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WHAT IS DESIGN?

CHAPTERS

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What is design? Well, this is a really complicated questions, and it could take entire books to answer, but here at insight, we are trying to provide simplicity also in our explanations.

Remember, simple doesn't mean simplistic, so we will do our best to provide a good answer to this question, and at the same time to make it easy and understandable for everyone.

Design is communication, emotions, and empathy, but how is all of this achieved?

Let's start by providing a quick overview of the major design areas and "components", to quickly have a clearer view over this topic. Read carefully, as you will see that design in not only about drawing and graphics, it is actually much more!

DESIGN IS:

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SHAPES

Shapes certainly have a big role indesign; we tend to associate meanings, symbolism, feelings to different shapes, usually.

We generally tend to associate squared shapes and lines with strength, or masculinity, while rounded shapes are usually associated with elegance, femininity, classy elements, and so on.

As you can see, the word "generally" is bold and red here above, this is to underline that we are talking, as usual, about general perceptions and these are not unbreakable rules or meanings, so keep this in mind!

One thing to pay attention to, here, is the big impact of cultures. In fact, what for a culture could mean peace and continuity, for another one could be hostile for some reasons that you might not know, and this could potentially destroy your design potential! One example is the "zig zag line", for many of us could mean "broken" or "threat", but for a Northern European native population culture, the same line means "union"!

--> You can read much more about shapes HERE (coming soon) ! <--

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COLORS

 
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We just explained the shapes influence for a design, and a very similar thing applies to the colors. Maybe in an even more direct way, we tend to associate colors to feelings. Also, the use of few colors is usually intended for more formal designs, while the use of several different colors is associated with playful designs, mostly for kids or young people. As always, these are general guidelines but, depending on the situation, something different could it could be valid as well!
 

In the same way as for the shapes, we have a tendency to associate different colors to different meanings and feelings. Most of the times bright colors are associated with more positive feelings, while darker colors tend to negativity, pale colors are elegant, plain strong colors are trustable, strong, and so on.

 

Again, in the same way as the shapes, you will need to pay attention to the culturale meanings of colors: two of the most famous misleading colors are the black and the white (but not only!): most people tend to associate the white with peace and pureness, and the black to sadness or mourning; in many countries however, especially in Asia, it is true the opposite!

--> You can read much more about colors HERE (coming soon) ! <--

SPACES

 
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What are these signs here above?

Why didn't we start to write right under the title?

What is the role of space in design?

What is a negative space?

We have enough questions for now and we can start to discuss all of these points, and to understand better the use of space in design. 

When you are planning a design, you are not only putting shapes and colors together, you are considering the functionality of the whole thing, and legibility is a huge part of the functionality; this means that you need to wisely use space as an integrated part of your design

When we say "space", we mean also several things, for example we need to take carefully in consideration the space between a shape/word and another one; we have then the space inside a shape; the space between different designs, how will this influence the differentiation of the two different meanings of these designs?

 

We need space to be able to have a good legibility of the whole thing, but too much space will actually bring to the opposite effect! The signs under the title represent just an example of distance that we decided to keep between a title and the main text body, and we made this decision based on legibility and to make it consistently easy to understand where a topic begins, and where it ends.

 

To make an example, also in logo design, we need to consider spaces carefully, not only the ones forming the logo, but the spaces around the logo are crucial to keep it safe from external interferences to the legibility of the logo itself; so when we deliver a logo to a company, we need also to specify ho much space around it we recommend to keep it functional as we intended.

Space can also give directionality and can greatly suggest hierarchy in a design (you'll find more about this later in this same page): using spaces we can suggest what to read first, what after, what is a main topic and what is a secondary information, and so on. (There are of course more ways to work with hierarchy, but that is discussed in the specific chapter!)

In graphic design, also negative spaces are very important: thanks to this, you can imply shapes, words, and meanings that are not actually there, and this can be a good "trick" to make a design more interesting, functional, and memorable!

Here is an example of negative space we used in a logo, after the image a brief explanation will follow:

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As you can see in the first sequence of images, we wanted to include in a single shape the concept of camping and campfire, also implying the "A" of "Arctic".

We started with a simple triangle, we subtracted the shape of a stylized campfire, and we got a fire in front of a tent, plus, you can read an uppercase "A".

Here the negative space is the fire, a portion that is not actually drawn in the final logo, but you can clearly see it.

