University of Southern Indiana

What is graphic design and how to do it better

What is graphic design and how to do it better

4/13/2018 | University Communications
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Flyers, posters, font choice, pretty designs ­­– these may often be what comes to mind when we think about graphic design, but graphic design encompasses so much more than that. Xinran Hu, associate professor of graphic design, shares with us a few considerations and decisions graphic designers need to make, as well as a few general tips to think about when designing.

The work of graphic designers is everywhere. Posters, stationery, books, signage, print and digital media, company branding and even the credits that roll at the end of your favorite movie and television is under graphic design’s big umbrella. Branding is especially important for companies and organizations. Colors, logos and fonts must be consistent. From product packaging and advertisements to company stationery and web communications, a potential customer needs to recognize and be comfortable with the reputation of your brand to buy in.

Think about the bright red Coca-Cola can with its curling white cursive font. Most likely, you could easily identify a Coca-Cola can from quite a distance away, because they use the same colors and fonts on their soda bottles and cans, apparel and other collectible items. This is branding, and branding communicates and sets a company apart from competitors. “As part of branding, companies try to deliver a message about who they are and what they provide to you,” said Hu. Seeing the recognizable logo or branding of a familiar product will trigger you to remember your experiences with that product.

Graphic designers go through a design process when taking on a job. Hu said that the professional design process consists of five stages: analyze problems, define the goal(s), ideate, implement and evaluate. “As graphic designers, we do research, study the target audience, analyze data and figure out what we want to communicate,” said Hu. “We must have a clear goal, then develop ideas to reach those goals, then comes implementation of the visual solutions.”

Here are a few tips for a general audience on how we can create better design layouts.

  1. Establish a hierarchy in your design by creating visual layers so people read your message in the appropriate order. The most important words or image should stand out from the others either by being larger in size or by using contrast, e.g., bold font. Hu suggests asking a co-worker to look over your project and see if they can rank the hierarchy in your work. If it isn’t obvious to them, it may not be obvious to other viewers.
  2. Elements need to work together harmoniously. Elements must respect together and not fight. You don’t want loud clashing colors or 10 different fonts that draw attention away from your message or confuse your audience.
  3. Don’t distort fonts by changing spacing or stretching out letters. “The typeface is type designer’s work,” said Hu. “They design very carefully the proportions, spacing and appearance. That’s their art.” Too many fonts make it difficult to read. Limit your typefaces to 2-3. “You can use the same type family and use bold, light or italics to create contrast.”
  4. Don’t use text on an image unless there is an empty corner that doesn’t obstruct the image. Putting text over an image may create a battle for attention, as to what the viewer should focus on.
  5. For body text, keep your font size under 12 point, reserving bigger fonts for titles and subtitles.
  6. Take a design class and expand your knowledge beyond the basics.

USI has its own brand standards which must be considered when creating promotions. In fact, there are separate brand standards for academic logos and athletic logos. More about University branding is available online.

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Photo Credit: USI Photography and Multimedia

Xinran Hu

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