It’s All About the Looks

Let’s take a look at the basic elements of graphic design. In Allison Goodman’s book, 7 Essentials of Graphic Design, she reduces today’s complex design work into seven basic elements. Come take a look! 

In today’s post, we are going to take a look at the first three chapters of Goodman’s book: Research, Typography, & Contrast.  “The books approach, which explains design through the juxtaposing of basic ideas with sophisticated and sometimes complex work, is a strategy that illustrates the idea that the essentials are always at the foundation of interesting and successful designs.” (9) Let’s check it out.


Everyone has a story to tell. “Your job as a designer is to express the true essence of a client’s business or organization—which is impossible to do without research.” (10) Goodman believes that before you go into the visual aspects of the design process, you first have to do your research. By immersing yourself in the culture of the project, you will end up broadening your horizons with experiences that will make your project (and life!) more interesting!

Research will help a designer:

  1. Nourish his or her imagination with new information
  2. Provide an opportunity for the designer and the client to agree on the goals of the project

Research Strategies:

  1. Question and Answer: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
  2. Find Existing Examples: Do some field research! Actually go out into the world and find exmaples.
  3. Create a Typical Scenario: By doing this you “will touch upon customer profile and motivation, price points, desired outcome and even project scope information.” This will help the designer and the client understand what the goals of your project will be! It’ll help guide you on the basic direction for the project.


Typography is the artful representation of words and acts as the fundamental building block of graphic design. “In many ways typography and the use of written language is what separates graphic design from other design pursuits such as fashion, architecture and product design.” (24) Although typography takes years of practice, the first steps are the most important: a basic understanding of type history, design, technology, and vocabulary will help lay a strong foundation.

Type History

Just like all other arts, typography has followed trends and technology. A basic understanding of the history will help when making appropriate, sophisticated, and unique contemporary typographic decisions!

Type Design

Old Style: Typefaces in this category are serifed and reflect the calligraphic heritage of letterform design. There is also an angled axis in the letters.


The 7 Essentials of Graphic Design

Transitional: The contrast between thick and thin strokes whiten the litter is less extreme than in Old Style faces. Here, the axis and serifs of the letter have straightened out. This give the letters a more clean and manufactured look.

Modern: By this era, the trend was more clean with minimal statements. Type design was simplified with the elimination of serifs, the use of visually even strokes and an emphasis on a lean, machined look for the type.

Digital: With the development of computers, experimentation with typography was enabled. (as you can see in the picture)

Typographic Personality

“Just as with human beings, the personality of a typeface will come through no matter what.” (29) When deciding which typeface to choose, one must always consider and take advantage of the message a typeface naturally communicates. How can you learn about new and interesting typefaces? You can find showings of many, many typefaces through print and online categories of companies that sell type! Three main type houses: adobe, emigre, and ITC.

How to create Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Type

  • Always consider the Point Size & X-Height: The size of type is referred to in points. This is measured from the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender. Between the top and bottom of any typeface is the area referred to as the x-height. Certain typefaces (especially modern) are purposefully designed to enhance readability: they have a greater proportion of their overall dimension dedicated to the x-height.

The 7 Essentials for Graphic Design

  • Leading: Always consider the leading, or the space between lines.
  • Tracking: This refers to the overall letter spaces between each and every letter.

The Same but Different

One way to achieve variation and emphasis within a design is to use individual typefaces within the same font (such as Gill Sans and Gill Sans Italic). This helps avoid a chaotic effect that can result from visually conflicting letterforms.


Here are some tips that Goodman gives about contrast:

  • Not only does contrast make a design visually engaging, it can also be the prime organizing factor for a design’s information.
  • Contrast can tell us where to look first & where to look second
  • Contrast can help create a clear and useful hierarchy
  • Contrast can (and should) be achieved within related or logically collected palettes of type, graphic elements, images & color

Featured Image



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