Graphic design basics: All you need to know to get started with graphic design

Your business will need visual assets designed at some point, whether it’s your logo, a flyer, sales material, or social media posts. How do you design assets that are informative, eye-catching, original, and most important, naturally integrated with your brand style? These graphic design basics can help get you started.

Types of graphic design

You may be surprised to learn that all graphic design isn’t precisely the same. Within this vast discipline, there are many sub-specialties that call for certain skills, specific knowledge, and in some cases, their own specialty software. Here are some of the types of graphic design you may encounter:

  • Marketing and advertising design: Among the most common graphic design types, marketing and advertising design is typically dedicated to working on any visual element for a brand, often in an agency or a freelance setting.
  • Corporate design: This type of design is dedicated to the visual identity of the company. A corporate designer is fluent in the ins and outs of their company’s brand and often plays a role in the execution of its visual elements and overall brand strategy.
  • Publication design: Publication designers are hyper-focused on magazines, newspapers, and other print publications. This involves working closely with editors to ensure that text, photographs, advertisements, and other elements are laid out in a way that entices the reader to keep going. This skill set transfers from print to digital as more publications move online.
  • Package design: Package designers have specialty knowledge in how a product’s box not only advertises a product and makes it appealing on the shelf, but protects it in transit as well. This involves certain methods of modeling and measuring that not all graphic designers know how to do.
  • Motion design: Creating moving images is a unique skill set, and motion designers specialize in the knowledge needed to create these file types. Motion designers put their skills to work creating graphic interchange format (gif) files, short animations, app movement, and more.
  • Web design: While web development is a separate skill that doesn’t necessarily require graphic design knowledge to execute, web design involves applying many graphic design basics and principles to the online experience. Web designers use many graphic design elements we’ll mention later in this guide, such as shapes, contrast, and typography, to create a memorable and pleasant web design.

What are the fundamentals of graphic design?

Before you put your ideas onto (literal or metaphorical) paper, there are some basics you should understand regarding graphic design. These fundamentals will help ensure that your design is sound, functions as you want, and looks beautiful. Here are nine foundational principles to know.

Hierarchy

  • What is it? Hierarchy is the placement of information so the most important content is read first. This design principle ensures that your readers’ attention is directed where you want it. For example, if you’re making a poster for an event, you’ll want the name of the event to be read first, followed by everything else, such as who will be at the event, date and time, and how to buy tickets. Using hierarchy principles, you can design your poster in a way that draws the eye to the most important information first.
  • Why is it important? Many people only spend a few seconds glancing at a design. What do you want them to take away from it? How do you design it so that the most important information is immediately communicated and comes first? Hierarchy helps inform those decisions from a graphic design perspective.

Color

  • What is it? You know what colors are — after all, you see them every day. But when it comes to graphic design, color is about using each hue effectively to communicate your message or story. 
  • Why is it important? Color plays many roles in your design. Through color psychology, you can apply color in a way that has the power to influence how your viewer thinks, feels, or acts after seeing your design. This plays a significant role in visual identity to connect what you design back to the brand with which the design is associated. Even color selection is its own process, following the best color palette selection principles to create a seamless look.

Typography

  • What is it? Typography refers to how letters are arranged to make them appealing and readable. This is slightly different from your font, which refers to the overall design of your lettering.
  • Why is it important? Creating easy-to-read designs is one of the best ways to ensure that your intended audience digests the information they contain. Thoughtfully using and pairing fonts will contribute to a more successful design.
shine purple logo example

Lines and shapes

  • What are they? Whether circles or triangles, bold lines or thin lines, these basic graphic elements are utilized across the board to help bring interesting features to your design and draw the viewers’ eye where you want it to go. 
  • Why are they important? Lines and shapes form the fundamentals of your design. Shape selection, especially in logo design, brings its own psychology with it, reinforcing brand identity through associated values. Lines have a similar effect — round, soft lines produce a very different effect than sharp, bold ones.

