14 Rules for Making Good Designs Content from Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual by TIMOTHY SAMARA ISBN 978-1-595253-261-2

Rules can be broken-- but never ignored.

- David Jury, typographer and author

If there's no message, no story, no idea, no narrative, or no useful experience to be had, it is not graphic design.


This is the basic information for a poster. A designers first task is to explore (in thumbnail sketches) as many variations as possible. Each concept should successfully communicate the specific type of music to the target audience.

It's all well and good to experiment with shapes and details and cool effects, but if you simply spackle them all over without considering what they mean and how they support or take away from the message, you end up with a jumbled mass of junk that now longer qualifies as design.

Of the two designs below, which uses excessive elements that detract from the message?

ACCEPTABLE: The photograph is everything in this poster. It clearly coveys the idea that this is a large, important event.
NOT GOOD: Musical instruments are beautiful but we do not get a sense of an "orchestra" here. The boxes, lines and circles - while staggered nicely - create a visual mess that makes the message difficult to find.

It's fun to experiment with shapes and details, but do they support the main message?

Choose typefaces for specific purposes. Restrain yourself! Too many typefaces are distracting. A single type family with a variety of weights and italics should be enough - don't overdo it!

IT WORKS: Typefaces have distinct personalities. Learn about type and how to combine fonts.
TOO MANY FONTS!: Just because you have access to a lot of fonts doesn't mean you should use them all!

Check out this terrific chart on mixing typefaces. It was created by a type designer and lecturer Alessandro Segalini.

Focus viewers' attention on one important thing first, and then lead them through the rest. Once you capture the audience with a big shape, a startling image, a dramatic type treatment, or a daring color, steadily decrease the activity of each less important item in a logical way to help them get through it.


Make the important text more noticeable by using bold, color, or a different font.

NOPE: Where goes your eye go first? All of the type is competing against each other for attention!
YEP: Your eye goes to "Festival Concert" and then to the date, which are the two most important things.

Don't just grab some colors from out of the air. Know what the colors will do when you combine them and, more important, what they might mean to the audience. Color carries and abundance of psychological and emotional meaning, and this meaning can vary tremendously between cultural groups. Color affects visual hierarchy, the legibility of type, and how people make connections between elements. Choose colors that are right, not necessarily those that are expected.

If you don't know how color works - you need to learn.

Do a search on COLOR THEORY. Go to the sites below and READ and learn about how powerful color is to a designer.

Please do not ues every color in the rainbow. It is distracting from the message.
While there are things that can be improved, the color scheme is acceptable.


That which is less complicated is often better understood and more appreciated than what is more complicated; simplicity is preferable to complexity.

Use common sense: the more stuff jammed into a given space, the harder it is for the average person to see what they're supposed to be seeing. Plus, it's trashy; anybody can load a bunch of stuff onto a dull message and pretend it's a complex work of art.

What a visual mess! Your eye does not know where to go.
A clean, understated poster. Too plain? It would depend on the target audience for the event.


Space calls attention to content, separates it from unrelated content around it, and gives the eyes a resting place. Negative space is just as important in a composition as positive shapes whether pictures or type.

Even though there is a pattern in the background, it is muted to create empty portions on the poster directing the eye toward the white type.
Do NOT fill up empty space! The message is lost in all of the page elements.

Type is visual material made up of lines and dots and shapes and textures that needs to relate compositionally to everything else included in the design, no matter how different they seem to be.

Not great typography - it shouts at you. "10th Annual" is HUGE! Yikes.
Perhaps too hard to read? but you get the idea, right?

Type that cannot be read has no purpose.

Legible. Readable.


Talking to oneself is the domain of the fine artist. A very large audience, not a few people who are "in the know," has to know what you mean with those shapes, that color, and that image you chose.

This may be your personal statement on the event, but will it appeal to a wider audience?
Clarity of message trumps personal artistic statement every time.

Create contrasts in density and rhythm by pulling some material closer together and pushing other material further apart. Give the spaces between things a pulse by making some tighter and some looser.

Different sizes, colors, and styles of text all squished together are hard on the eyes.
By separating type into blocks of text the type is much easier to read.

Concentrate areas of extreme dark and light in separate places. Create explosions of luminosity and deep undercurrents of darkness. Counter these with subtler transitions between related values. Above all, make distinctions between light and dark noticeable and clear.

This poster stands out
This poster blends into the wall.

Get your camera out and shoot some photos. Create the images you need and make it the best you can or pay someone else to do it for you. Nothing is more meaningless that a commonly used piece of stock photography or clip art that shows up everywhere. Audiences know cheap clip art - so steer clear of the obvious visual solution.

Even the typeface is hokey. Four different styles of clip art - and it is obvious that it is clip art...
It might be a home-made treble clef, but it is original. Take pride in your artwork and spend the time necessary to produce quality illustrations. You can do it-- it is all about perseverance and practice.

Have you ever heard the saying, center-set paragraphs of type are only for wedding invitations? Symmetrical visual arrangements are generally static and offer little movement. A symmetrical layout limits a designer's flexibility in pacing and dealing with content that doesn't quite want to fit into the symmetrical mold.

Much more dynamic.

If you do it right, it will last forever. -Massimo Vignelli

Design is a commentary, opinion, a point of view, and social responsibility. To design is much more than simply to assemble; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to dignify, to persuade and ulitmately to communicate.

Design is both a verb and a noun. It is the beginning as well as the end, the process and the product of imagination. -Paul Rand. from his book Design, Form, and Chaos.

Excellent information and examples


all content from Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual by Timothy Samara