6 Visual Design Principles. Told in Helvetica & Dingbats.

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T7190In his book Visual Design: Ninety-five things you need to know. Told in Helvetica and dingbats., writer, photographer and rabbit-suit-clad designer Jim Krause discusses 95 crucial design principles that you should consider in any project.

From the vast realm of photography to typography to color to digital media—as well as the nitty-gritty details of margins, dynamic spacing, alignment, and even the character of a curve, this book sweeps across these design principles with Jim’s characteristic charisma—and no small amount of humor.

Alright, but what do Helvetica and dingbats have to do with this?

In the introduction to Visual Design, Jim explains:

Helvetica was chosen as the font for this book’s text—and for nearly all of the words used within its images—simply because Helvetica is one of those very rare fonts that cannot only deliver a wide range of thematic conveyances (think, for instance of the elegant look of a headline set in the thinnest possible weight of Helvetica versus the commanding boldness of a block of text set in Helvetica Black), but it can also act as an almost invisible thematic component for a layout or illustration whose other visual elements are meant to set the piece’s mood. Know many other fonts that can claim this remarkable set of qualities in quite the same way? I don’t.

Dingbats and ornaments are used as the main visual element for the vast majority of this book’s images for similar reasons: Because dingbats—like Helvetica—tend to convey themselves without a great deal of self-aggrandizing fanfare,and therefore are capable of adapting to a wide range of styles and moods within the layouts and illustrations they inhabit.


Read on for an excerpt from the first section of Visual Design detailing some fundamental layout & design principles:

6 Visual Design Principles—Told In Helvetica & Dingbats

Each topic below features a quote from Visual Design. For more information on each of these topics, purchase the book from MyDesignShop.

Proportional Considerations

“Layouts are like stages. The images, headlines, text, graphics, logos, patterns and colors that fill layouts are like characters on a stage. It’s up to the designer to decide where each character is to be placed, which ones are to play leading roles, and which are to provide support.”

Take a in-depth look at layout in Jim’s Layout Index eBook.Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 1.49.38 PM

Defining Boundaries

“The edges of a piece of paper often act as the de factor boundaries of layouts and images. Boundaries involving linework or areas of color are regularly added to logos, photographs, illustrations and advertisements to add notes of style, to help their compositional elements hold together as unified entities and/or to set them apart from other visuals on a page.”

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“How much space should there be between your layout’s elements (headline, text, image, logo, etc.) and its boundaries? There is not one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but it is a question that needs to be considered with every design your create.

If you want to give your layout a clean, light and airy look, you might want to establish larger-than-normal margins between the composition’s interior elements and its borders. IF your layout is meant to project inferences of bustle or chaos, then—instead of leaving a clean margin of white space around your layout’s interior components—consider crowding the edges of the composition with images, decorations or typography.”

Learn how to apply typography to your best work in Denise Bosler’s course Better, Faster Type.

Dynamic Spacing

“A layout’s headline, text, illustrations and décor can each catch, hold and excite a viewer’s interest. And—surprisingly enough—the spaces between and around the elements of a composition can also have an effect on its visual impact. A significant impact, in fact.

The principle of dynamic spacing is very important to recognize and heed, and it goes something like this: Variety in the spaces seen among and around compositional elements increases inferences of activity and excitement, and a lack of variety among spaces promotes conveyances of a subdued, matter-of-fact—and possibly boring-nature.”

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Symmetry vs. Asymmetry

“… [A] piece of advice concerning symmetry and asymmetry: Be decisive!

If the elements of your layout are supposed to be either symmetrically or asymmetrically arranged, then don’t allow them to hover in the gray area between symmetry and asymmetry: Push the arrangement clearly into one realm or the other.”

A note about symmetry: Symmetry need not be mathematically precise to come across as symmetry… Let your art-sense guide you when deciding just how close to the dictionary definition of symmetry you need to convey its aesthetic notion of symmetry.

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Aligning, and Not

“Generally speaking, visual alignment lends notes of order to a design while non-alignment delivers connotations of a more casual nature…

Adjustments to a compositions conveyances—ranging from seriousness to casualness to outright silliness—can be affected by the degree to which its components either align or don’t. Keep this in mind when fine tuning the placement of any composition’s elements.”

Want more? Get your copy of Visual Design from MyDesignShop.com, or check out these resources by Jim Krause: