The Elements and Principles of Visual Design (+ Top Trends of 2018)

If you haven't updated your brand logo and aesthetic, you should consider it. Visual design trends are ever-changing, so we have compiled the top 10 design trends of 2018 you should be paying attention to.

Good design doesn’t just happen. A successful design arises out of the harmonious blending of essential elements of visual design in a combination of inspiration and awareness of a subject’s fundamental structure. Whether you’re an experienced designer with years of study behind you or you’re just tackling your first project, these elements and the principles behind them provide the framework you need to create a winning design.

From a company logo to a child’s birthday card, design choices convey not just information, but a world of meanings, moods, and connotations. Line, color, typography and other elements must work together to create a kind of visual shorthand that conveys both a design’s message and its meaning in an instant. Here’s a look at the 10 basic elements of visual design and how to use them in any project you choose.

10 Basic Elements of Visual Design

1. Line

Thick, thin, wavy, straight or shaped in many ways, lines divide space and draw the eye to specific areas of a design. Lines can also be used to outline and constrain shapes, and they take on added meaning with color.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips for designing with lines, click here!

2. Color

Color can be applied to any element of design, from backgrounds to typography. Colors are strongly associated with emotion, and color combinations can evoke a range of feelings. Lack of color is also an aspect of design; black-and-white images (and all shades of gray) can create a strong visual impact too.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips for designing with color, click here! To learn more about color theory, click here!

3. Shapes

Shapes add interest and emphasis. Defined by size, dimensions, color and line, shapes can be placed to create a sense of depth or to show relationships among visual design elements such as relative size and importance.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips for designing with shapes, click here!

4. Space

Both positive and negative space can play key roles in shaping your design. The effective use of space, whether filled with design elements, such as shapes and type, or completely empty, can convey a powerful message. Negative space can create shapes on its own for emphasis and strong visual interest.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips on how to use space in your designs, click here!

5. Texture

Even on a computer screen, textures convey a feeling of depth and dimension, and texture plays an important part in creating an immersive experience. In backgrounds, shapes, and typography, texture can speak volumes.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips on using texture in your designs, click here!

6. Typography

Typography conveys both a message and the meanings behind it with letter styles, shapes, and colors that work harmoniously with other elements of a design. The artful use of typography enhances mood and visual appeal — but legibility is essential.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips on using texture in your designs, click here!

7. Scale and Size

The size and relative scale of objects such as shapes and typography in a design can be manipulated to convey depth, emphasis, and interest. Surprise viewers with dramatic changes in scale and perspective, or keep things subtle for a more realistic look.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips on using texture in your designs, click here!

8. Dominance and Emphasis

Elements such as size, color, scale, and shape can be manipulated in many ways to establish a design’s focal point and dominant features. Eye-catching colors can be added to a single object for instant emphasis, and the scale and placement of objects can add a sense of foreground and background to a design.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips on using dominance and emphasis in your designs, click here!

9. Balance

Balance — or the absence of balance — can play an important role in a design’s success, and both have their place in conveying meaning and mood. Symmetry can convey a sense of steadiness and control, while asymmetry adds visual emphasis and a sense of movement.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips on using balance in your designs, click here!

10. Harmony

All details of a design should work together to create a harmonious whole — one that clearly conveys both the message and the mood of a piece. One misplaced element or jarring juxtaposition of styles can violate harmony, so good design depends on adding, subtracting or adjusting design elements as needed until they all blend seamlessly to create the desired effect.

Key visual design elements and trends.

For inspiration and tips on using harmony in your designs, click here!

Top Design Trends of 2018

Any creative knows that our artistic sensibilities, talent, and past body of work are just a portion of what we bring to the table. We also need to be forward-looking, able to identify, embrace, and incorporate current visual design trends into our work. Clients—whether major international brands or small mom and pop businesses—look to us as experts on what’s fresh and new, on what commands attention and generates buzz.

Staying abreast of new visual design trends is imperative to making an impact with our art and our work, reaching a wider audience, and snagging new clients. And when it comes to design elements in 2018, fortune favors the bold, unusual, and unexpected.

