Design Fundamentals



The Gestalt

Gestalt is a psychological concept and word that refers to "shape" or "form" —basically meaning that the "whole" is perceived as being more than the sum of the parts. In graphic design this means that a logo, brochure, web site, or catalog is perceived as being more than just a collection of type, art, paper, layout, etc. This holds true under examination. The logo or catalog is more than its parts—all the parts come together to create a powerful and memorable brand identity that delivers a feeling and emotion in the viewer. This of the way you feel when you get your favorite catalog in the mail. I remember this feeling as a child when the Sears Wish Book (Christmas catalog) would come each year. It was more than just a collection of toys for sale—it was the materialistic side of Christmas wrapped up in one big picture book--WOW!



Look how these advertisements visually deliver the whole before the parts. We, as human beings, want to organize the parts into an organized whole (the faces, jewelry, apple) before we see the parts (words, women, chips).


whole before the parts


whole before the parts


whole before the parts


The concept also theorizes that human beings inherently want to make order out of unordered things—organize them—before we try to process them. The graphic design field applies this concept to the study of visually communicating a message to a target audience. This concept is relevant when viewers look at and interact with design work. When designing, consider how your viewer will receive your message—how will they organize the information before they process it? What "whole" will they see first? Which element will they see first? Second? Third? Is your message complex and layered—better delivered in many, smaller, organizable "chunks." Or is it a simple, straight-forward message, better delivered in a single, large, impactful graphic? There is no right or wrong. What matters is that your delivery is appropriate to deliver the message to the target audience.

Rule of Thirds

This is how visual designers begin to organize content on the "page."

(Four magic points, and planes, to focus your viewer’s attention)

rule of thirds

Split your page into thirds, vertically and horizontally. This is asymmetrical design at its best. Your layout will be more interesting and more professional looking. This is also the beginning of designing a page layout with a grid.


rule of thirds

rule of thirds

(Left) Centered sunset and horizon is less interesting and less “developed.” (Center) Design is better. (Right) Design is more creative and more "developed."

The Grid: Advertising Design

The grid is an underlying template that helps you arrange elements on your page. These elements are usually type and art/photos.

Continuity is a term that refers to a magazine or web site that used the same grid to layout all its pages so they are consistent and look like they go together. This web site used the same three column grid for all 120 pages. This helps the viewer know where to go for information. It reduces the work viewers have to do when clicking from page-to-page because they learn to predict where certain information will be found.

Less “developed” print ad designs rely on centered elements and overly simple layouts. These can look less creative and unprofessional.

print ad bad


Here are examples of creative grids used to design print advertisements.

Ads - Grid

Visual Hierarchy

Leading the viewer's eye through your design (delivering your message visually in small chunks)


Visual Hierarchy


  • All designers must lead their viewers through the information on the page.
  • Visual Hierarchy is achieved through placement and size of the type and art.
  • Our eyes usually start with the largest and most realistic element. (a photo or large illustration, especially living things with eyes)
  • We then move through the page looking at elements in decreasing size.
  • We also read/view top-left to bottom-right (western world)

Visual Hierarchy: Depth in Design

As we look at a design, whether it is a logo, packaged product, brochure, or web site, we see certain elements first, second, third, etc. Graphic designers, as visual communicators and "message-deliverers" use this knowledge to their benefit. We can lead the viewer's eyes through our design work by adjusting and altering the elements, making sure the viewer sees what we want them to see first, second, third, etc.

Here is an example of how designers have used depth in design to lead the viewer's eyes.


Layout Styles

Many things can be used to influence your page/screen/packaging layout. Here are just a few:










Scale (exaggerated)



Type Heavy

type heavy

Single-Page Advertisement

Here are twenty-eight concepts for a single-page ad using the same four elements
(headline, photo, body copy, logo)

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