The Essential Principles of Graphic Design // Debbie Millman

→ Essays and Case Studies from big names in Graphic Design.


Devided in 3 Sections:

Essential Principles

→ Typography, Color, Layout, and Style.


Principles of Creative Process

1_Visual Strategy – by Cheryl Swanson

“Visual Strategy is the visual positioning of a brand in the marketplace. It is the foundation of a brand’s visual representation across all media — advertising, packaging, web, promotions, and other forms of market presence — to ensure a consistent message to consumers. With a consistent message and focused visual expression, a brand has a much better chance of getting noticed in an increasingly complex, saturated marketplace and has, therefore, a much better chance of success.”

  • Visual Strategy new discipline — the benefits were only recognized in the 90’s;
  • +20000 products in the grocery store / 1500-3000 advertisement messages that Americans are exposed to daily — online/ print/outdoor/ broadcast;
  • Technology fueled the information era → Diseases related to stress are the disorder of the decade;
  • We automatically filter 85% of the information that we receive — only the symbolic and relevant survives to be kept;
  • 80% of what we learn comes to us through the eyes — Symbols are easier remembered that words;

“The key element in connecting the consumer to these symbolic, higher order brand messages is the creation of a visual vocabulary that expresses the core essence, the fundamental personality, of the brand.”


2_Research – by Debbie Millman &Mike Bainbridge

Rules for Market Reaseach:

1 . Main focus should be on how effective the communication is instead of only de appearance. Focus on what the audience perception is and not only their preferences.

2 . Allow familiarities — let the audience more comfortable by relating to something they already know, when testing.

3 . See it as a Art and no a science emotional — connections and sensibilities are valid and and should be subject of investigation.

4 . First focus on what the brand or product says to the consumer and then focus on how the design is communicating that certain brand o product.

5 . “Never test designs in isolation”  —  explore the relation with other designs or even with the competitor’s.

6 .  “Never ask consumers how they would improve a design”  — ask for reactions and feelings and not for solutions.

“Malcom Galdwell (…) has called for abolition of focus groups”  — it is not accurate to ask for consumers i focus groups to give their impressions on something. Examples such as market research studies prior to New Coke and Absolute Vodka demonstrate his theory.

Mainstays of modern market research:

Ethnographic Research

  • It is conducted before any conceptual work begins;
  • Ethnography is the branch of anthropology that provides scientific descriptions of individual human societies;
  • One to one conversations in consumer’s daily life spaces;
  • Get to see the world through the consumer’s eyes;
  • The consumer just acts as he would normally and this will give a true insights;
  • advantages: the outcome is really close to real, good for sensitive topics;
  • disavantages: time consuming, limited sample size.

Focus Groups

  • These can be misleading due to the ways these groups can be abused;
  • Are efficient to understand what design concepts are communicating on an intuitive level.

Quantitative Eye Tracking

  • “Quantitative market research is the systematic attempt to define, measure and report on the relationships between various elements”;
  • Eye tracking is following the pupil as it moves across an image;
  • Pioneered 30 years ago by Elliott Young and it’s leading now as a way to measure how costumers see products;
  • may not consider all the events in witch a product may be launched;

Online Testing

  • Feedback from a large group of people;
  • Quick and cost-effective;
  • Less control over the impressions effects and less dialogue with consumers.


3_Working with Imagery – by John Fulbrook

Considerations to keep in mind when using imagery as an Art Director and Designer:

  • Purpose
  • Type in relation to the image
  • Respect the pieces you’re using
  • Safety shot — understand and manage what the client and company want, in all cases have a backup safety option that will certainly work.
  • Avoid Stock — use it to sketch a shot and convince the client with samples of the illustrator or photographer you want to work with. But be conscious that if the draft is too good they will go for it as a final work;
  • Credit properly;
  • Build relationships with the artists.


3_ Account Management and Wokflow- by Satoru Wakeshima

Account Manager — Manager of the project process (ringmaster)

Managing Process of a project:

Intelligence & Insights > Exploration > Validation > Development > Execution

Learn > Try > Test > Build > Go

Forming and Maintaining a client relationship:

  • Detailed Communication;
  • Consistently deliver on promises of quality of work;
  • Build Partnerships;
  • Provide guidance on a host of topics at any given moment (providing sound advise);


4_ Production- by Katy Brighton

“My design is finished  — now what? In the beginning, visualize the end. Develop clear and precise thinking from the outset.”


Principles within Disciplines

Showcase of the world’s best graphic design works across various disciplines.


What I’ll look next?

  • Malcom Galdwell — “Blink”, “The tipping Point”.

This post is part of my MA major project bibliography.

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