Graphic Design: 20 Rules That Exist to Be Broken

As with any profession, there are rules in graphic design. While breaking the rules is allowed, and even (in some cases) encouraged, it’s important to know how to break the right way.

Graphic Design Rules

20 Typography Rules for Beginning Designers

Typography Test

Chapter Fonts and Typography in Graphic Design posted a typography test. I am sure it will be of interest to those who are interested in the topic. The first three readers who find an error in the typography test will be given access to the chapter for free.

Get an introductory excerpt from Chapter 5, Fonts and Typography in Graphic Design.

Typography is an element of good design.

It colors the words in our language and gives them meaning. The correct use of typography guarantees quick communication with the audience, and the skillful use of typography draws attention to the message, making it unique and distinguishing it from thousands of similar ones.

Don’t forget to Kern

Someone once said, “If you want to dislike a designer, teach them to recognize bad kerning.” Failed kerning is one of the grave sins of the design profession, so learn the rule and achieve uniform density between characters using manual adjustment. It is difficult, but understanding comes with experience.

Kerning is the spacing or space between characters. Kerning is very similar to track, but they are different entities. The ultimate goal of kerning is to provide harmonious space between letters so that the text is crisp and orderly. Kerning is especially important for headings, logos, and another short lettering.

Don’t Neglect the Readability of the Text

The main purpose of design is the message, so consider readability a top priority.

A typical example of poor readability is the low contrast (Figure 1) between text and background, so whenever in doubt, squint so hard that the letters blend into one blur. If it was not possible to recognize, increase the contrast between the background and the message.

Another common mistake is the overuse (Fig. 2) of capital letters. Not only do capital letters strain the reader, they also hinder the ability to quickly distinguish letters. Capital letters have the same height and look like columns, making it difficult to understand the information. Lowercase letters, on the other hand, have a unique shape that allows the eye to identify the letter and word more quickly.
Another mistake is the size (Fig. 3) of the font. Think about your audience and make the type bigger. If you’re not sure, print on the printer and test yourself and do a little more.

Correctly Determine the Dialing Format and the Number of Characters Per line

Have you ever had difficulty while reading? Maybe you lost your mind or your eyes jumped from line to line? This problem is related to the wrong column width and the number of characters in it.

Refer often to the table on page 32 of Robert Bringhurst’s Fundamentals of Style in Typography. The author calculated the average number of characters per line. There is no golden rule, but there is an optimal number of 45-60 characters with spaces.

Create a Compelling Visual System

A strong visual hierarchy is a very powerful tool for building a strong system. To emphasize the importance and indicate the order of subordination in graphic design, the designer arranges visual elements according to the goals and objectives of the project. Thus, first, the viewer reads the more important elements, then the less important ones, such as the background.

Watch the Spacing Between Words

The spacing between words (in the figure) is equal to the lowercase “i”. Whitespace larger than this value impairs readability. There is an opinion that the words in Russian are longer than in English, so the gap between words can be wider. In Adobe Illustrator, the standard space is equal to the “i” value.

Spacing is the background that interacts with the letters (the letters are the shapes on the background). The background is sometimes referred to as negative space.

Use Proper Alignment

If you are a designer, then you have probably come across the main tool – alignment. There are four types of alignment or justification: left, right, center, and justified. If you are not sure which text alignment to choose, choose justification to the left: the options “Right” and “Justify” in web design do not justify themselves.

Left Aligned (Figure 1 left) – This type is the most common form. It is the most readable and gives a nice, neat left edge to the text. When in doubt, align text to the left.

Always use a Grid

Use a grid to organize elements on a page. I recommend using grid in any design. It helps to structure information and thoughts. The grid can make designing fun. Limitation to vertical and horizontal lines creates a clean clear project from an average design.
Grids come in many shapes and sizes, and can be flexible and adaptive to the design. Grids help create neater, more logical designs.

Choose a Font Style for your Audience

Most projects start with a short brief that summarizes the main information. One of the questions in the tasks defines the audience. Who do I design for, who is the target audience? Each design is created for the people who will view the design and receive your message. Therefore, approach the choice of font consciously.

Avoid Hanging Strings with “Widows” and “Orphans”

An easy way to take your design from amateur to professional is to recognize and eliminate widows and orphans. “Widows” and “orphans” are sure to appear in any design with text. Sometimes a line of one or more words ends up in the wrong place. Such lines are called “hanging”. A “hanging” line is one that is “torn off” from its paragraph and “hangs” alone on the page.

“Widow” is a whole word at the end of a paragraph or a very short line at the end of the text. An “orphan” is an orphan line that ends up at the beginning of a new page or column. Make sure that “widows” and “orphans” do not spoil the appearance of your layout.

There are several ways to deal with widows and orphans. The first thing you can do is manually edit the text. Adjust the line length with tracking. Tip two – increase the text box on the top and side to fix the problem.

Don’t Overuse Spaces

Don’t overuse spaces. All you have to do to start a new line is press Shift + Enter. Press Enter to start a new paragraph.
Extra spaces are spaces that immediately follow spaces. There must always be one space between words. It’s easy to remember.

Choose the Right Color

A color is a powerful tool for designers, so it makes sense for a carefully chosen and consistent palette to be an essential step in all design endeavors.

