Design Theory: The Basics

the basics of design theory graphic image

The use of ‘Design Theory’ is all around us, but to the untrained eye you can pass it by without acknowledgement. Design theory is not as complicated as the title may suggest. If you’re a budding designer or just here to learn more, it’s interesting to know the fundamentals of design.

Graphic Design VS Theory

Graphic design is how to visually communicate a concept whereas theory is how to successfully portray the intended purpose. It’s important within a successful design that you know where to place elements and establish how it reads to the audience.

Colour Theory

Understanding the appropriate use of colour is important. Colour theory helps to entice an audience and creates emotion. A good example of colour theory in practice would be the use of red. Red is often perceived as anger, strength or passion, but the way a colour is perceived can differ from person to person.

Colour technical (another part of colour theory) is the act of considering the colour for the final product. Technical considerations such as colour systems (RGB, CMYK) and colour mixing can fundamentally make or break a design. When using colour, make sure you consider how it could be read and whether it’s appropriate for the design/company.

chart with tones scaled from cool to warm

Principles of Design Theory

There are a few principles that are important to consider when designing and how they work together is even more important. Successful communication to a dedicated audience can drastically be improved when you follow basic design principles.


This is the weight of the design and how it’s distributed on the page, product etc. Both symmetrical and asymmetrical designs can be significantly impacted through balance and how they work together.


This always helps to create familiarity for elements of the design. Using repetition will help create a brand identity.


You can make the design stand out and create an impact. A great example of a successful contrast is using cool and warm colours together or a classic font with a modern one.


The alignment will help your audience to digest the information. Guide your audience through a page with how you align elements, making it easier to read.


Your hierarchy is the act of grouping together elements and creating a composition which will help to identify the key points and the most important parts you need your audience to see.


Design elements are the act of producing forms, texture, lines and patterns within a design. Using them can help direct attention to key areas and help to a establish hierarchy. The main difference between design elements and illustration is that elements are there for a decorative purpose whereas illustration is a form of communication.

According to the Bauhaus Theory ‘knowledge, form and function’ is the only way to create a successful design. Combining practical and design theory knowledge will help you to provide effective design solutions. Design theory isn’t a new practice and has been around long before Adobe and should be applied in every form of design to make for better results.

In Conclusion

Design theory can be complicated and it doesn’t just stop here. We’ve simplified the basics down, but putting it into practice and keeping your mind open will help to learn more throughout your design career.

We’re all always learning and it’s important to remind yourself of different design pointers to help create better design work and develop your creative skills.