Design and Decor

Basic Graphic Design

Are any of you old enough to remember having asked your low-grade teacher for permission to “decorate” a writing assignment? By that, we meant that we were permitted to draw flowers and ornaments between and around the lines of text, in the end making them look more like The Hanging Gardens of Babylon than a written text. In our childish eagerness to make the assignment look “pretty,” we added garlands of rosebuds and hearts of every unthinkable variety.

My teacher did not permit decoration as a rule because she (rightly) suspected some of us would use more time on our “art” than our spelling.

If this practice of decoration has had any influence on our understanding of graphic design as grown-ups, I will not venture to say. It is a fact, however, that many people cannot distinguish between “decor” and “design.” They seem to believe that graphic design is something to be clashed onto a text at the end of the production – like a sticker. 

However, Graphic Design is NOT decoration.

The word “design” can mean many things these days. We talk about “designer furniture,” “designer sunglasses,” and let’s not forget “designer handbags,” as they were the only items of their kind ever to have been “designed,” which, of course, is ridiculous.

The word design means intention or plan.

“To do something by design” does not mean that you surround yourself with decoration whilst doing it, but that you do something intentionally, according to a plan. Swap the word “design” in Graphic Design with planning and you get the word “Graphic Planning.” 

Graphic Planning is imperative for visual communication in all channels independent of size or format. The graphic planning cannot be pasted on at the end of the process but has to go hand in hand with verbal planning. A message needs to be written and designed (graphically planned) for the intended format, be it either a website, a printed advertisement, a brochure, or a business card. We have to study the format first and determine how much room we have for the content. By content, I mean text, images, and graphics. When we know how much content the format can hold, it is time to start the graphic planning to make sure we leverage the available space in the best way possible. The intention of graphic planning is to make the message as clear as possible. We want our readers to perceive it intuitively. 

Graphic Planning can be compared to architecture. It does not concern itself primarily with the decoration of the house, but with how to leverage the total Ground Floor Area according to the function of the house. 

Graphic Planning is an important part of marketing and visual branding. Desktop publishing software like Canva or Indesign does not come with training in Graphic Planning. If you want to do some graphic planning, you need to know and understand something about its principles and means.

More often than not, I find myself as much a “graphic coach” as a graphic designer for my clients. In addition to creating graphics for them, I want to teach them as much as possible about the principles and means of graphic design. I want them to be able to DESIGN their messages, not decorate them.