We can conclude this part now just by underlining again how important is space in a design, do not forget to watch more insights for more free contents!

 

TYPOGRAPHY

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TypoGraphy iS iMPortANt

Not a really pleasant title to see here above, isn't it? But why is that?

Well, of course we had a bit over-exaggerated the crazy typography to make it clear that typography is important, so let's see together how to deal with typography, what it actually means, and why, sometimes, also this crazy typography could be meaningful to some design!

At first, many might think that typography is all about fonts, but it is absolutely not like that! Fonts are part of it for sure, but you surely have much more to deal in addition to the font choice!

Anyway, choosing the right font is crucial to the design when it comes to make it well integrated with the message you want to deliver: it doesn't matter if you are choosing a font for a logo, or for a flyer design, for a document, for a website and so on; the main thing is that the font delivers the message and the mood you want to deliver: 

Elegant

confidenT

Classic

OLD style

JOYFUL

MODERN

 

and so many other...!

As you can see, the font can deliver already a message by itself, and you can also notice that, for these examples, we also used different colors (to read more about colors here above and in the related chapter!).

For designs, you can choose fonts, custom fonts, hand lettering or whatever you think fits the best to the project your are working on; the most important think to keep in mind is that you don't have to use something that looks nice to you and your own taste, but you need to think about the focus and the target of the design.

When you consider all this, also keep in mind that the use of capital letter, cursive, bold, and italic can deliver a very different feeling to the audience.

Usually capital letters, bold fonts, deliver a more "masculine" and direct approach, while cursive and italic a more elegant and classy vibe. Unusual shapes, colorful fonts, deliver joy and playfulness, while sleek, thin, monochromatic fonts look more modern, mature, and serious.

Also Serif and Sans Serif fonts have their importance: Serif fonts are basically those fonts with the little "ornamental stroke" at the end of a letter's line, while Sans serif doesn't have it. This is a Serif vs Sans Serif example where, in the circles, you can notice the strokes we just mentioned in the Serif font:

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A Serif font communicates sophistication, glamour, with a classic and more serious look, while Sans Serif is more reachable, friendly, approachable, yet sleek look.

Whatever font or lettering you choose to use, you also have to consider the space in-between letters, words, and lines, in other words: kerning, leading ,and tracking .

The kerning is the space between letters, leading is the space between lines of text, and tracking is the general space distribution of a text (something close to what happens when you "justify a text").

Most people might think that the space between the letters of a work is always consistent, but it is not, and the main reason is legibility. Sometimes is good to have constant spacing, sometimes you might want to have a more visually balanced distance, and you might need to consider this when you are creating a text! (You will find more about visual alignment later on in the "Organization" sub-chapter here below.

Here you can see an example of fixed and variable kernel:

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As you can see, in the "custom one", the spacing in-between letters is different almost every time, while in the "fixed" version, is always the same. There is not a better one to choose, it depends on the single case, so choose wisely!

Another think we have to consider, when creating custom fonts, is also the thickness and style of the letters themselves: there are "rules" that we might follow, but we wouldn't say that it is essential to follow these, unless you really must; some of these rules are, for example:

 

- the thickness of the vertical strokes is usually larger than the horizontal ones

- the angle of a letter in Italic should be constant

- the hight of each letter may be different for optical reasons

Last but not least, you have to be consistent: this is kind of a general rule for everything, so also in typography this is important; decide what rule to follow, and follow it throughout your whole design, this will improve your design level of professionalism, delivering a more efficient design.

 

ORGANIZATION

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You are working on a design, some good ideas pop into your mind, you start sketching, and refining. You forgot one thing to do before that, how to organise your design.

Yes, before everything else, you should at least think about how you will be organising your design, then start creating it through sketches and trials! In this way, you have already a picture of what you would like to achieve, and you have a reason behind this, a plan. Of course, you can evolve and change that plan later on, during the design development, but this is a good way to start working.

So, what to consider when you organise your designFirst of all, let us recall that when we talk about a design, we do not talk only about drawing a logo or something exclusively graphical, but we are considering the whole design possibilities (you can find more in-depth information regarding this in the related chapter).

