Second, you need to understand the different parts that constitute a logo.
What are the different parts of a logo?
In its most basic, the parts of a logo must include a brand name and a graphic representation, such as an icon, that somehow identifies or visually highlights that brand. A logo may include the following elements:
The logotype, wordmark, or brand name
The icon, mark, or symbol
The tagline or slogan (optional or contextual)
You may or may not use all these components on a given logo.
But here’s the thing:
By understanding the basic parts of a logo and their purpose, you will be able to create logos that are meaningful, structured, and effective.
Below, I explain in detail the different parts of a logo and show some great examples.
Parts of a Logo
1. Logotype or Letterform
Every brand has a name.
Therefore, most logos incorporate that name within the logo design itself.
Sometimes, the name itself is the entire logo, such as Coca Cola, Google, or Disney.
This is called a logotype.
A logotype is a brand name that is displayed in a strategically chosen typography or specially crafted lettering that serves as an identity for that brand.
A logotype incorporates shaped or stylized letterforms to convey meaning by only displaying a name.
These names are not merely displayed in a common font like, say, Times New Roman. They are displayed in a special way, with specially designed type that helps to convey the essence or an aspect of the brand.
There are many famous examples of logotypes, such as Lego, Google, and Sony:
The logotype may incorporate other logo components, such as color, or accompany other elements, such as an icon or mark.
Here’s the gist about a logotype:
The way you display a brand name, such as the font you choose or the lettering you design, must somehow “speak” about the essence of the brand and communicate its identity.
2. Icon or Mark
One of the most common parts of a logo is the icon, mark, or symbol.
What is an icon?
An icon is a graphic representation that is able to effectively capture the essential features of some object, thing,or idea with the least amount of detail or elements.
You’ve seen them before: it’s the little drawing that accompanies many famous logos, such as Airbnb, Target, or Adidas:
Now, and this is important:
Icons are not drawings or illustrations. Their purpose is not to show a detailed rendering of a dog, tree, or house.
Their purpose is to represent, in the most minimal yet accurate way, what something is.
One of the most important principles of logo design is simplicity. In this sense, the icon or mark on a logo should be as simple as possible.
Nonetheless, it should be able to represent that for which it stands with precision.
A painting is able to incorporate as much detail as possible in order to communicate its subject. Logos, however, don’t have that luxury.
Instead, logos must pack a lot of meaning with only a few visual cues.
This is why logos mostly rely on icons or marks for communicating an identity, concept, or idea.
Logos use icons in a strategic way to communicate what a product or brand is about (its “essence”).
A final, but not mandatory, component of a logo is the tagline.
What is a logo tagline?
A logo tagline serves to reinforce, explain, clarify or expand a brand’s purpose, nature, or utility in a world saturated with brands.
Some famous taglines are Subway’s “Eat fresh”, Nike’s “Just do it”, or McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it.”
BONUS: Logo Elements to Consider
A logo is able to communicate not only in terms of the shapes it includes, but also in terms of the general form it conveys.
Logos are created with different general shapes: circles, squares, rectangles, triangles or even “organic” or “expressive” shapes (forms that are irregular).
However, the importance of shapes in logos has a lot to do with practical considerations:
The form of a logo in many ways determines where and how a logo will be displayed or how its content is organized and its elements arranged.
In other words:
The totality (gestalt) of a logo has an overall shape that not only serves as a communication device but also determines how and where a logo is displayed.
Logos use color as a powerful communication device. You’ve probably heard that there’s actually a psychology of color, with many theories pointing to the different effects of color.
While this may actually be true, color also serves a more practical communicative purpose in logo design:
As humans living inside a given society, we associate certain meanings with certain colors in culturally specific ways. These associations may vary from culture to culture.
Western cultures associate the color yellow with caution.
This idea is reinforced by traffic lights, which use yellow for communicating “slow down,” or workers’ hard hats, which tend to be yellow. Red reinforces the idea of heat, hence the intense red used in fire trucks.
Some other color associations come from advertising and the media.
While we logically associate the color green with nature, in the past decade the marketing of “green” products and practices has contributed to the association of the color green with the concept of “environmental consciousness.”
This is exemplified by British Petroleum’s logo remake, in which the strategic use of green serves to produce the effect of “environmentally conscious.”
