Design 101

2 years ago | by


Some of our basic rules we commit to memory while designing anything… that said,
design rules like most rules are there to be broken! (insert evil laugh)

Producing a well designed and communicated piece will make a significant mark in your brand story, so it is paramount that you understand your brand and think about your specific user or customer before opening anything in Adobe.

The right program for the right design piece is a given, however we all have that one friend who “Knows photoshop”, and may be emotionally obliterated when you decide to go with a studio designer, but with reason – designers are designers, your friend is your friend. Keeping protocol with design is actually about the purpose of your design, which is where design discipline comes into play. Photoshop is for editing imagery and creating effects on graphics it is most likely the first base for most designers skill set but it is by far the least frequent program we use, illustrator is used for creating logos and one page flyers, posters and for packaging design where there is need for die line printing. Indesign is best used for multi page print docs like mags, books etc. Each system has it’s own set of rules, how you use a program and set up your design is essential to ensure an easy workflow and also so that you can effectively print/share/use your design in the format you need. This is also the reason why your designer NEEDS to know the use of your collateral. Screens have different colours to print, res is different for uses and a brand logo should never, ever be created in photoshop.

1. Kettle kern
Quick tool for practising ->

A dodgy kerning job is one of the cardinal sins in the world of design, so it’s an important skill to nail down early on. A good designer will pick up on bad kerning with a simple glance.

Kerning is the adjustment of space between characters. It doesn’t sound like much, but a good kerning job can make a world of difference. The ultimate goal of kerning is to ensure that the space between each letter is visually even to make for a neat and orderly piece of text. It is also used to create space for reading quickly, as a printed word doc and an advertising poster have differing user view points, i.e. in your hand vs on the wall.

design rules 101
design rules 101

2. Harmonious fonts
Fonts need to be harmonious, on any given design stick to a maximum of three fonts! That’s an appropriate rule of thumb in certain applications (and is common in editorial designs like magazine spreads), but it is by no means a hard-and-fast rule. Take a considered approach to your design, and as always – think about your user.

3. Size matters….
We’ve all struggled to get through an otherwise interesting magazine article and definitely lost our way when a column of text is as short as a short piece of string. Faulty structured line lengths are everyone’s problem, but a great designer will be able to fix that up.

Body copy golden rules are applied with 6 words minimum line lengths and a maximum of 13 words per line and an average of about 30-40 characters (including spaces) on each line. Ok, hard to remember? here’s a quick visual I created earlier.

Simply put, less words = choppy sentences that shout, more words = feels like tedious university lecture on quantum physics.

design rules 101
design rules 101

4. Care for the widows and orphans
A widow is a single word at the end of a paragraph. An orphan is a word or short line at the beginning or end of a column that is separated from the rest of the paragraph.

Widows and Orphans create awkward design rags, which interrupt the reader’s eye and affect readability. So please, care for the widows and orphans in your design!

They can be avoided by adjusting the type size, leading, measure, word spacing, letter spacing or by entering manual line breaks (soft returns)

5. Always Use A Grid
Developing some basic grid skills is probably one of the first steps any designer should undertake. It can be used as the foundations for a layout and create
A well-implemented grid is a bit like a fairy godmother, it can transform your design from something average to something clean, clear and effective.

design rules 101
design rules 101

6. The F word
Every font used evokes different emotions, so it’s important the font you’re using matches the message. Wrong font, wrong message. Right font, clear message.

7. Whitespace 
The age old saying less is more is something we stand by in the studio. Whitespace is our best friend and can be more powerful than flashing buttons, headlines and bold colours. Whitespace reveals what’s important, and gives your user the ability to understand the essential in your design.

design rules 101
design rules 101

8. Hey Grandma!
Who is your audience? While your design may look good, it might not be the best possible communication for your audience. When in doubt, always refer back to the brief. This point may need to be placed back at number one on this list, but we’ll keep it here for now because this should always be at the forefront of your mind!

9. Who’s the boss here?
Greater size indicates greater importance. Decide what the most important elements of your design are, and consider increasing their scale for emphasis.

design rules 101
design rules 101

10. Black is the not the new black
Love black but your audience are pre-schoolers? Colour theory should be understood, are your audience young and fresh? Should you use the product colours to communicate the message?

11. Don’t be stupid!
If you’re designing something that will eventually be printed, print it. Even if it’s black and white on the back of phone bills through your nan’s dusty Xerox, printing it out will give you the clearest idea of what works and what doesn’t.

design rules 101