When drawing up a color palette, pay attention to color theory, culture, and past experience with color. Color theory on consumer and sales. Read more about the rule of a “Professional Logo Designer” Such as Brand Identity, Brand Awareness, and Customer Trust.

Color is a unique opportunity to visually perceive the world. To understand the importance of color. Look at the black-and-white photo of the jungle with the predator. Just for a moment imagine our world without color. The likelihood that you will not notice a predator increases significantly.

Choose Harmonious Font Combinations

Combining fonts in graphic design is probably one of the most interesting and challenging tasks in typography. There are no definite rules and this makes the process interesting. Of course, there are recommendations. To get an exciting option, you will need knowledge of fonts, creative savvy, and patience. The result will exceed your expectations and the time you spend will pay off a hundredfold in new projects.

The easiest way to choose multiple fonts for your project is to base it on the height of the lowercase character. If the heights are the same or very close, then such headsets blend well, as they have the same visual weight.

Do not Change the Shape and Width of the Letters Without Reason

This is a very simple design rule, easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to follow: Don’t stretch fonts without a good reason.
Fonts are built with great care and attention to the shapes and proportions of each letterform, so don’t distort the need.

Choose Leading That Fits the Font and Format

A good balance between “air” and text color can depend on line spacing. You can calculate leading using the simple “one and a half” formula. For beginners, it will be easy to remember the rule.

Text size is 10 pt, leading is 24px. 10 / 2 = 5 + 10 = 15

Exception: This rule works well in web design. Doing book layout according to this rule is not a good idea. For a book where the cost depends on the number of pages in the edition, a slightly different calculation is applied.

Let’s Design More Air

Proper use of white space makes your design stand out. You can focus on a particular aspect of your composition, let the design breathe, balance the elements, and most importantly add sophistication to your work. The main rule is not to fill empty spaces with elements.

Negative space will help you better understand the white space of your design.

Break Text into Short Paragraphs and Mark the Spacing Between Them

A paragraph is a small block of text that consists of a heading, a subheading, and is limited to a small number of lines. Leave 3-4 long sentences and 5-6 lines in one paragraph. The modern reader prefers short paragraphs to long “sheets”. Separate test blocks with a double line space.


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Don’t Blindly Follow Design Trends

Design is a bit like fashion, where experimental trends appear, are wildly popular for a while, and then fade away. Once these trends have passed, all of the outfits and pieces of clothing you have been wearing suddenly become irrelevant.
In design, as in fashion, new styles and techniques become popular for a while. Everyone is jumping into the trendy carriage because it is new, exciting and easy to play with. But new trends appear old ones go away, and the created logo, designed for many years, suddenly becomes obsolete.

Quotes, Herringbones, Dashes And Hyphens

Let’s remember the simplest rule. A hyphen is a non-alphabetic spelling mark that is never set off by spaces and is used inside compound words: firebird, online course.

An em dash is a punctuation mark, always set off with spaces between words. The em dash cannot be found on the keyboard, it is typed with a set of keys: Mac – alt + shift + hyphen, Windows – alt + ctrl + hyphen. Press at the same time.

Quotation marks are paired punctuation marks. Quotation marks are needed to highlight the text: direct speech, quotations, names of newspapers, companies, etc. The main quotation marks in the Russian text are beaten off by French Christmas trees. Inside the text with “herringbones” quotation marks with German “paws” are used.

Another rule that I always forget is that punctuation marks, such as a period or a comma, are placed after quotes. I confused because, in the English version, dots and commas are placed inside quotes.

Choose the Right Tools

The craftsman does not use a hammer to drive a screw. The designer also needs to know which tools are best for the job.
A very common mistake that can be easily avoided is vector logos. For those of you who are not quite familiar, I will conduct a small educational program. There are two types of graphic files – vector and raster. Raster graphics are made up of pixels, while vector graphics are made up of many lines or “curves”.

One of the biggest differences between a vector and a raster is the ability to scale elements. Since a raster is made up of pixels, at a certain point in the scaling the image becomes unusable (as you can see on the left with “squares”). Vector images don’t have this problem and can withstand any scaling.

Don’t Use Effects. Never

Remember the joy of discovering effects in Adobe Photoshop? Was it fun to add gradients, shadows, bevels, and a lot of other effects to the design? Well, the days of art are over (unfortunately), so it’s time to send the special effects to the old chest. (Joke)

One of the most used effects today is a shadow overlay or “drop shadow”. It’s the era of flat design, so handle effects with care.


In conclusion, I can say that there is only one last rule: there are no rules. A striking example is the legendary designer David Carson, creator of Ray Gun magazine. In 1994, Carson gave an interview with musician Bryan Ferry that he found very boring. The interview could not be read in the magazine because it was typed in Zapf Dingbats, (a font consisting of symbols). Breaking the rules is sometimes the best way to apply and become a design legend.

The basics of graphic design are the most important part of our job but know that from time to time you need to challenge yourself and spend time learning graphic design. Learn the rules so you can break them correctly.

Bruce Murphy
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Bruce Murphy is a creative designer and illustrator at Ingenious Guru. Bruce Specializes in UI/UX, concepts, branding, identity and 2D/3D animations. He works with companies, agencies and startups around the world.

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