A visual analogy is the communicative force behind a logo. A powerful analogy helps us remember a logo with interest and curiosity.
What is a visual analogy in logo design?
A visual analogy is a way of combining visual attributes that are inherently different in a new way that makes sense, in a funny, interesting, creative, or dramatic fashion.
For example, through visual analogies, we are able to make connections between an aspect of a brand name and some literal or abstract attribute that connects with a dimension of the brand.
In the next example, the “P” of the brand name “Pencil” can be manipulated in a special way to represent what the name stands for in an iconic way:
Here are more examples:
Ideally, we would try to incorporate a visual analogy to every logo as a way to achieve memorability and uniqueness.
Conclusion: Logo Anatomy Will Help You Learn Logo Design
Logos are the most important aspect of a brand identity.
As author Robin Landa says, “a logo is the single graphic design application that will be a part of every other brand design application”.
By understanding the different parts or components of a logo, you will be able to understand how logos are created and how they communicate effectively.
Remember, at its most basic, a logo has the following components:
Brand name, wordmark, or logotype
An icon, mark, or some other form of representation
Occasionally, a tagline
As you continue to understand how logos are created, you will also learn to apply design principles and creative communication skills, such as communication through visual analogies.
Keep on working!
Fundamental Principles of Logo Design [With Examples]
Great logos follow proven principles of logo design.
If you want to create logos that are powerful and effective, you need to understand how logos work, how they communicate, and what makes them appealing.
Enter logo design principles!
In this post, I explain the 7 most important principles of logo design with lots of helpful examples.
Let’s get to it.
What are the Principles of Logo Design?
Logos are one of the oldest forms of graphic communication.
And today, logos are one of the most important aspects of a brand.
Logos have become the only way brands can distinguish themselves from all the noise and competition out there.
As a designer, you need to create logos that are able to convey a brand’s identity, purpose, and nature effectively.
Before you fire up Illustrator and start drawing, you need to understand the theory at the foundations of logo design, such as Gestalt theory, the different types of logos, and, most importantly, the principles of logo design.
A logo that incorporates a good visual analogy helps it become more memorable.
The Amazon or FedEx logos are good examples of memorability.
The hidden smile in the Amazon logo simbolzes friendliness but also the idea of “From A to Z”.
The negative space arrow in FedEx serves as an analogy of the “movement” of goods.
Both logos use a powerful visual analogy to become memorable. Once you discover these hidden icons, you’ll never forget them!
The power of an analogy is the best way to achieve memorability.
The principle of scalability refers to a logo’s capability of adapting to different sizes and contexts.
This is the most important aspect of scalability:
A logo should function well in both small and large formats.
What does this mean:
A logo should look awesome and convey its meaning in both a tiny embroidering on a t-shirt or business card and on a massive billboard or the side of a trailer truck.
In other words:
A logo must be adaptable. This is what scalability as a principle is all about.
A good logo is focused. It doesn’t cram up multiple, competing attributes in order to communicate complexity.
According to Airey, a focused logo is one that concentrates on only one attribute to make it stand out. One or two attributes (tops), I would add.
Let me explain using Airey’s example:
When Roy Smith set out to update the French Property Exhibition logo, the composition focused on only one attribute: The open door symbolizing the “property” aspect.
Now, in my view, the French “flag” counts as an attribute, so you really have two things going on: The Flag and the door.
But it’s all integrated in a nice, single package.
What counts as visual elements, you ask?
An icon, color, lines, a complicated font, and effects (such as gradients) all count as visual elements that can potentially “ clutter up” and negatively affect the focus of a logo.
You don’t want the viewer having the burden of considering too many elements or attributes when they glance at a logo. You want them to see that thing or two that make the logo stand out and become memorable.
To sum up:
An effective logo entails so much more than just a drawing or concept. You must follow sound principles of logo design if you want your logos to be memorable and distinctive.
The following 7 logo design principles will give you a solid foundation for designing excellent logos that deliver:
Once you really understand how these principles apply to effective logo design, you’ll be able to incorporate them in your own design process in order to create compositions that are strategic, compelling, and effective.
6 Graphic Design Principles You Need To Master Today
Closure in design relates to our ability to “fill out” the blank spaces.
Have you seen this meme before?
Why were you able to read it?
It’s because of our ability to “complete” what’s missing if we have enough background information.
