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  • Writer's pictureAbhijit J K

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is a multifaceted discipline that moulds a viewer’s visual and emotional experience. A graphic designer solves problems in visual communications, such as presenting the intended information with clarity and visualization or to create an eye-catching advertisement. Graphic design is present all around us - from printed text to graphical layouts, logos, visiting cards, brochures, user interfaces (UIs), websites, billboards, and many more. Any human-made visual display uses at least some aspects of graphic design. Thus it is not only essential to the creation of attractive or engaging content but also in the design of the intended user experience (UX).

Fundamental Elements of Graphic Design

Deconstructing graphic design reveals it’s fundamental building blocks. A graphic designer has to use these elements in harmony to compose a good visual display.


The line is the most basic and thus the most fundamental element of any visual. It defines the silhouette of any shape or form and thus distinguishes an area or volume from another. A line can be of different sizes, colors, and textures. It can also be dotted, dashed, curved, or jagged. Each aspect of the line conveys a specific intent. Lines can be used to guide the viewer’s eyes, to separate content, or to delineate and highlight important text. A good graphic designer weighs these aspects against each other and uses them in appropriate contexts. For example, it is a graphic design decision to use a jagged or straight line to separate the footer from the main body. The typographic design also hinges on understanding and using the appropriate flow of the lines of the characters or sentences.


The shape is the next basic element. It is any closed area with a well-defined boundary line. Shapes can come in two broad categories: geometric and organic. Geometric shapes are mathematically precise and have regular dimensions while organic shapes are irregular and mimic natural objects like leaves and clouds. Shapes can evoke various emotions just on sight. For example, a square or a rocky shape looks stable and reliable, a circle or curved shape evokes openness and a triangle or a shape with pointy angles indicates danger and alarms the viewer. The balanced use of shapes and forms gives each element a fitting sense of its place.


The form is the 3D analogue of shapes. In a display, it means giving a shape shadow and highlights to reflect its 3D nature. Forms give visual elements a solidity and depth. Simple forms like balls, cubes, and bubbles can draw attention to important content or bring out more details in a condensed space. But since forms are richer in detail than shapes, they should be used in moderation so as to not overwhelm the viewer.

Colour and Texture

The colour and texture of the above elements define their mood and tone. Visual texture is an illusion of 3D textures projected on a 2D display. It associates the textured object with a tactile feel. While colour defines the facade of shapes, the texture creates the surface of forms. Colour and texture triggers association of the line, shape, or form with its real-life counterparts. For example, a red line looks like a warning red tape even without any texture. Or a transparent circle with a highlight and a rim lit silhouette looks like a bubble.


Balance is the harmonic composition of all the above elements to maintain a sense of spatial symmetry even when the design is not literally symmetrical. Graphic designers modulate the size, color, and texture of visual objects to create a balance of their visual weights. Balance lends visual stability to the display. This not only creates an appealing composition but also allows the designer to evenly guide the viewer’s visual and emotional experience. The design might also break the norms of balance to bias the composition to highlight focal points.

Visual experience

There are several roadblocks to efficient and engaging visual communication. These problems arise from the basic constraints on the design space. More information, limited display space, and strict aesthetic requirements might lead to visual content being illegible, confusing, or misunderstood. For example, a large billboard might have a lot of visual space, but cramming too much information will render it confusing from afar and the impact of the advertisement will get lost.


A creative graphic designer can solve these communication problems using graphic design elements and create clear and easily digestible visual content. Like other designers, graphic designers have to use purposeful tradeoffs to create design solutions. This begins with a wise utilization of space which implies selecting the most relevant display elements and excluding those which are not selected.

Context is also a vital prerequisite to assimilating a piece of information as intended. But describing or elaborating a context uses up precious space and compromises the desired impact. Thus a graphic designer has to find ways to simulate the necessary context without distracting from the focal content. This can be done by leveraging the familiarity of the audience with cultural stereotypes of colours, shapes, patterns, and symbols. For example, a yellow and black pattern evokes alarm, and when coupled with a humanoid shape or text, it can craft a specific message to warn the viewer.

