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What Are The Fundamentals Of Graphic Design

Graphic design can make or break a business, especially a new business. When people are making judgments about your brand within just a split second of seeing your visual assets, a good first impression is key.

Without knowing how to create good graphic design elements, how to space your visuals, or other principles of design, your business’s visuals could end up looking cluttered, unprofessional, or even straight-up cringey.

This is where the fundamental of graphic design come into play.

While you might have excellent products or services, it’ll be hard to sell your offerings if you can’t get your customers through the door. Great design can attract your target audience, and more than that, transform them into advocates of your brand.

For those who can’t afford to hire their own professional graphic design team, we’ll be teaching you the 12 elements of design and exactly why graphic design is important for your small business.

Why Graphic Design Is Important

As you can see from the statistic above, most consumers are naturally attracted to brands that use good graphic design.

A great logo, eye-catching imagery, pleasing colors, and typography — these visual elements play an integral role in any business, and they can be made possible through graphic design. But more than just a matter of aesthetic appeal, good design communicates what your brand is about and the value it provides customers.

The graphic design elements you use in your marketing assets are critical to your audience and how they relate to you. If your business caters to the elderly, using neon colors and harsh typography probably isn’t a good idea.

Understanding the fundamentals of graphic design can help you relate to your audience and reach them on a more personal level.

Here are other ways graphic design is important for your small business…

To see the complete breakdown of these nine elements, click here.

What Are the Principles of Graphic Design?

There are 12 fundamentals of graphic design that will help you create high-quality content and visuals. They are…

  1. Size and Scale

  2. Color and Contrast

  3. Typographic Hierarchy

  4. Spacing

  5. Proximity

  6. Negative Space

  7. Alignment

  8. Rule of Odds

  9. Repetition

  10. Leading Lines

  11. Rule of Thirds

  12. Perspective

Size and Scale

Size in graphic design refers to how big or small an element is in relation to the objects surrounding it. In the fundamentals of graphic design, size is usually used to help make a particular element stand out or show importance.

Like size, scale refers to the size of an object relevant to others, but scale specifical gives graphic design elements depth or movement in a visual asset. For example, if a circle is half the size of another, we would describe one as big and the other as small. It would be difficult to determine the relative size of an object if there is no scale of reference.

Color and Contrast

Color is the aspect of things that is caused by differing qualities of light being reflected or emitted by them.

To see color, you have to have light. When light shines on an object, some colors bounce off the object, and others are absorbed by it. Our eyes only see the colors that are bounced off or reflected.

When it comes to graphic design elements, color affects the emotions and actions people take when they see your visuals. For example, red and orange make good call-to-action buttons because they make consumers take action.

Contrast are colors from opposing segments of the color wheel. Colors that are directly across from one another on a basic color wheel provide maximum contrast, such as blue and yellow or black and white.

Contrast, in relation to the fundamentals of graphic design, is the visual difference between two or more elements in a composition. The more the difference between the elements, the greater the contrast. You may have noticed it in video games or cartoons; an element the character is about to interact with often has better contrast than the background elements. This is so your eye is drawn to where the character may be going, without being distracted by the background objects, even if they look exactly the same.

Typographic Hierarchy

Creating hierarchy in graphic design uses all four of the previous graphic design elements we’ve discussed; it uses color, contrast, shape, and scale to create a seamless flow your eyes can easily understand.

Whether we are looking at posters, web design, social media content, or any other design medium which features text, a text hierarchy is recommended.

One of the best ways to understand this is business cards. Your business name will often be larger than your phone number or email address, right? This is to draw the eye to the most important aspect - your name.


Space in graphic design creates the visual uniqueness and dynamic of a composition. It helps you show the sizing and hierarchy of your graphic design, can help you accentuate and frame an object, and is critical when creating your content.

Putting too much in your space can clutter a design, and using not enough graphics can create a lackluster feeling.

One of the most important aspects of space is white space.

White space is a graphic design element used by graphic designers to help each aspect of the design layout “breathe” and helps create an emphasis on certain elements of the composition, usually the subject.

Designers often use it to create a visual hierarchy among the graphic elements and help the viewer scan the design. Adding white space to your design also increases the legibility and readability of your text.


Proximity in the fundamentals of graphic design is a principle of design that refers to the spatial relationship between each element of the design.

Negative Space

There are two types of space in the fundamentals of graphic design: positive space and negative space.

Positive space refers to the subject or areas of interest, such as the family members in a family portrait, or the phone an iPhone poster.

Negative space refers to the subject’s area, such as the background. While positive space is essential, negative space helps frame and connect the relationship between objects. To ensure that your graphics are always in harmony, you must plan the areas of negative space as much as you do the positive space.


If you create a lot of text content, you are probably already aware of how important alignment can play in graphic design.

Alignment refers to placing text and other design elements on a medium, so they line up in a certain way. It helps to create hierarchy, organization, connections, and improve your design’s overall readability.

types of alignment

Rule of Odds

According to 99 Designs, The Rule of Odds says that pleasing compositions seem to often have an odd number of elements placed in the foreground, most commonly three. The two objects on the outside both balance the focal point in the center, creating a simple, natural balance.