If we have enough visual information, we are able to imagine what’s missing and process designs in complex ways.
If we make designs using the closure principle, we create compositions that are interesting, complex, and eye-catching.
Look at the next example:
Here, there are no boundary lines defining the letter “X”, and yet your mind “creates” the line for you, which allows you to decipher the content of the design.
Closure in Graphic Design: Real-World Examples
The following logos use the closure principle nicely.
Notice how your brain “creates” the missing border for each icon even if it’s not there. This creates interest and a level sophistication:
2.3. Continuation (Continuity)
Continuation (also called continuity) in design is the idea that the elements of a design can create the illusion of going beyond the space that contains them (for example, the page, t-shirt, or screen in which it is shown).
By using the continuation principle, design elements seem to go off the page, which makes the design seem larger and highly dynamic.
Look at the following example:
The arrows convey a sense of looking beyond the page, which reflects the continuation of the composition
Continuation Principle: Real-World Examples
This 1961 design, by Oli Stelander, is an excellent application of continuation.
See how the “pipes” go beyond the composition in order to convey a feeling of flow, length, and extension?
Can you see repetition and rhythm working their magic?
Here’s another example:
This classic composition, by Piet Zwart, uses the continuity principle to convey a sense of direction that goes well beyond the composition.
Common sense tells you that space is empty, right?
Space is one of the most powerful elements of design.
Just like zero is not nothing but something (a number), space is the all-encompassing fabric that holds all the elements that make-up a design.
Space is a design principle because you can manipulate it to create a sense of cleanliness, clarity, focus, and attention in a composition.
Space is a “presence” in design, it is never “absent.”
This is the rule:
We can use space to enhance the quality, sharpness, and focus on the elements of a composition. The strategic use of space implies the use of “white” space as a force and presence in a composition.
Space Principle: Real-World Examples
Look at this clever 1959 ad from Volkswagen:
Here, space is used as the main component of the ad.
Even if the ad is selling a car, space is “bigger” than the car, because it accentuates the message being communicated. It creates focus on the car and projects a sense of “cleanliness” and “craftsmanship.”
Here’s another example from a 1974 cover of Print magazine:
Space here works to highlight the drama of the blood and the “motion” of the blade that just created this mess.
The space principle closely relates to the figure/ground principle, because the interplay between positive and negative space is a strategic use of space as principle.
Dominance in design is the ability of one element to control other elements in a composition. This results in creating a focal point in the composition, which “directs” the “eye” of the viewer.
This is the rule:
Use the dominance principle when you want to convey a sense of urgency, direction, drama, or emphasis.
Dominance Principle: Real-World Examples
Look at these examples:
By having one element dominate over the others, we can create interesting compositions that create emphasis or drama.
Without dominance, these designs would be dull and uninteresting.
Hierarchy has a close connection to dominance.
However, while dominance refers to the structuring of design elements (such as icons, shapes, and images), hierarchy refers to the structuring of information.
Look at the following examples. Which one is more readable?
The example to the left has images, color boxes. and headings to structure information and make it more readable.
Here’s the rule:
Use the hierarchy principle to direct the viewer’s attention and establish the logical order in which he or she must “read” the information in a design.
Use the hierarchy principle to give levels of importance to the elements of a composition.
Note that you may use color, size, or form to establish hierarchy.
Also, you establish a hierarchy of elements to direct the viewer’s attention toward the order in which he or she should “read” the design.
Balance is the design principle that binds all other principles up. The goal of a finished composition is to achieve balance.
Balance in design is a state in which all visual elements are arranged in complete harmony, each one serving its precise purpose in the composition.
Now, balance doesn’t necessarily mean that all elements are perfectly centralized and organized. It means that the relationship among all visual elements has been carefully planned and works.
Having said this, balance can be symmetrical or asymmetrical.
With symmetrical balance, all the elements of the composition are placed equally on the page. They are arranged within an imaginary grid (rows and columns) that distributes them equally in relation to one another.
Symmetrical balance is the easiest to recognize.
With asymmetrical balance, visual elements are not distributed equally.
Understating and applying the fundamental principles of design is crucial for achieving effective visual communication. If you are an aspiring graphic designer, you must spend time studying these principles.
Without design principles, we will most likely create work that is uninteresting, unappealing and, worse, unable to communicate effectively.
