There are three pillars of visual design. They are layout, typography, and colour.
There are other visual design skills you can improve. But none are as important as these. If you are good at layout, typography, and colour, you are a good visual designer. This is because they are part of almost every design.
It’s easy to assume that these pillars are basic. Foundations you learn before you move on to the next skill. Don’t assume that. They’re not. All three have a high skill ceiling. You can get better at them for a long time. You should try.
Each is a mix of explicit and tacit knowledge. Each mix has different proportions.
Layout has well-known principles and techniques. How to direct the viewer’s eye for example. Visual weight and balance. Alignment and proximity. You can learn a lot of this from graphic design books. You can also learn common layout patterns. I will write about this later. Skills like composition are more tacit. You need to feel how well the design is laid out.
Pay attention to good layout. Notice the patterns. Notice where it makes you look. How elements relate to each other. Increase your exposure.
Typography is luckily made up of widely-agreed rules. You can read one book and be twice as good overnight. As long as you practice what you learn. But the tacit side is nothing but details. And they’re hard to notice. The subtle difference between two sans-serif typefaces. How typefaces make the reader feel. How to pair two different typefaces. Typography is a dedicated profession for a reason. You can dedicate your life to it.
Look at samples of good typography. Try to recreate them. Question why you can’t quite do it. Notice that two typefaces shouldn’t work together. Be surprised that they do.
Colour might be the most tacit of the pillars. The colour wheel offers infinite combinations. Your colour palette can be any size. Two people think of different things when they see the same colour. Personal and cultural associations are important. Red is lucky in China and scary in England.
At first, use one colour only. Black, white, and one colour. You’ll be surprised at how useful this is. How many ways it can help. Help to highlight. Help to add meaning. Next introduce darker shades and lighter tints of the colour. Wonder why anyone ever uses more colours than this.
Learn about colour categories like jewel and pastel tones. Notice then in others’ designs. How do they make you feel? How much do designers use heavy distracting colours? How much do they use neutral colours?
Colour is varied and personal. You cannot learn some simple rules and move on. But you can learn some simple methods to create colour palettes. This is a way to get a feel for colour.
Remember you can keep colour simple and be a good visual designer. You can also play with colour forever and never finish your design.
The simple things are worth doing well because they happen every day.
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