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Graphic Design Basics: How to Develop a Good Design Eye

Last updated on: 2018

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If you know Papyrus and Comic Sans are the equivalent of ketchup on steak, then you’re not too far from having a good design eye. A good eye for design can aid us in our professional and personal lives. The ability to dissect the branding and marketing we see day-to-day not only informs us on what could be a trustworthy product, but also keeps us in tune with what resonates with us.

How do you develop a good graphic design eye?

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to self branding, branding your company, and being a mindful consumer.

Know What You Like

Graphic designers hear a lot of “can you play around with it more”, “this should be quick”, and “let’s make it springy”. Designers are creative people and having a vague task can be an exciting challenge, but vague statements can also create a lag in the creative process with more time editing than what may be necessary. Whether you are the designer or decide to to hire one, it’s important to keep in mind of how long “simple” tasks may actually take and learn to be concise with what you want. Adapting the language you use in your communication is essential for an efficient design process.  For example, “I think a serif font would relate to the initiative of the company over a san serif” or “The dark blue and red seem too patriotic, which distracts from my brands personality. Let’s try to have more contrast with a coral and navy,” are more direct and easier for the designer to follow.

Choose Your Favorite Typefaces

Having at least three top favorite typefaces for your brand can be helpful for both designers and non-designers. Your favorite typefaces reveal details about your brand or personal style. If you’re self-branding, it eases the processes of choosing something that describes you. Additionally, keep in mind that different typefaces can have different voices when they’re bolded or italicized. We all react similarly when we see a text message in all caps and feel like we are being YELLED at.

Beware of Design Faux Pas

Learning design language not only makes you sound smart at a party or meeting with a designer, but can also save you from rookie aesthetic choices. Design isn’t just about matching an image to a typeface with some color; there are technical things that help us detect the quality that was put into a design. Three key, easy terms to remember are: rags, leading, and kerning.

Rags are the edges of text in a long paragraph make sure it’s smooth and not jagged.

Rags Graphic Design Example

Leading is the amount of space in between each line of text, and in most situations you’re not going to want the spacing to be too tight or too loose.

Leading Graphic Design Example

Kerning is the space between each letter in a word.

Kerning Graphic Design Example

Keep in mind that if you’re using a special typeface that’s downloaded for free, those aren’t built in the same way established fonts like Futura or Avenir are built. Futura and Avenir may have moments where you have to adjust the kerning but with free fonts, the risk is slightly higher.

Understand Color Theory

Knowing what colors contrast helps you make wiser choices on what looks good together. Refer to a color wheel to see what colors are on opposite ends and compliment each other. Contrast makes a big difference with art and design. Knowing what colors can stand against each other and experimenting with different shades is a mental cheat code that helps you easily create something on your own that looks great.

Color Theory Wheel

Photo via Deco Art Blog

Every Design Choice Has a Meaning

Try to ask yourself questions to get your mind in the habit of analyzing design to make informative choices. You can start by asking yourself how does it make you feel, what does each color do on their own, and then when they come together, does the composition suit well on your eyes? You should also ask yourself if you read the text at the size it’s at, what people could associate with [blank] when they look at it. Always be mindful of the mood, voice, and tone of your designs and best of luck on your visual endeavors!

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Emily Lor