There are elements of a good design that must be attended to and contended with, no matter the medium-print, broadcast, web, even mobile phone displays.
Think of the elements of design as the basic building blocks.
At the most basic level, there are five elements in any design:
1. Lines and linework
These terms do not refer to pen-and-ink or pencil sketches, but to borders, frames and rules. Horizontal or vertical, thick or thin, regular or irregular, they help define and delimit spaces around various elements on your pages. Good linework increases both the readability and “directionality” (see #5, below) of the design as a whole.
Any enclosed area, form or contour in your design is a shape. Shapes in most layouts are square or rectangular, but nothing says they must be, and circles are useful, too. You can also use images to create other, regular or irregular shapes.
Texture imparts a “surface” feeling, and is tactile in printed matter, so choosing the paper stock-matte, weave, coated-is a design decision, too. Textures on layouts meant for broadcast or the Internet are visual only, but still key.
Color is probably the element that most designers are at least acutely aware of, if not schooled in. However, color is not required in many designs, and some art educators suggest creating designs without any color first. The artist, in this view, should then add only as much color as needed to enhance or complete the design. Another school of thought holds that color should be one of the first elements determined. Experience and experimentation will help every artist develop a good color sense and strategy.
Effectively designed layouts, in magazines or on your computer screen, usually have a sense of motion. A good design will lead the reader’s eyes through the design deliberately, using color changes, shapes, linework and copy placement direct viewers’ attention to what the designer wants them to see.
The bottom line of good design is, quite simply, to attract readers’ attention, direct it in a particular way and, in concert with the copywriting, make a positive impression.