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Design 101: 5 Basic Design Principles

communication design Jul 09, 2019

Katy Cesarotti | Gallery Design Studio Editor + Copywriter


It might sound like a superpower out of Marvel, but design taps into expected patterns of user behavior and subvert them to command their attention.


Essential design principles like contrast and alignment disrupt your audience’s usual scanning behavior to control where their eyes go first, what they decide to read, and how they interact with a designed page. By mastering these five basic tenets of design, marketers can take power over how customers perceive your brand.


More than style, successful design depends on a user-centric approach to research and problem-solving. By understanding how your user thinks and what they’re looking for, you can design smarter to drive more results — whether that means increasing conversions, keeping more customers or building sales.


1. Hierarchy for organization and direction


Visual hierarchy determines the order in which users will read or view a page. To make information easier to consume, assign different visual characteristics to different sections of information. Certain visual elements signal to the user that information is more important or higher in the hierarchy.



Some examples of visual characteristics that will attract the user’s attention:

  • Larger size
  • Bright colors
  • Contrast
  • Texture
  • Alignment
  • White space: increased empty space around an element


With a weak visual hierarchy, a user’s gaze will follow a natural path in the standard direction they read. English-speaking users will usually move their gaze in a Z pattern, from left to right and top to bottom, or an F pattern, as they consume less information further down the page. 


Disrupt or reinforce these predictable viewing patterns to control how users will interpret the content on the page. With attention-grabbing color or headlines, attract viewers to the information they need the most.


User research helps us understand our end users and what matters to them. What do they need that your service offers? What would motivate them to ask for more information or to stay on your website? What reasons might they have for not buying from you? Use insights from feedback surveys or customer-facing teams to shape how you structure the information hierarchy.


2. Contrast for impact and importance


Contrast occurs between different page elements with different colors, sizes or styles. Some examples of contrast include between the text and background colors, or a large headline and small graphic. Contrast seizes the viewer’s attention. Instead of using slight tweaks, maximize the difference between elements.



Contrast helps organize a design and clarify its purpose. What ideas are most important? What does the user need to know first? Contrast will help users focus on a graphic, headline or idea.

Brand colors and combinations also trigger an emotional response from your viewer. There’s a reason why healthcare companies often choose a soothing blue, or restaurants like McDonald’s go bold with red.


3. Repetition for unity and stronger design


Repetition uses similar elements throughout the design to create consistency. Designs will feel more cohesive and of a whole when different elements have the same feel. Repetition also helps the user see different elements as related.



4. Alignment for focused outcomes


Alignment organizes a design and creates relationships between different elements. Especially when elements aren’t near one another, alignment can group them together in the user’s mind. Clean alignment makes a design look more professional and orderly so it’s easier for the user to process.

With structured design layouts, grids allow you to organize and align elements in a way that’s easy for the user to understand. Use grids to create orderly, instantly understandable designs.



5. Balance for stability and structure


Evenly distribute the visual weight of objects, colors, texture and space.


Symmetrical balance means that the visual elements on half of the page mirror the opposite side. Asymmetrical balance means the sides aren’t identical but still feel in balance, like a scale. Radial balance means visual elements are distributed around a central focal point, and may have similarities.




About Gallery Design Studio

We're passionate about helping B2B businesses with their ongoing marketing communication design needs. We help our clients transmit complex information clearly, concisely and in a visually engaging way. Relentlessly curious, we're inspired by experimentation, and always looking for better ways to serve our clients.

We’ve collaborated with transformational businesses, both startups and more established companies such as Townes Wireless, Questback and CIT Bank.

Our services:


Get the creative support you deserve. Contact us today.   


About the Writer

Katy Cesarotti is a copywriter at Gallery Design Studio. Katy believes that, with clear and concise copy, innovators can spark emotion and drive action in their readers. She’s written for magazines, blogs and cutting-edge startups.


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