9 Principles for
Effective Design

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This podcast breaks down the 9 foundational tools every designer uses. Sudden Impact Marketing's Creative Director, Mike Schmidt, explains how these principles separate a great communication piece from a mediocre one.

There’s nothing funny about Comic Sans

Odds are, you can tell good design from bad design. Just by looking at it. But have you ever wondered why some designs please the eye and others don’t? Why some designs draw you in and others repel you—whether it’s a website, a white paper, or a wine label?

Well stick around because you’re about to find out.

As Sudden Impact Marketing’s Creative Director, I think about design a lot—especially how it influences the communication pieces we create for our clients. And no matter the project, I’m always mindful of looking at it through a set of specific filters known as the nine principles for effective design. Why? Because they’re the foundational tools every designer uses (or should use) to convey information in a clear and artful way.

Once you learn these principles, you’ll have a better understanding of what separates a great communication piece from a mediocre one. And just as important, you’ll understand the “why” behind it. Including why some fonts make you laugh for all the wrong reasons (looking at you, Comic Sans.)

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the nine principles for effective design.

1) KISS, not just your father’s band

Sorry, but those wigs and platform shoes can stay in the closet. In this instance, KISS is short for Keep It Simple Stupid and it’s one of the founding principles that jumpstarts every great piece of design. The challenge of avoiding clutter and embracing white space (see no.6 below) is easier said than done.

2) Gridwork makes the dream work

Grids come in all shapes and sizes and their biggest goals are to help establish structure, alignment, and organization in layouts.

3) Fewer fonts, more impact

There are instances where this rule can be broken, but overall, too many fonts creates user confusion and inaction.

4) Hierarchy or anarchy

Hierarchy is basically laying out a design by order of item importance. Usually starting off with a headline, secondarily having your user focus on a subhead, then body copy or a pull quote, and finally a large call-to-action (CTA) so we can get them to complete an action.

5) Eye-catching layouts

This one is a nice follow-up to number four. Eye directional movement on a page should flow from top to bottom and left to right. You can help lead the eye with the way you position your design elements (copy, images, icons, illustrations, etc.).

6) When negative equals a positive

Negative space or white space helps to create harmony and balance; it can also lead a reader from one element to another. You start to get in danger when those negative space elements become filled and your user is looking at everything and nothing at once.

7) Design elements, the true hero within

Design elements (bullets, squares, circles, hairlines) are basic units of any visual design that help push your layout and messaging further. They are the sidekicks to your photography and content, but often, they can just be used for decoration.

8) Rule of thumb for thirds

This could almost be a subcategory of our grid at number two, but the rule of thirds helps launch your design composition and gives you a quick guide to position and frame the elements to your piece.

9) When CRAP is good

Here, CRAP stands for Contrast Repetition Alignment Proximity. These four key principles of visual design have a significant impact on usability for users. Examples can include color, tone and value, size, and shapes of design elements and the directional eye flow for your user.

Want to talk about finding your upside?

Although these nine principles of design are hidden in every marketing piece, they are very much visible in the results we strive for on all marketing communications we create for our clients.

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