We can now see some examples of what you should take care of when organising your design:

1) Hierarchy: visual and sequential

2) Size of the design components

3) Colors scheme

4) Alinement: pixel perfect and visual

It is good to start with a simple explanation: hierarchy means priority; we need to prioritize what we consider the main focus of the design, and make it easy and natural, for those seeing the design, to follow our implied sequence of information in the way we planned. We can use a sequential hierarchy, so we simply put one thing on top of the design, one under and so on, and people will hopefully follow the most common way to read, top-down. This is probably working in most cases, but not necessarily is the best solution for all designs. We could also make a visual hierarchy, so we will use tricks to "invite" the eyes of the people towards one content before another one.

Here is an example of the two styles, showed through a fake magazine cover:

SEQUENTIAL HIERARCHY

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Natural reading path

VISUAL HIERARCHY

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Induced reading path

As you can see, also this kind of spacial organization is a crucial part of a design, in addition to the whole graphical part of the design itself.


We can take advantage of these previous two examples to briefly explain the second point of our above list: size. These two magazine sample covers include two fonts, at very different sizes, and this is obtained by scaling the font, obviously, and also by using bold font style when needed. Just by changing these characteristics, we can already direct the readers' attention to one or another area of the cover, so you can understand how powerful this apparently small factor is.

The reason why we are stating the, maybe for someone, obvious, is for a reason that you maybe are not considering now: if in a way this can easily help you when you want to underline things, in many cases this can be a counter-effect that you do not notice at first, and your design can be ruined by this same factor, so pay close attention to these details when you are planning and organizing your designs!

The third point of our list was "colors": Even though these magazines' covers were just a sample, we built them following Nevra Arts' main color scheme, and we played around with shades to make a content more relevant and easy to spot than other. As you can see darker colors attracted your attention before lighter colors, but also contrasts can be used to underline a certain part of a design, or of a word!

What about organization and alinement instead? This is more a visual thing that you should consider to make things easier to read and more pleasant to the eye. When working with vector softwares (and other graphic design softwares in general) you are very often attracted by the perfect pixel alinement, we all know it!

Is it anyway always the best option? We can definitely say that it isn't always the case, and we can make a very quick and simple example, always using out previous magazine scheme; take a look at the following image, and tell us which one of the two is more pleasant and balanced:

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WHICH ONE DO YOU PREFER?

We feel pretty confident by guessing you liked more the second image of these two. We know it feels more balanced than the first one, but why is that? Let's see here below what happens here.

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As you can see, the first image is pixel perfect centred (both in vertical and horizontal, but here we will focus on the horizontal alignment for this explanation purpose): that means that the pixel on the left and the right of the number, to the inner circle, are exactly the same for both sides. That is so, theoretically, the best balance possible.

Why is it not so? Because our brain make us very often perceive things in a corrected way, we balance things for our own visual pleasure and consistency. In the second image, in fact, the number is slightly moved towards left, to make it visually balanced; the number with a non-symmetrical shape, in this case, benefits of this alignment much more than the pixel perfect one, and this is often the case with non-symmetrical shapes, but not only.

We reached the end of this chapter about organization in design, we hope it was useful to you, and we suggest you to keep reading here below to learn even more about design!

 

CONSISTENCY

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We will never stress this enough, consistency is a fundamental point for a good design, but we have to clarify a little better what we mean with this, so to avoid misunderstandings.

Most of us will interpret "consistency" with "repetition" of the same things, and this is wrong, but we understand why this is happening, but let's try to clarify this.

When you work on a design, you might do it for a brand, or you might do it for single "event", and this brings differences in the way you will build your own consistency.

For a brand, it might be an existing brand, or it might be that you are creating a brand visual identity, but the result is the same, you need to decide what will be a distinctive trait for that brand to be unique, and you could use:

 

- a set of colors/shades

- a set of shapes and symbols

- a set of fonts/lettering

- a set of key words

Usually, it is a good thing not to choose a too wide variety of these things for a single brand, as it will create confusion and it will be hard for the brand to be easily recognizable for a specific general vibe.

There are cases where you might want/need to do some exceptions to this (for example if you work on a design for a company that produces toys for kids, you might want a wide selections of colors), but then you will need to keep that exception consistent! This basically means, in this last case, that you will keep these multiple colors palette constant throughout the whole design.

In most cases, if you are working for an existing brand who is not looking for a rebranding, you will get access to their brand resources, so you will know where to start, and what to work with.