You must learn to see these principles in action all around you. With practice and experience, you will be able to see these principles in action everywhere you look.
These are the main points to remember:
Design principles are time-proven observations about how the world is visually arranged all around us.
Graphic design principles do not work in isolation. Each principle complements the other.
Design principles serve as a blueprint for arranging visual elements in strategic, effective ways.
Learn how to apply these graphic design principles and you will be on your way to becoming an effective graphic designer.
13 Famous Graphic Designers You Didn’t Know Were Self-Taught
He studied literature, got into advertising, and later became one of the most important creative directors of all time.
His work and art direction helped shift the common practice of centering ads around products instead of ideas, concepts, and emotions.
Many recognize his Volkswagen Beetle ads as a breakthrough in advertising, at the time effectively shifting stereotypes and cultural views about cars through powerful visual communication.
5. Alexey Brodovitch (1898-1971)
Brodovitch was a designer and, most notably, Art Director for Harper’s Bazaar from 1934 to 1958.
As a child, he had a passion for sketching and, as a young man, he dreamed of attending the Russian Imperial Art Academy.
However, his dreams were shattered, as he had to fight in the Russo-Japanese War and, later, forced by his father to attend military school.
Still, he managed to go to Paris, where he began to establish himself after winning first prize at a commercial arts poster competition. He beat no other than Pablo Picasso.
Today, he is well recognized for his graphic design design work, art direction, and mentorship as an educator.
6. Raymond Loewy (1893-1986)
Raymond Loewy was an inventor and industrial and graphic designer best recognized for the design of the Coca Cola bottle and the S1 Steam Locomotive.
However, he also designed the logos of globally recognized brands, such as Exxon, Shell, TWA, and BP (British Petroleum).
Lowey didn’t attend design school. In fact, as stated by Marcus in his book Introduction to Modern Design, most industrial designers of the era mostly came from diverse backgrounds and were self-taught.
Loewy himself started designing window displays for stores such as Macy’s and Saks.
British designer Wally Olins studied history instead of design. He went on to insert himself in the field of advertising, and became one of the most important contemporary figures in advertising and visual communication.
Through his firm Saffron Brand Consultants, he created successful brand identities for Europe’s Orange (formerly France Telecom), London’s 2012 Olympics, AOL, and Shell, among others.
Paul Elliman is an internationally recognized graphic artist whose work has been exhibited in the London Institute of Contemporary Arts, Tate Modern, New Museum and Moma, in New York.
As related in Frieze, “Elliman got his first position as a graphic designer on the London listings magazine City Limits in 1985 by borrowing a friend’s portfolio, having earlier pursued then abandoned courses in art foundation and sociology.”
Today, he is an influential graphic artist whose work has been exhibited all over the world and who teaches art and design at prestigious programs, such as Yale School of Art.
One of his most well-known works is Found Font, a typography composed of common objects and everyday bit-and-pieces.
13. David Carson (1965- )
Many consider David Carson as one of the most famous contemporary graphic designers.
His style and approach have made an enormous impact on graphic design, especially in terms of layout and use of typography.
A surfer, Carson began in graphic design only after taking a two-week graphic design course in 1980. His degree is in Sociology.
Even as he worked as a high-school teacher, he was experimenting with graphic design. In 1984, he became the Art Director for Transworld Skateboarding magazine, and the rest is history.
In the 90s, he became Art Director of Raygun, an influential alternative rock magazine at the time.
His covers for the magazine reflect his unique style, favoring an anti-grid structure and analog graphic design techniques.
Select the Circles and Ellipses tool, then press the CTRL + SHIFT keys. Click and drag to create a perfect circle.
Give the circle a stroke width of 25 pixels.
Step 2: Create Guides from your Circle
Duplicate your circle by selecting it, then clicking CTRL + D.
Now, while selecting your duplicated circle, select Object > Objects to Guides.
Now your circle has been converted to guides that will serve as your grid.
Step 3: Create Diagonal Guides
Now, create diagonal guides by dragging from the top left corner of your canvas:
Drag the guide across the canvas and place it crossing your circle diagonally, from the top right to the bottom left.
Make sure the guide aligns perfectly with the top right and bottom left corners of the “square” guides encompassing your circle.
Do this by enabling Snapping > Snap to Guides (located at the far right of the canvas). Move the tiny red circles in the guide to snap into the corner perfectly.
