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Elements of Graphics

Elements of Graphics

Mike Lenhart

What are graphic elements? We see them all the time and many of us have gone to school to understand what they are and what they’re made up of. Do we all know the difference between graphic elements and graphic principles? It’s always good to think about them and work with both of the disciplines to get our work and visual communications accomplished in a successful way.


Graphic elements are usually made up of things like image, and sometimes type, that are used to communicate the message that we’ve been hired (hopefully) to do. A deeper look at graphic elements include things like line, shape, color, and texture. We can accomplish a lot of effective graphic campaigns if we look at these elements and use them accordingly. Remember, just because they’re a lot of different elements, it doesn’t mean we have to use them all, and all the time. This is simply overkill. We can do a lot with elements such as line and shape without incorporating an image or photo at all. How many times have we seen a poster with lines and color and said “Wow!”? It’s always a nice thing to get a good feeling over a design that is simple, yet communicates the message in a way that the audience gets it. Another element that sometimes get overlooked by many is that of format. The format is basically the layout of a two-dimensional design, such as business cards or a brochure. Always remember the size of the output, like a poster. Posters are supposed to be looked at from a distance. That notion includes some restrictions on the poster so it can be read from a distance and still be understood. Business cards, on the other hand, are meant to be viewed up close. These small calling cards can and should be effective and original without being boring or illegible. It’s always good to print out proofs when we work on designs such as these so we can see what they’ll really look like at full size.


Graphic principles, on the other hand, deal with the overall look of the piece and how all the elements fit in with it. Things like balance, focal point, and unity are three of the most important graphic principles. Balance includes things like symmetry and asymmetry. The result should come up with balance, so the page is, well, balanced and pleasing to the eye. Focal point is always a favorite, since it usually the largest element on the page and is meant to draw the eye into the piece. The focal point, or the part of the design that is most emphasized, doesn’t have to be a large image or blob on the page. It can be a large blob, but most times it is more subtle and is placed in the overall design. Accents are also used, which are also considered supporting focal points. Accents are not usually as strongly emphasized as the main point, but they support the focal point and add to the overall effectiveness of the design. Unity is sometimes harder to achieve and may take some practice to get it right. Unity is when the elements of the design look as though they belong together. Remember the term “gestalt”? The concept is sound and really helps when laying out a piece like a magazine. Another principle is rhythm. Similar to unity, rhythm is a pattern that is created by repeating various elements to establish a sense of movement from one element to another. It’s good to think about unity and rhythm when first coming up with concepts and sketches. In this way, we can start out with the correct overall look and save a lot of time when the final comps are designed.

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Final Thought

Graphic design is a wonderful practice and art to learn. Some of us may take a little longer to get it, but it can be accomplished successfully. Sometimes, we may be asked to design the elements or type on the page and a more experienced designer may actually lay out the page. It’s good to get involved with this and learn from a more seasoned professional or instructor. Some of us may be better copywriters and have the gift of writing. That is very important and is also needed to communicate a good message. A suggestion, try everything in the areas of design elements and principles to hone skills. We can always take away things from a design to make it more effective, but that takes practice too. Still confused or need help? There are many great graphic design books that can guide the user through the process and really make it easier. Examples of good design are always important so we can see what has been done and what has been done effectively. Good design helps us all. Let’s take the time to learn, practice, and be successful at it.

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