If you often spend endless amounts of time tinkering with your graphic design layouts, fonts or colour schemes but they consistantly  just don’t feel right, this might be just the article for you.

I sympathise because this was my life, where designs were close to being really cool, but at the same time wrong enough for every tom dick and harry to tell me to `just shift that across there a little` or `add a bit of space between those`… which still never really solved the problem, but did bug the heck out of me… thankfully though, this is not a terminal issue, but one that can be completely corrected, transforming your work and freeing that huge monkey from your back.

And the secret is… an appreciation of good Graphic Design Theory.

Forgotten Knowledge

There are 3 key areas of study that can really help make your designs just work. They are…

  1. Typographic Theory (font mastery)
  2. Grid Systems (for balanced layouts)
  3. Colour Theory (ermmm)

Typographic Theory

These days, anyone can open any number of programs and instantly start creating and laying out copy on a page. I assumed that people that could do this well, creating a clear and well balanced page just had a knack for that kind of thing, and although I was in the `design` game for many years I didn’t really understand what typography was… and what is it?.. well, Typography theory is an age old skill that provides the designer with a set of guidelines that form the foundation of clear, balanced and instantly pleasing typographic layouts – no matter what the application, book layout, print ads, way-finder systems, whatever.

To be very clear and simple, Typographic Theory can help you to make the right decisions on all aspects of good font practise including…

  • Font Size and Leading (space between lines of type)
  • Kerning (the spacing between letters in a word or number set)
  • Precise Positioning of Blocks of Type
  • Relationships between Font Sizes
  • Relationships between Leading Amounts
  • Font Choices & Font Family Usage (normal, italic, small caps, bold etc)
  • Special Character Usage and Special Formatting (quotes, bullet-points etc)

My eyes were opened to how deep the rabbit hole goes from the incredible `Elements of Typographic Style` by Robert Bringhurst, a leading authority on Typography who writes with poetic passion in great detail on the history and practise of this delicate craft.

photo by Dave Kellam

Grid Systems

If you get that annoying “just move that a little bit over there” feedback more than you’d like, then look into Grid Systems. These cracking tools help take the guesswork out of placing any visual elements on a page, and having it feel like it just works.

Although the concept is simple, the development and application of Grid Design can be incredibly involved and highly creative. In its simplest form the Grid System could just divide the page into 10 colums and 10 rows, this is a valid Mechanical Grid. Alternatively you could use Mathmatical Grid based upon the Golden Ratio (1.618) or even the Fibonacci Sequence – these all work to produce interesting and well balanced layouts. Another `scale` that can be used is the Musical Grid, where the intervals in chord sequences represent the spacing of the grid lines. You can even use the page proportions as the primary element of your Grid System as you can see below.


I stumbled across Grid Systems on the website of Mark Boulton – a great designer and strong advocate of Graphic Design Theory, click the link to access a super series of articles on Grid Systems for beginners. Another great resource I recently stumbled across is – The Grid System website, – which caters for all things Grid, and even includes tools to generate your own, very nice:)

Another absolute gem is a book that I spotted subtly placed in a recruitment page image on ManVsMachine’s site. People – if you care at all about grid theory you have to get the amazing “Grid Systems in graphic design”

Image result for grid systems raster systeme

Colour Theory

Oh boy, I would spend endless hours and even consecutive days tinkering with my colour schemes to try to get that elusive palette that simply looked good. And once again I was in this living hell for quite some time before it dawned on me to go find out if there was a magic formula to make this less traumatic… and of course there is. Colour Theory is quite a well known thing these days, again providing the designer with a handful of tried and tested formulas to make sure your palettes work. I won’t go into any more detail as it’s far more exciting to visit the only resource you need! The Adobe Kuler web app allows you to learn about the various Colour Rules whilst creating great palettes that you can use!


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