Now, create another diagonal guide in order to create a cross spanning from the center of the circle.
To do this, create a diagonal guide, as shown above, but now press the SHIFT key to rotate the guide.
Align with the top left, bottom right corners, applying the same method used for the previous diagonal guide.
B. Create the Inner Circles of the Powell Logo
Step 1: Create the Triple “P” Circles
Duplicate that circle you first created by selecting it, then pressing CTRL + D. Apply another stroke color to it and change its stroke width to 15 px.
Now, with your Select tool, while pressing CTRL + SHIFT, scale down the circle by dragging it by the bottom right corner arrow toward the center of the circle. Scale down until the outer edge of this circle just touches the inner edge of the larger, original circle:
TIP: Make sure that Scale Stroke Width is not selected in your Inkscape preferences (Behavior > Transforms) for this exercise.
Also, I find that not dragging in a continuous way (by clicking intermittently) allows Inkscape to show the true pixel size of the stroke as I scale down.
Step 2: Repeat for the Other “P” Circle Shapes
Select and duplicate the black circle, then scale down.
Next, select and duplicate the red circle and scale down, applying the same technique as above:
Go ahead and delete the red separator circles.
Finally, select all three black circles and then convert them to path by going to Path > Stroke to Path. Our circles now have a node structure like this:
Step 3: “Cut” Circles for the Bottom Part of Logo
With your Pen tool, draw a triangle along the bottom triangle base formed by the guide intersections. Be sure to enable Snapping > Snap to Guides, to neatly draw your strokes.
With the Select tool, make sure the triangle snaps snugly within the triangle guide structure:
Duplicate your triangle.
Now, let’s cut each circle one by one:
Select the inner, smaller black circle and, pressing the SHIFT key, also select the duplicate triangle. Apply Path > Difference.
If your triangle is transparent enough, you will see that you have made a “cut” in your circle according to the triangle part touching it:
Duplicate your circle once more, and “cut” the second, center circle applying the technique above.
Finally, use the remaining triangle to “cut” the larger outer circle.
Your circles should now look like this:
C. Create the Bottom Part of the Logo
Step 1: Create Bottom Logo Grid
Create a square surrounding the larger outer circle within the square formed by the intersecting guides. Enable Snap to Guides so that the square fits snugly within the square frame.
Make sure the stroke width of the square is 25px, like your circles. Also, make sure the stroke paint has transparency (so you can see what’s going on).
Now, go to Object > Transform. Go to the Rotate tab and input 45 in the Angle window. Make sure the degrees symbol is selected:
Finally, create a guide that snaps into the very tip of the rotated square.
Drag the guide from the top of the canvas ruler:
Step 3: Create the first “P” Stem of the Powell Triple P Logo
First, convert the square you created into a path by applying Path > Object to Path. Your square now has nodes.
Now, add a node to the part of the square (now path) right where the stem part touches the circle stroke. Double click on the spot to which you want to add the node. Use snapping to add the node precisely:
Next, to create the stem, let’s delete some path segments.
With the Node Editing tool selected, pressing SHIFT, select the top left nodes of the side of the 45 degree angle square:
Now, go to the node editing controls on top of the canvas and select Delete Segment:
With that segment deleted, do the same thing for the top right segment.
Once deleted, select the two nodes that run horizontally through the center of the former square and delete them (use the BACKSPACE key):
You now have your first “P” stem:
Finally, duplicate the stem and convert to guides (Object > Object to Guides). The guides will help us position the next two stems.
Step 4: Create Rest of Stems
Duplicate the stem you have, then move along the guides to connect with the inner circle. Be sure to enable Snap to Guides.
Zoom in with your Magnifier tool to make sure the stem aligns perfectly with its corresponding circle. If the connection is not completely aligned, just snap the node to the guide intersection to align.
Repeat for the smaller inner circle:
Finally, select each circle with its corresponding stem. Go to Path > Union to create a single path:
You now have the “P”s completed.
D. Create Rounded Caps for the Top Part
Step 1: Create Rounded Caps for Inner Top Circle
Zoom in to the top right end of the inner semi-circle.
Now turn to the Circles and Ellipses tool.
With snapping enabled, visually position your cursor in the middle of the stem.