If you are working for a single event, you will need to focus on what will make your design special and really efficient for that specific event, you are not constrained to a specific set of pre-existing elements, but you will still need to keep in mind that a certain internal consistency must be kept. It will be a good idea to do some research about that specific field, and to avoid anyway to use too many different styles that will still create unnecessary and counterproductive confusion.

 

FUNCTIONALITY

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Is it true that the more a design is complex to realise, the better it is?

Can we measure the skills of a designer from how much complicated graphics he/she is able to produce?

Both questions have "no" as an answer. This doesn't mean that been able to produce something complex is useless, or it is never required, it simply means that when we judge a design, we should not focus on these aspects, but we should better focus on its functionality.

When is a design functional?

This is not to hard to explain: a functional design works well with the smallest effort possible for the user.

How to reach that result is the hard part, but here we can examine some potentially good ideas:

 

1) Do what is useful, not what you want: if you are asked to produce a design for the same toy company of our previous example, it is useless that you start showing your skills in producing sleek, elegant and classic design; you should focus on your target, kids and families, study the market and produce something appealing for them! 

2) Do it easily "readable": this is also called cognitive ergonomic, as we said, your target users should find it easy to catch your message with the smallest effort possible, it has to be immediately clear what you want to communicate. Do not spend time in making things complicated because you like it!

3) Do what you can, not what you would like to be able to do: never start doing something you do not think you can deliver in the best possible way; be honest, refuse works you can't do! And if you think you can do it, but you see that you can't deliver what you thought only when you already started the project, communicate your plans immediately with your client, see if you can deliver another valuable solution and, if not, be professional and stop that collaboration there, to avoid a waste of resources for both of you.

EFFICIENCY

 
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If you take a dictionary, you will find the description of efficiency as the ability of producing something with the minimum waste.

In a design we could say the same, if you produce a good design, you only produce what is needed to the scope of it, and nothing more.

 

Efficiency is all about everything we just discussed. If all you have done follows an organic stream, it is easy, pleasant to the users' minds, if it says what it has to say and nothing more, and it has nothing that can distract from the main goal of the design, then you made a good job!

 

The efficiency is very connected to the functionality of the design, and like a waterfall (or a "friendly avalanche"), it starts from a small detail, and brings with it many many others, in an increasing and overwhelming precise effect for the users.

AWARENESS

 
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When we talk about awareness in a design, we also talk about how recognisable it is, being unique for a brand, and only for that brand. A good design would be unique for them and their needs.

The company or the professional that contacts you for a design, is looking for something custom made, and tailored for that specific business/event/case.

The main goal of your work is to make a design recognizable among many and many others, in a very competitive world. This is where you should focus your efforts.

We do not want to use designs that are not produced by Nevra Arts here, but to make a very easy example to make this point very clear, we would like to make you think about the Nike logo: you know that it is so simple yet instantly recognisable by basically everyone!

In a world where many millions live, and use designs, this is very tricky to obtain, probably the hardest part of a design, and close to impossible, to be honest!

But it is only close to impossible, not impossible, and this is the good part.

Of course colors, shades, shapes, fonts, and everything else we just discussed in here, are not literally infinite, so you will need to use the combination of all these factors to reach the unique you should always aim for.

Thus, there is something that is unique without any effort, your style!

For this reason, you should always propose your work and your products for what they are, honestly, without trying to be someone else who already succeeded.

 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, how can we summarise all of this in a simple way? 

We could say that design is a combination of factors, both practical and theoretical, that put together will precisely work for a scope.

The main effort for a designer should be to always aim to uniqueness, efficiency, and functionality, and to make this easy enough to be as quick as possible to sort the effect that we are asked to obtain.

It takes times, trials, and a lot of headaches sometimes, but it is worth it, when you see that you eventually got it!

There are thousands of resources out there, including this Nevra Arts Insight, that can help you finding useful information, different perspectives, evolving points of view and technologies to be used.

Practice and hard work are always needed, do not fear unsuccessful single events, as they will anyways work out as a positive experience for us to learn something.

We hope this content was useful for you, it took a very long time to put all of this together and to produce every singe graphic for this page and for all the others!

Remember, all of these contents are FREE  FOR EVERYONE, but they cost time, money, and efforts to be produced, so, if you find these contents valuable, remember to share them on you social medias to make our efforts worth it, and to help us improve and produce better and always updated contents!

Keep reading Insight, we are always planning to add more contents here, so you will always find something new or updated!

 

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