In larger display formats where the visual space is not cramped, the contents should be prioritized according to their relevance. Contrast is an essential tool to this end. It can be created through lines, colours, typography, and negative space. These elements can all be used together in harmony to create a layered scheme of contrast. For example, bold texts are easily noticeable, but among a list of bold headings, a coloured heading will seem automatically highlighted. Using such a scheme consistently throughout the display will allow the creation of an information hierarchy. This will guide the viewer in absorbing the content in layers of decreasing priority and ease his burden of arranging the information according to its relevance.

Focus and Flow

The clarity of visuals will only realize their potential if they transfer accurately to the clarity of the overall message. For this, the visuals need to guide the viewer’s attention through the focal points of the message without being interrupted or distracted.

Apart from contrast, the focus can also be attained through the use of leading lines. Leading lines are lines which exist by themselves or as a part of a shape or form’s silhouette. These lines draw the viewer’s eyes to the intended point, not by explicitly pointing at it, but by subliminally guiding his gaze. For example, the silhouette of a stylishly shaped photograph can point to an important section that is not otherwise highlighted.

The overall clarity of the message also requires the viewer’s gaze to flow from one point of focus to another seamlessly. Leading lines can also help in doing this in the guise of other visual and text elements. For example, a series of bright bullets can guide the viewer from one topic to the next without him reading the points themselves. This might be a good design tradeoff if you want the reader to ignore the points at first glance and continue onwards, only to come back to those points while seeking details later.

Coherent purpose

The impact of the content will resonate only if the entire display has a coherent graphical theme. This, in turn, reinforces the coherence of the overall message. It implies using a fixed colour palette and homogeneous and complementary styles of shapes and typography. A consistent design template brings the above elements of clarity, focus, and flow together in harmony to give the display a resonating theme.

But even a consistent theme is relevant only if the implications of the theme aligns with the mot. This, in turn, reinforces the coherence of the overall message. It implies using a fixed colour palette and homogeneous and complementary styles of shapes and typography. A consistent design template brings the above elements of clarity, focus, and flow together in harmony to give the display a resonating theme.eflect its use informal settings. Thus, the theme should be harmonious to the content to avoid dissonance between the viewer’s visual and emotional experiences.

Emotional experience

There is no vision in the world that does not provoke an emotional reaction in the viewer. Humans are primed with emotions that are triggered by various sights. Even the slightest change in the visuals creates an intuitive difference even if the viewer can’t consciously pinpoint what exactly has changed. This lends graphic design enormous influence over human emotions even beyond our conscious control.


Different people get attracted to different kinds of visual displays depending on their personalities and moods. Despite that, there are some combinations of shapes, colors, and textures that are generically pleasing and has the potential to attract a wide variety of populace. Besides, every brand has its personality dictated by its products and is also meant to cater to the tastes of the target audience. The graphic designer, thus, has his role cut out in this respect: Every design must appeal to its target audience, either through its sober dignity or catchy attraction. Otherwise, the design falls flat before it can even function in its other roles because the viewers will stop engaging with a dull or ugly looking display.


The role of emotional design comes into its own when used to mold the viewer’s attitude towards the object of design as a whole. The graphical theme is instrumental in creating the emotional platform with which the viewer will absorb the displayed content. For example, presenting a sophisticated or luxury product needs a sober theme with a restrained visual flair evoking a serious or formal attitude. While a kids’ product is appreciated more if presented with a cheerful and exciting theme.


A consistent and appropriate theme is also important in convincing the viewer to have a positive attitude towards the brand itself whose product, or service the design is adorning. This is better achieved if the theme is built as a part of the brand’s design guidelines. That ensures that the appreciative audience of one display associates that positive feeling with the other displays of the same brand. This creates a positive outlook of the viewer towards the whole graphical ecosystem of the brand and creates long-term customer retention.

Excitement and Relaxation

A good graphic designer handcrafts the total emotional journey that the viewer experiences while going through a visual display. The designer has to understand that excitement is relative, so if a graphic presents one exciting thing after another without pause, it reduces the impact of all the focal points. Thus, careful use of the contrast scheme and management of negative space can create exciting and informative peaks followed by blank space or subdued contents for the viewer to absorb the previous impact. This phase of relaxation also gives the viewer time to anticipate the next emotional peak.

A good graphic design, thus, has to use a wide variety of tools and considerations to delve deep into the viewer’s subconscious associations and create attractive, engaging, and meaningful displays.

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