The foundation of the Rule of Odds is that our brains are wired to try to compare even numbers, to sort them into competing groups. This becomes distracting if the elements are evenly matched as the viewer is pulled between the two, or four, competing elements. When your eyes are unsure of where to look, they tend to just move on.

If the elements of an image are positioned according to the Rule of Odds, the viewer’s eye can flow around the image more easily. This leads to a greater feeling of harmony in the image.


In the fundamentals of graphic design, repetition means simply using the same element over and over again. Not only does it create an element of unity within a specific piece of artwork, but repetition can also help create consistency and bring the graphic to life.

Repetition can also draw the eye towards a particular element by outcasting part of the repetition to look or feel different from the rest.

Which Zoek logo sticks out to you the most in the image above? It’s probably the black logo, right? This is because we used repetition to draw your eye to the only different item in the graphic, even if the background itself was slightly distracting.

Leading Lines

Leading lines may be a new graphic design element term you haven’t heard before, but we guarantee you’ve seen “leading lines” frequently.

A common use of leading lines that you might be pretty familiar with is within flowcharts.

Leading lines is a fundamental of graphic design technique that makes use of lines to direct the eye. It can be used to give a composition a sense of balance or to lead the eye to a particular subject. In many cases, lines that stretch off into the horizon are used to instill a sense of distance.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds in graphic design divides content into three even rows and three even columns. The four central intersections where the lines meet are the key “hot spots,” which is generally where you should aim to place your main subjects. This is because your audience will naturally look to this area when first shown a piece of visual content.

rule of thirds illustration

One thing to understand about the ‘rule’ of thirds is that it’s actually more of a recommendation than a rule. This technique can help improve graphic composition by suggesting where we might want to place key elements when starting out, but it’s not a strict regulation.

Depending on your branding and style, sometimes not following this rule can also create great graphic design elements.


Perspective is one of the most important aspects of graphic design. It’s key when creating interest, motion, movement, and depth of otherwise flat elements.

It makes images more interesting; an image with perspective is often more intriguing to the viewer than a flatter image. Perspective can also twist and manipulate the standard, giving more unique results.

Perspective can also trigger movement in the viewer's eye, engaging them and drawing them into the graphic. Images with perspective make us feel more a part of it than flatter images and show us how the artist sees the world, especially in regards to photography.

Importance of Graphic Design for Small Businesses

There are five main reasons following the fundamentals of graphic design are important and necessary for your small business…

  1. Saves you time

  2. Saves you money

  3. Storytelling design engages your audience

  4. You appear trustworthy and more professional

  5. It is essential for social media

Saves You Time

We’ve all seen bad content or bad design, and we usually keep scrolling, right? Having poor graphic design on your website, landing pages, social media, etc., will make it harder to actually grab your audience's attention in the right way and convert them from a viewer into a customer.

Saves You Money

Imagine not having to spend money on advertising because your graphic design naturally draws people in. With organic reach being limited across social media, many companies have to pay just to be seen.

But when your visual content is unique and engaging, the more your audience will engage with it.

The more they engage with it, the more your organic reach increases.

The more your organic reach is increasing, the less you have to pay for paid views!

Storytelling Design Engages Your Audience

Humans love stories. They’re how we make sense of the world, communicate our values and beliefs, and connect with others. The same can hold for businesses - and through stories, a brand can let the world know what it’s about and showcase its personality.

Storytelling has the power to humanize a brand, making it easier for a business to foster a relationship with its consumers. And when you connect with your audience on a personal level, it can help scale business growth and increase your profits as a result.

While there are infinite ways to tell a story, one of the best ways to connect with your audience on a deeper level is through visual storytelling. Not only does visual storytelling provoke emotion and engage your target audience, but it also reinforces the message you want to convey through a medium that appeals to most in the digital age.

You Appear Trustworthy and More Professional

Layout and composition are the foundation of graphic design. A strong composition will attract attention, clarify understanding, and engage the viewer. At the same time, layout helps guide the viewer from the awareness stage to the consideration stage, all the way to the loyalty stage of the marketing process.

While copy and products/services have much to do with that as well, bad graphic design can cause audiences to leave and never return - regardless of how fantastic your offer is.

It Is Essential for Social Media

According to findstack, 80% of digital marketers use graphic design in social media marketing.

Visual content marketing has an important role to play for social media since they are mostly visual platforms. Videos and images on Facebook and Twitter almost always get more shares, and LinkedIn posts that utilize imagery have a higher engagement rate than those that don’t.

Key Takeaways

Not every small business has the budget to hire a professional graphic designer, but that doesn't mean your branding and marketing assets should visually suffer!

Following these fundamentals of graphic design can help take your graphic design and content to the next level. We also recommend A/B testing your graphics is also a good idea when trying to determine what type of visuals your audience responds to the best.

Once you're in a place where hiring a graphic designer is feasible for your business - Zoek is here! We offer a dedicated graphic design team with unlimited revisions to make sure your graphic design content is exactly what you imagined.


Kellyann Doyle is a Content Marketing Writer at Zoek, an SEO, Web Design, and Digital Marketing Agency that assists small and medium-sized businesses with their online footprint. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in 2013 from the University of Houston with a Major in Communications and a Minor in Marketing and has been working in the Digital Marketing world ever since. When not working, you can find Kellyann trying new recipes, enjoying a good nap, or watching Friends for the 500th time.


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