Breaking the rules of graphic design


Design, perhaps more than most industries, has many rules and fundamental principles dictating things like what colors and fonts to use and how to implement spacing and symmetry. While it’s important to understand the basic rules of design, the best designers know that sometimes the key to creating something innovative and unique is to bend or break them. Part of this means designers must be confident in their instinct for good visual taste and understand that the liberty with which they experiment outside of traditional design rules depends upon the type of client and the project.

These are a few design rules commonly followed, what they mean and instances in which they can be broken.


The Rule: The grid system

What it means: This system was developed after World War II as an attempt to better organize newspaper pages’ layouts. The grid system was born- which guides designers to equally balance all the elements of a page across a system of evenly spaced vertical and horizontal lines.

How to break it: Though the grid system pleases the eye with intended symmetry and balance, sometimes it’s a system worth breaking to draw a reader’s eye with tilted, overlapped images and sporadically spaced text.


The Rule: Negative space

What it means: Negative or white space is empty of space in a design not occupied by text or images. It is used to draw attention to the image or text it surrounds or to divide information. The current trend of minimalism favors an excessive use of white space.

How to break it: Break the rule of negative space by blowing up your images and text to minimize white space if you want your design to feel more chaotic or maximalist.


The Rule: Complimenting colors

What it means: According to color theory, people are more attracted to colors that complement each other, leading design courses highly encourage the usage of just a few complementary colors per design. We’ve written more about color theory here.

How to break it: If you do decide to disregard color theory, be sure that the project you create is one you want to jar and distract its viewers. Discordant, a mix of contrasting colors, can be used effectively in this way to emphasize importance.


The Rule: No more than two fonts

What it means: More than one or two different types of font used in a design can do less to separate information and more to make the text difficult to read. Generally, design rules advise sticking to two fonts maximum for better readability.

How to break it: While it’s true that multiple contrasting fonts can make a design difficult to read, there is a correct way to mix a handful of styles. Fonts with similar proportions and colors can give a design a unified and eye-catching look.


For more advice you can choose to follow or disregard, give our blog a scroll through. We write regularly on topics like graphic design, typography and print marketing.

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