Pressing CTRL + SHIFT, drag a circle that fits as closely as you can to the entire stem length. Use your Select and Transform tool to move and drag your circle to adjust its dimensions to the stem.
Let it snap to “Bounding box midpoint to guide.”
Step 2: Create a Guide for Positioning Next Caps
Now, drag a diagonal guide from the bottom left corner of the canvas.
Zooming in, position the canvas just touching the bottom of the cap circle. Let the circle snap to the guide.
Step 3: Duplicate Cap Circles
Now, duplicate the first cap circle and position in the next stem. Repeat for the final stem:
Step 4: Apply Union to Create a Single Path
Select a stem with its corresponding circle cap. Apply Path > Union to create a single path:
E. Create Caps for Bottom and Finish Logo
Step 1: Create First Circle Cap for Bottom Stem
Create a circle, using the same techniques you used for the top caps.
Go ahead and drag a diagonal guide from the top left corner of the canvas and snap to the bottom of the circle cap:
Step 2: Duplicate and Position Rest of Caps
Now, duplicate and position the caps of the two remaining stems, as you did for the top caps.:
Step 3: Apply Union and Finish Logo
Now, select each stem with its corresponding cap and apply Path > Union. Repeat for each stem.
Disable guides (View > Guides).
You now have a vector version of the Powell Peralta “Triple P” logo:
Because you now have vector version, you can apply any style you want to the logo, like this:
You can even add strokes to adjust the gap between each “P” shape:
Download the vector version of the Powell Peralta logo as a PDF file below(you can edit the file on your favorite vector software):
So you want to know what graphic design is all about?
It’s a completely reasonable question. It’s a question I asked many years ago and one that gets asked by anyone trying to learn graphic design.
It’s not only a reasonable question, it’s completely crucial, since in order to learn something we need to define the boundaries of what has to be learned.
In order to become a graphic designer, you first need to understand what exactly graphic design is, it’s purpose, and why it’s important.
This can be a lot, but we can define graphic design in simple terms:
In a nutshell, graphic design is the process of strategically combining and manipulating information in order to present it visually.Simply put, it is the act of creating visual representations for the purpose of effective communication.
Let’s look at graphic design more closely.
First, a definition of design in the general sense
Before plunging into theories and principles of design, graphics software, and skills tutorials, take a moment to think about the nature of design work.
Graphic design itself is a branch of design in the more abstract, or broad, sense. Design, as general discipline, has many levels of complexity, areas of application, and degrees of difficulty.
Design in this broad sense implies the full understanding and mastery of a process that applies to any act of human creation. That said, there are many sub-specializations of design: engineering design, interior design, information design, aeronautic design, etc.
Each has its own application and operation, each has its own level of complexity.
Design can then be defined as a process of creation. It is always purpose-oriented: it seeks to accomplish some well-defined purpose. The process of design, at the very least, implies strategy, hierarchy, selection, and manipulation.
But here’s the deal:
We can’t call every single act of creation “design,” since the act of designing implies a process of very specific actions or operations.
Some types of creation, say painting, may follow a broad plan or no plan at all. they may come from a “gut feeling” or from the “heart”.
But not design:
Design entails steps that are repeatable from project to project and that can be learned.
Let’s see in more detail what I mean:
What exactly is graphic design then?
If we see graphic design as part of design in the broader sense, we can say that graphic design is the process through which we strategically combine elements and principles in order to create visual artifacts of high communication value.
It’s important to describe the task of graphic design in order to understand what it is and, more importantly, what it is not. By doing this, we demystify graphic design as an essentially artistic activity. We get to see its procedural nature, which renders the task of learning graphic design easier and more approachable.
Below, I discuss key characteristics of graphic design in order to show you that it is a process that can be learned. Pay attention to what makes graphic design unique and how it’s different from other creative processes, such as creating art.
1 . Graphic design is different from art
Many times, we have heard that the artist works from the “heart.” This means that he or she follows some kind of instinctual voice, a “gut feeling,” that defines the creation as an inspired object. If you watch an artist work, such as Jean Michel Basquiat, you will see a “spontaneous” act of creation, a process that doesn’t have a fixed or guaranteed outcome.
We also often hear that art is always “open for interpretation.” Its effect is closer to an experience than to a specific message. Art “speaks” to us, but in ways that depend on context, history, frameworks of knowledge, and culture.
