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Principles of Graphics Design. Howell Istance School of Computing Technology De Montfort University. Principles in Graphics Design.

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Principles of graphics design l.jpg

Principles of Graphics Design

Howell Istance

School of Computing Technology

De Montfort University

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Principles in Graphics Design

Visual language - visual characteristics of a set of objects (point, line, plane, volume) and the way in which they are related to each other (balance, rhythms, structure, proportion)

Design is valued for its fitness to a particular user and task design aesthetic is always related to the intended function of the resulting product

3 design themes

Elegance and Simplicity

Scale, Contrast and Proportion

Organisation and Visual Structure

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Elegance and Simplicity

Seen in the immediately obvious success of a novel approach that solves a problem completely yet in a highly economical way


  • Difficult to achieve understatement through conscious effort

  • Elements in the design must be unified to produce a coherent whole

  • The parts (and the whole) must be refined to focus the viewers attention on the essential parts

  • The fitness of the solution to the communication problem must be assured at every level.

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Elegance and Simplicity


  • Reduce a design to its essence

  • Regularise the elements of the design

  • Combining the elements for maximum leverage

    "Simplicity doesn't mean poverty, it does not mean the absence of any décor or absolute nudity. It only means that the décor should belong intimately to the design proper and anything foreign to it should be taken away."

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Scale, Contrast and Proportion

  • Scale - feeling of the design fitting into its space and surroundings

  • Contrast - noticeable differences along a common visual dimension

  • Proportion - metric that guide choice of scales in a contrast relationship

  • Differentiation - contrast essential for differentiating elements from one another

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Scale, Contrast and Proportion

  • Emphasis - scale and contrast used to emphasize important elements

  • Activity - scale and contrast move viewers eye through a composition in a predictable sequence

  • Interest - scale and contrast can add visual interest by counter posing elements with strongly opposed visual qualities

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Scale, Contrast and Proportion


  • Clarity

  • Harmony

  • Activity

  • Restraint


  • Perceptual layering

  • Sharpening visual distinctions

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Organisation and Visual Structure


  • Grouping - related

  • Hierarchy - of importance for elements and groups

  • Structure - to reflect relationships between groups

  • Balance - in resultant composition


  • Using symmetry to ensure focus

  • Using alignment to establish visual relationships

  • Optical adjustment for human vision

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Rules of Thumb

  • Understand the medium

  • Establish a visual hierarchy

  • Direct the reader’s eye

  • Avoid graphics distractions

  • Be consistent

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Visual Scanning

  • Readers see pages first as large masses of shapes and colour

  • second, they pick out specific information, initially from graphics...

  • ..then starting to get information from text

    image taken from Yale Style Manual at

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Establish visual hierarchy

  • ...through graphic balance and organisation of the page

    image taken from Yale Style Manual at

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Direct the reader's eye

  • In the West, readers of English

    • read from left to right,

    • top of the page to the bottom.

  • In page layout top of the page most dominant location,

  • Subtle pastel shades of colors for background or minor elements

  • Avoid bold, highly saturated primary colors except in regions of maximum emphasis

  • Type must always contrast sharply with any background color

© De Montfort University, 2001

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Avoid graphic distraction

  • Use horizontal ruler, bullets, icons sparingly to avoid a patchy and confused lay out

    image taken from Yale Style Manual at

© De Montfort University, 2001

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  • Consistent colour schemes aid user orientation about where they are

    image taken from Yale Style Manual at

© De Montfort University, 2001

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  • Consistent navigation mechanisms retain elements of the ‘look’ (visual appearance) and ‘feel’ (behaviour - response to user input)

    image taken from Yale Style Manual at

(main page)

(subsequent pages)

© De Montfort University, 2001