised one is ‘the rule of thirds‘. The rule of thirds is used by dividing the canvas into 3 equal sections (horizontally and vertically), and then aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersecting points, allowing different features in the image to flow from one section to the next. To understand more about different techniques check out this in-depth composition guide.

Final touches

So you’ve finalised the design and you’re happy with the outcome! It’s time to once again, take a break! Walk away from the monitor and go look at something completely different, perhaps be one with nature…is that a four leaf clover? There’s nothing more frustrating than when you think you’re done with your work, publish it, only to find some details aren’t where they’re meant to be. Make sure to go over your work before you send it off. Maybe that centred text isn’t exactly centred, and did you spell everything correctly? Do your eyes still flow naturally through the work after you’ve taken a break from staring at it endlessly? It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve finally completed something when you’ve been working on it for hours, and if you’re anything like me, then after 10 hours of designing one piece of graphic…you kind of just want to be done with it. But it’s still important to make sure that “complete” really means complete!

There’s definitely a lot more to consider when it comes to graphics design, but these are just the very basics you need to know. The rest will come naturally with a lot of trial and error. Don’t be disheartened if you create something you don’t like, it’s totally common; we’re our own worst critiques! Just keep practising and don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. The beauty of graphic design is that it’s all (well, mostly) digital, if you don’t like something…it’s that easy to just erase it and forget that it ever happened.


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