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10 Laws that Rule the Design Universe

Jake Gibbs | February 19, 2016 

Design is inherently artsy, but it has a definitive science behind it, too. This is especially true when it comes to marketing designs – be it a website, banner ad, email, or video.

These 10 design principles can help any marketer or designer come up with new, better ideas or take existing ones and refine them.

Take any marketing design that you feel looks good and odds are that it follows most if not all core design principles. And take a design that looks amateurish or somehow “wrong” and you’ll likely find that there were design laws that were broken, often obviously, painfully so.

While rules can definitely be broken, you have to know the rules to know why they apply and when and how you can break them without turning your potential Rembrandt design into a 4th grade art showpiece.

Internalize these 10 basic design laws and your current and future marketing designs will connect with customers more effectively.

SIMPLICITY

Less is more. Don’t cram, don’t clutter, don’t overkill. Design minimally and you can’t go wrong, especially when trying to connect with your time-strapped, busy, borderline ADD customers.

HEIRARCHY

What is the most important thing in your marketing piece? What comes 2nd? What comes 3rd? There should be a clear, obvious hierarchy that customers can easily identify when navigating and digesting your communication.

LINE

There may not be a physical line or arrow that tells your customers, “Look here, then look here, then look here…”, but there should be an implied line that guides their eye and thought process. Design will drive the eye, while your copy and design together drive the thought process. From start to finish, your design should lay out a clear flow.

SPACE

You can have an “above the fold”, cram-everything-into-a-tiny-space design, or you can let it breathe! Space is your friend. It helps establish sections of your design and allows the reader to feel less stressed and frustrated as they navigate your communication.

PROXIMITY

Combining the concepts of line and space, proximity determines how close various elements are (a headline, image, CTA, etc) and thus how related they are. Lots of space shows separation and distinction, while closeness shows relatedness.

SIZE

Size matters! There should be large elements, medium elements, and small elements to establish your hierarchy and to guide the eye. Images, fonts, and graphics should all be sized in proportion to their importance in the communication.

COLOR

Color should be intentional. Too little color leads to boredom. Too much leads to colorblindness. Color creates attention, interest, and action! From the color itself to its brightness and saturation, color largely determines whether someone wants to read your communication or whether or not they act. From images and backgrounds to fonts and calls to action, use color wisely!

CONTRAST

Using size, shape, color, texture, and other design elements, contrast is established. It helps establish hierarchy, flow of thought, and interest. A design with too little contrast is boring, while one with too much contrast may look tacky or sloppy.

SHAPE

From localized shapes (such as an icon) to global shapes (the overall shape of your design), shape creates interest and establishes tone.

TEXTURE

Lastly, texture establishes depth. Using flat colors can only create so much interest and tone. But add in a brush stroke, a wood background, or a concrete etching, and suddenly your simple design becomes elegant. Use texture sparingly and intentionally and your design will pop even more.

These 10 design principles can help any marketer or designer come up with new, better ideas or take existing ones and refine them.

Happy designing!

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Jake Gibbs

Jake Gibbs | Design Specialist

Jake Gibbs is a Design Specialist at ListEngage and an expert at designing and building elegant, cross-platform compatible, mobile responsive emails and landing pages on the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. From brainstorming and ideation to polishing the final product, he loves the creative process. Jake has worked with more than 60 clients since joining ListEngage in 2014. Some of his projects have included L’Oreal, Vanguard, Carhartt, Harvard Business School, RCI/Wyndham, Huggies, and Planet Fitness.