Basic Graphic Design Principles

Let’s face it, cleaner, modern visuals are simply more inviting. When designing reports and other visuals, be focused on the aesthetics of your design. Easy to interpret visuals and data sets allow readers to follow the flow of your design. Using plain writing language allows readers to read, understand and quickly find the information they are looking for. Below are basic graphic design principals:

Before you begin your design. Ensure your featured content is finalized before you begin. Focus on the design requirements set for you by your employer or client. Brainstorm, and sketch out what your design should capture. Before you begin creating the design, determine the size of your design, where it will be featured (i.e., website, social media, poster, and more.) and if it needs to be printed.

  • Are you printing your design? The first step will be to set the size (pixels or inches) of your design.
  • Use plain language. Plain language is a style of communication that allows readers to quickly find what they need and understand what they read.

Let’s begin designing! Once you have the sketch of your design, and your content developed, you can begin building your design.

Choosing your colors. Begin building the foundation of your design with a background color. When setting backgrounds for graphic designs, choose colors that don’t overshadow the content, clash with other colors on the page, or generally hurt the eyes. Be consistent and deliberate in your selection of color so that it doesn’t detract from your readers being able to quickly understand your design. Too many bright colors overwhelm the senses. Be mindful that some colors have inherent meaning. For example, in the U.S., red in a report is typically interpreted as “bad.”

Layout your sections with text boxes, fonts, shapes, colors, charts, and more. When readers look at your design, their eyes should be drawn to the element(s) you want them to look at first. You can control which information catches the readers’ attention by adding visual cues like text box labels, shapes, borders, size, and color.

  • Create a text style guide and apply it to all pages of your design. Apply this style guide to not only textual elements, but to the font choices, you make within your visualizations. Pick just a few font faces and text sizes.
  • Know ahead of time how much text needs to be entered in and the font size allows you to complete your design more efficiently without having to readjust.
  • Set rules for when you’ll use bold, italics, increased font size, certain colors, and more. Try to avoid using all capitalization or underlining.
  • Shapes can aid in the navigation and comprehension of your design. Use shapes to group related information, highlight important data and use arrows to direct the eye. Shapes help readers understand where to start and how to interpret your report. In design terms, this is often referred to as contrast.
  • Lastly, fill in your finalized content into each text box and design section.

Next, add in your icons and images. Keep a consistent theme of icon and photography types. Seriously consider the alignment, order, and proximity of each of these.

  • Alignment – ensure you have a structure to the page that aids in navigation and readability.
  • Reduce clutter – a cluttered report page will be hard to understand at-a-glance and may be so overwhelming that readers won’t even try. Remove all design elements that are unnecessary. Avoid bells-and-whistles that don’t help convey the information as clearly and quickly and cohesively as it can.
  • Tell a story at a glance – the overall test should be that someone without any prior knowledge of your design’s topic can quickly understand the design without any explanation. With a glance, readers should be able to quickly see what the design is about and what each data set is about.

Review your design. Now that your design is complete, print test versions and ensure no tweaks need to be made. Remember, the function of your design is to meet a business need, not only to be pretty; although, some level of beauty is required, especially when it comes to making a first impression. Happy designing!

Laura-Céline Mueller is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an experienced public relations professional, specializing in content development and digital communications. As Public Affairs Specialist for the District of Columbia Government, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs she is a strategic communications adviser assisting in the management of communication, branding, events, marketing, and public relations operations of the agency. 

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