We can be both looking at a Pollock painting at the same place and time and yet experience different emotions and interpret different messages.
Even if most artists prepare themselves for the act of creation (in terms of planning, organization, or mapping), we tend to think of the artistic process as something that controls the artist, rather than the other way around. Art will take you where it will take you.
The graphic designer is different from the artist, and graphic design is different from the work of art.
The main difference lies in the primary purpose of graphic design: communication.
The primary objective of graphic designs are to render ideas, concepts, and events into a visual language for someone in some context. This language cannot be open to different interpretations and must be created according to predetermined parameters.
A graphic designer can be an artist, but you do not have to be an artist to be a graphic designer.
2. Graphic design is a form of visual communication
To say that graphic design is a form of visual communication is to acknowledge the importance of images in everyday life.
We live in a visual culture, and images have become the primary way of receiving and interpreting information. We rely on the visual for interpreting data, for making diagnoses, for expressing authority, and for selling stuff. Screens surround us and have become the quintessential channel for delivering images.
For visual communicators and graphic designers, images are a powerful vehicle for delivering messages because they are able to pack emotion and complexity in the most immediate, effective way.
To design is always to communicate. Communication, in this sense, is always a purposeful act, driven by clear objectives and processes.
3. Graphic design is strategy driven
Graphic designers create images that will accomplish a primary purpose, and this process of creation is guided by research, a specific message, technique, and an execution plan.
Graphic design does not occur by chance nor is the product of pure instinct. It is not random.
On the contrary, graphic designers take care in studying and really understanding their source material. They establish clear objectives based on a strategy for accomplishing their communication goals. They follow a system of production and workflow. They understand that simplicity and efficiency are essential elements of the creation process.
In other words:
The process of graphic design is a series of calculated steps that require skills, research, and strategy. It is planning and following through that plan to achieve a visual product.
4. Graphic design is a hierarchical process of selection
Graphic design concentrates on the minimum conditions that will render a message effective, and no more. In order to do this, graphic designers select what is most suited to accomplish a task. Excessive use of form or the over-manipulation of visual elements becomes an obstruction to clear communication.
A visual message carries within an intention. This intention must be distilled and rendered into its purest form. Selection becomes a crucial aspect of separating the important from the unimportant, the effective from the ineffective.
To select is to choose. Graphic designers are always choosing what is most effective to the task at hand.
5. Graphic design is manipulation
The first crucial step for graphic design is to “read”.
What I mean is this:
“Reading” here is a conscious absorption of content, a form of interpretation according to a code.
Design, as an objective-driven endeavor, implies the reading of the environment, the reading of messages (linguistic and otherwise), and the reading of the world.
Once graphic designers have read their source material (what they need to represent visually), they must engage in a second important step: to translate.
To translate means to take that knowledge, that understanding of the world that has been absorbed from the source material, and transport it to another plane of communication, the visual code.
In this sense, graphic designers manipulate language in order to communicate things in different ways. They also manipulate form (objects, icons, colors, textures) in order to create messages that are effective in communicating visually.
Conclusion: Graphic design is a process that you can learn
One of the main takeaway from this post is this:
You don’t necessarily have to be an “artist” in order to become a graphic designer.
Graphic design is a systematic, repeatable process that follows specific principles, actions, and objectives.
These principles and processes can be learned. With experience, practice, and understanding of what graphic design is about, you will be able to learn the basics of graphic design and start creating effective visual communication.
Summary: Remember these key points
Graphic design is different from art: The product of graphic design should not be open for interpretation.
Graphic design is driven by processes: Graphic designers work according to specific rules and steps.
Graphic designers are visual communicators: Get your communication strategy first, then create graphics accordingly.
Graphic design involves “reading” and “translating”: Graphic designers are really good at “reading,” or deeply absorbing, their environment. They focus on the details of things. The look at things very closely. Only then can they “translate” what they absorb into a visual language.
Graphic design can be learned: You don’t have to be born an artist to be an effective visual communicator. Mostly, you will need knowledge, discipline, and experience. If you keep practicing, you will develop an eye for graphic design.
Now that you understand some key concepts about what graphic design is about, you can start to learn about the main principles that power effective visual communication and composition.
What do you think is the most important aspect of graphic design?
Let me know in a comment below and we’ll discuss it.