Easy tips for great Visual Design / by Isabelle Ringnes


Mastering visual design is not easy. Beauty is subjective, but with the technology available most designers have the opportunity to take data from user research studies into account to create digital products that "just work". Jessica Helfand describes graphic design as "a visual language uniting harmony & balance, color & light, scale & tension, form & content". 

I attended a crash course in visual design to gain a better understanding of how to optimize the user experience in terms of perfecting the esthetic aspect. Our professor, a designer at Yahoo, encouraged us to initiate the design process by asking the following questions: 

  1. What will the final deliverable be? 
  2. what is the purpose of the design? Are you informing, persuading, promoting, identifying? 
  3. What are the benefits of the product/service?
  4. How will the site be utilized? 
  5. Who is the target audience? 
  6. Are there any competitors in the marketplace? 
  7. What is the message that needs to be communicated? (The primary meaning is the direct message of a word, sign, or image, the information. The secondary meaning is what is conveyed or suggested by the overall design.)
  8. What do you want the viewer to feel about the design?
  9. What are five adjectives you would use to describe the product and brand you are trying to convey?  

Did you realize how many elements actually went into designing the AirBnb logo? 

In visual design, there are essentially four purposes you need to think about. 

  1. Emotion: Personality, Reaction
  2. Description: Function, Context
  3. Structure: Organization, Hierarchy 
  4. Communication: Visual Storytelling

There is everything from structure, grid, colors, typography, alignment, images that you need to take into account. It is the composition and harmony between all these various elements that determine whether or not your design will be one that is well liked. 

Typography is actually a very important element. It is something we don't usually spend much time thinking about, but nonetheless, a bad font may actually kill the whole UX experience. Fonts should be easy to read, clean and clear. 

Ps. Did you know the most popular font is Helvetica? Even Facebook uses it. A good tip is to avoid sans serif fonts on websites. It decreases the readability. Popular standard typefaces are: Helvetica, Helvetica Neue, Proxima Nova, Open Sans, Avenir, Lato, Futura, Tahoma, Myriad, Arial. Funfact: Comic Sans MS is one of the most hated fonts in the world.

Remember to also think about size, line spacing, line height, scale, contrast, color when deciding the layout on your website.

Color is also very important. Contrasts colors usually go well together, so it is not uncommon to see a blue background with orange text or vice versa. A simple rule of thumb is to not use more than five colors in a single layout. Optimally you only use threee. Color should be used sparingly to highlight only important information. Remember to allow room for white space (negative space). When too much content is pressed in a layout, it becomes cluttered and incoherent. Good design is usually as little design as possible.

Iconography can also be used to convey a message without the use of text. Icons should be simple, easy to understand and universal; they're meant to enhance comprehension, never distract. 

The icons used in Apple's settings are ones that are simple and universally understandable. 

Web design is like fashion- trends and preferences change every few seasons. I recently started flipping through this slideshare to identify some of the most popular trends from 2014. Feel free to check it out as well. 

This post is inspired by my lecture with Julie Krafchick at GA in San Francisco. She also provided the following resources to inspire a career as a graphic designer. 

Happy designing!

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