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How to Master Graphic Design Basics for Beginners

Author: Evan Brown

People share information, messages, stories, or facts through different channels. Some may communicate through speech or video, and some may prefer writing. Graphic design is the art of creating and sharing a message or meaning through an image, and that image can range from the type of advertisement you find in a magazine to a flier you find in your town. By combining traditional art with technology, art becomes a great tool for communication.


The term 'graphic design' was coined by William Addison Dwiggins in 1922. The first university program in graphic design was founded by Alvin Eisenman at Yale. In 1993 Paul Rand defined graphic design: "to design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry."

Graphic design isn't just editing a picture in Photoshop. There are arguments to say that writing on cave walls and designing columns in ancient Rome can be considered graphic design. The reason for this argument is that all of these were used to share information and to communicate. These designs are meant to make text more interesting, which in turn can define an entire company, product, message, or mission.

Shape, Spacing, and Layout

Before you start throwing words and pictures onto a canvas, you need to have an understanding of shape proportions, spacing between objects, and generally having a clean layout. A cluster of random images and ideas won't be aesthetically pleasing – a layout has to be pleasing to the viewer's eyes, easy to understand, and not overly complicated. Aside from making sure the image itself looks nice and presentable, you should consider the margins and how much space is around the edge – leave some room you don't mind having cut off since you may lose some of the design during the printing process. Try to find a balance between clarity, information, and visual appeal; too much information can be distracting and may distort the intent and message of the design.

Colors & Images

Colors have different meanings and can evoke varying emotions. 'Warm' colors such as red, orange, and yellow tend to reflect energy, joy, enthusiasm, and passion. 'Cool' colors like blue, green, and purple are associated with calmness, relaxation, and are more subtle than a fiery, bright red. Choosing your colors before you start is a good idea since you need to take into consideration what emotions you want (and don't want) the viewers to feel. If you intend to get the viewers feeling powerful and energetic, then warmer colors would be appropriate. If you're looking for them to feel inspired yet calm, then cooler colors would be better.


Typography is the art of and technique of arranging words and language. Along with the way each letter looks, the spacing itself can determine the overall tone of a style or font. Before computers and the internet, typography was a very focused art form and profession. Similar to colors, different fonts may determine how people feel when reading what they ultimately take from it afterwards. The chosen font will represent the entire piece; it will grab the viewer's attention, convey the messages, and in conjunction with color and layout, define the tone and purpose.

Printing Process

Although many works of graphic design art will largely remain on a computer or online, there are still many times where a piece will become a billboard, business card, flier, or another printable object. Some styles are tried and true; letterpress was popular from the 15th to the 19th century and although it is outdated and difficult it can provide great results. If printing out a project onto a flat object is too simple for you, then thermographic print could be good – the end results is a raised print, like engraving, to give more texture and dimension to your design. The look of the print itself may determine how people perceive the message.