Key Principles of Graphic Design

Check your documents for balance, alignment, and other elements

Design principles suggest how you can best arrange the various components of a page layout to effectively and attractively communicate your message. All these principles apply to any visual piece you create. There's rarely just one correct way to apply each principle, so you still have lots of room for creativity. Therefore, think of these principles as guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules.


Abstract balancing squares, 3d rendering
 Westend61 / Getty Images

Visual balance comes from arranging elements on the page so that no one section is heavier than another. However, at times you may intentionally throw elements out of balance to create tension or convey a certain mood.

Proximity / Unity

Full Frame Shot Of Rippled Water
Manuela Schewe-Behnisch / EyeEm / Getty Images

Proximity (closeness) creates a bond between design elements. How close together elements appear communicates something about their relationship to each other. For example, an image of two people sitting far away from each other might indicate a sense of isolation. Yet, a third element could be brought in to tie two separate elements together, such as a ribbon between the two people, to symbolize connection.


Adhesive Tapes Lines
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Alignment brings order to chaos. Effectively lining up type and graphics in your layout can make the text easier to read, foster trust, or bring excitement to a stale design. To achieve good alignment, consider using a grid to line up blocks of text and graphics. As with the other principles, leaving elements out of alignment should be done intentionally and with a specific design goal in mind.

Repetition / Consistency

Full Frame Shot Of Cherries On Pink Background
Vesna Jovanovic / EyeEm / Getty Images

When you repeat design elements and use graphics and type consistently within a document, you give viewers a sense of continuity. Consistency can also help establish a sense of trust. For example, when you make page numbers appear in the same location on each page and use the same font style for headers of the same level, readers know what to expect.


Colorful Paper Stripes Wave Shape, Blue Color
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In design, contrasting elements make certain parts of the layout stand out and assume greater importance. You can use the contrast between big and small, black and white, squares and circles, and so on. Contrast helps ensure the readability of your text. Using yellow type on a white background, for example, doesn't offer enough contrast to be readable, while blue type on a white background does.

White Space

Empty Contemporary Interior Background
Comezora / Getty Images

Designs that have too much text and graphics on the page are visually uncomfortable and the text in such a design may be difficult to read. White space gives your layout breathing room. You can include it by widening the area between columns of text, leaving a buffer between elements, and allowing a generous margin on each page.

Don't make the mistake of going too far with too much white space. Doing so can make your design elements look like they're floating, with nothing to anchor them.

Additional Design Principles

Other design principles include harmony, flow, and hierarchy. Some principles may be combined or go by other names such as grouping (proximity) or emphasis (use of various other principles to create a focal point). They're all different ways of expressing the same basic page layout practices.