Graphic design purists would argue that the rules of design should be held sacred – although the same design purists are quick to relax their opinion when they admire a design that breaks all of them.
The first rule of design is, oxymoronically, there are no rules.
Rules represent correct conduct. If something can break the rules and still be considered good conduct then said rules are null and void. What many designers get caught up with is that general ‘best practices’ should be followed religiously.
AS CREATIVES, WE DON’T LIKE RESTRICTION
Design exists to perform one task – to convey a message in the most effective way possible. A design can only be measured on its effectiveness.
Sure, there are ‘best practices,’ but these exist to make the designer ask the right questions. Each design consideration must be done for a reason and asking the right questions at the right time is when you get the clearest answers.
These best practices aren’t binding. Or at least, they shouldn’t be. They’re left open to questioning. If a designer can justify their effective communication at every stage then they’ve done their job.
If you did a quick Google search or consulted a ‘Beginners Guide to Graphic Design’ book, you would see the same themes popping up regularly. Emphasis on the word ‘themes.’ Remember, these should purely be used as prompts for you to ask the right questions.
THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
There’s a big difference between “never use colours that clash” and “use a logical and relevant colour palette.” If the message conveyed by this piece of design was supposed to make the viewer feel uncomfortable, a logical and relevant colour palette could be one that clashed.
After delving into the deepest darkest corners of the Internet to identify some of the widely considered design rules, all of them could only be considered a guideline at best.
THE USE OF WHITE SPACE
An interesting topic is around the subject of white space. Many years ago, the rule was to take advantage of the page real estate. Use the space but still maintain some balance. At this time it wasn’t known as ‘white space’ but ‘empty space.’
However, as time progressed, this rule has been flipped on its head and designers are taught to embrace it. The idea being that carefully considered white space draws the viewer’s eye towards the content.
But is this just another design trend?
After all, it never used to be this way. In another 40 years, will we return to filling the canvas with content again because humans have changed the way they see and retain information?
STRIVE TO CREATE TRENDS
Another of the most common rules of design is to disregard trends but strive to create them. So if we can agree that almost all design rules are the result of trends that come and go – this rule is surely the rule that disregards everything?
Everyone should strive to create trends.
Creating things that are new and exciting is the only way that we grow as designers and the only way that the creative industries move forward. We should all challenge the status quo. We should all understand the best practices of design and continually challenge them.
ALWAYS KNOW THE END GOAL
Design isn’t just creating something that’s beautiful. Design only exists to provide a solution to a problem.
“How do we communicate this message to these people?”
Once we truly understand the message, the audience and how they respond to communication – we will have added so much more context behind every design consideration. We won’t be breaking any rules. We will be creating the most effective solution for the audience.
The rules of design are purely signposts. If you see a better path – follow it.