Texture

  • What is it? In graphic design, textural elements are used to add depth and intrigue to your design. Oftentimes, textures are created specifically for your brand, or they’re used as dictated in your brand style guide across mediums and platforms.
  • Why is it important? Adding something interesting to your design can help it stand out in your viewers’ minds. A textured element can bring the elements on the page to life, further reinforcing your brand message and the important information the design contains.
pink arrows logo idea

Balance

  • What is it? Balance refers to the evenly spread elements across the item you’re designing, whether that’s a flyer, a logo, a social media post, or a billboard. You can have symmetrical balance, where your design is quite literally equal on both sides of an invisible line, or you can have asymmetrical balance, where your design is not literally balanced but uses graphic design elements to create a balanced feel.
  • Why is it important? As one of the essential elements of graphic design, balance brings stability to what you create. Balance is what makes your design “make sense” and come across as a completed work. 

Proximity

  • What is it? Proximity refers to the relationship between different objects on the page and the space allowed between them. In short, related items should be put closer together than unrelated items, which should be placed further apart. Size, shape, color, and typography can all influence how proximity is executed in your design.
  • Why is it important? Proximity plays into the brain’s natural desire to group like things with other like things. Breaking from this natural desire to group things together can result in a design that appears disorganized. One way to unite these elements is through consistency, whether that’s grouping design elements by related fonts, the same color or color family, or similar shapes. Similarly, white space or negative space — or the “nothing” between design elements — can help reinforce this principle as well.  
black and white net logo idea

Alignment

  • What is it? Alignment refers to the lining up of text or graphics on the design you’re making. It’s the hallmark of a professional and well-thought-out design. 
  • Why is it important? Proper alignment creates order and lends polish to your design. When elements are aligned, they naturally, well, align themselves to an organized graphic. While the average person may not notice if things are aligned perfectly, it’ll be noticeable if they are even slightly askew.

Contrast

  • What is it? This refers to elements of your design that are total opposites of one another. Some common examples you’ll see in practice are dark and light, modern and “old school,” or small and large.
  • Why is it important? Contrast is one of the ways that you can help direct your viewers’ attention to the most important elements of your design. For example, a light-colored headline against a dark background will command more attention because of the contrast in colors. 

5 tips for new graphic designers

Are you beginning your journey into the world of graphic design? These five tips can help organize your thoughts, source inspiration, and create a design that’s both technically sound and beautiful to boot.

  • Practice, practice, practice. The best way to put these principles into practice is to try them for yourself. It may take time to get these fundamentals right, and that’s totally okay! The more you try, the more you learn.
  • Do your research. Inspiration can be drawn from the world around you. You may find ideas in observing nature, listening to music, or watching your favorite program. One of the most practical sources of inspiration, however, is researching what similar businesses have done before you. Not only does this give you practical examples of what’s standard in your industry, but it can kick-start ideas of your own. You can start by creating a moodboard, which is a collection of images arranged on a document that can be referenced for inspiration as you design your items.
  • Aim for simplicity first. It may be tempting to try your hand at every trick in the book, but less can certainly be more in graphic design. Aim to develop and build upon a few key elements first before layering on new elements that may make execution more difficult.
  • Trim down your colors. As you’re designing, draw inspiration from your color palette. Just three colors grouped together provide an excellent foundation while ensuring your design remains reflective of your brand. Check out our guide to selecting a color palette to help you choose your core three colors. 
  • Be original. When it comes to graphic design, imitation isn’t a form of flattery. There’s a fine line between drawing inspiration and copying someone else’s artwork, so even as you draw inspiration from other companies and designs, it’s of the utmost importance to prioritize your original take on that idea. 

Get started with Namecheap — no experience required

Brand design work is made simple with Namecheap. Through our Visual suite of DIY tools, you can create the most fundamental marketing materials your company needs to thrive — without taking a graphic design course. 

Through our free Logo Maker, you can go through shape, color, and typeface selection to create a logo that best represents your business. Our easy website builder contains everything you need for a beautiful, functional, and secure website, and with drag-and-drop tools, creating the best page for your business is a breeze. And once you’re ready with your logo and website, our business card maker allows you to add whatever information you need — using graphic design principles like hierarchy and contrast, of course — to your business cards. Get started with Namecheap’s Visual Suite today!


Nick Allen

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is a writer, photographer, and content marketer. He’s also the founder of BrainBoost Media, a boutique content and operations studio. With a wide range of interests, he enjoys reading and writing about sports, entrepreneurship, and start-ups.
More articles written by Nick.

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