We’ve compiled the latest design trends that any creative can incorporate into their latest projects (whether professional or personal) or when pitching new clients.

1. Bold Colors

“One of the best places to take a risk is in the colors you use,” says blogger Ryan McCready with infographic design firm Venngage. If you want to make a statement, do so with color—the bolder, the better. It’s not just in current graphic design trends either: We’re seeing eye-catching hues like bright fuchsia, Ceylon yellow, limelight, and russet orange hit the runways for fall fashion 2018-2019. Expect boldness in color schemes to continue into winter 2018 and beyond.

Key visual design elements and trends.

2. Retro

A few years back, “Mad Men” ushered in a retro craze with a distinctly ’50s and ’60s sensibility. With graphic design trends in 2018, however, retro is defined a little differently: As millennials continue to grow into their careers and gain more earning (and purchasing) power, the ’80s and ‘90s nostalgia-driven designs dominate (referencing the decade’s millennials came of age). Think an abundance of geometric shapes, endless splashes of neon, and enough hearts and stars to make Lisa Frank proud.

Key visual design elements and trends.

3. Hand-Drawn Artwork

Nowadays, anyone can access stock photography—and many do. Therefore, companies seek out original art to stand out, and you can’t get more original, distinctive, or authentic than hand-drawn artwork. Go one better and incorporate other new graphic design trends into your illustrations like a drawing that’s ’80s-inspired or done in an unexpected bold color.

Key visual design elements and trends.

4. The Glitch Effect

It looks like there’s a mistake, but it’s totally intentional—that’s the glitch effect in a nutshell. The glitch effect embraces flaws, like a slightly out-of-focus frame, a smear of ink, or an overexposed image. Adding the glitch effect to your work signals your willingness to take risks as a designer and that you’re open to challenging the client, the audience, and the status quo.

Key visual design elements and trends.

5. Authentic Photography

Similar to the glitch effect, using authentic photography indicates an aversion to things being too perfect or too polished. You may have killer Photoshop skills but with this latest graphic design trend, you won’t want to use them. Authentic photos convey real people, candid moments, and untouched bodies. Graphic design projects with authentic photos embrace the real, in its many forms. Consider using photography effects such as double exposures. These can make for some very interesting and eye-catching images.

Key visual design elements and trends.

6. 3D Effects

When we mentioned retro was part of the current graphic design trends, we weren’t kidding; 3D is all the rage again, especially 3D still lifes that incorporate logos and/or product placements, 3D modeling in type design, one-color 3D design print ads, and 3D designs that strongly utilize bold color or metallics. Depending on your brand voice, consider a logo design utilizing these trends.

Key visual design elements and trends.

7. Duotones

For good design, sometimes it just takes two: two colors, that is (aka duotones). Duotones—whether complementary or contrasting—can be major attention grabbers. Experiment with graphic design trends in 2018. and use duotones in bold colors or retro hues or overlay for a 3D effect.

Key visual design elements and trends.

8. Creative Typography

Get creative with your typography to create compelling visuals—aesthetically pleasing typography, unusual fonts, objects as type. It’s OK to break the rules here, too. Crop the type. Hand-draw the type. Add 3D effects to your type. As long as you convey your message, you can let your imagination run wild in your design work.

Key visual design elements and trends.

9. Negative Space

As graphic designers, we know that negative space, or the empty and open space around the focal point, is known to attract attention. When you use negative space, you give the viewer permission to pay full, uncluttered attention to the presentation at hand. Whether used with images, typography, or both, negative space has always conveyed a timeless look and feel. And by using it in your designs this year, you’re getting the best of both worlds: an on-trend approach that won’t look dated in the months to come.

Key visual design elements and trends.

10. Flat Design

If you’re not a fan of 3D effects, you’re in luck: flat design is also a graphic design trend in 2018. Flat design eschews layering, shadow, multiple tones, and other adornments, fully embracing the limitations of 2D with clean lines, single hues, and a straightforward style.

Key visual design elements and trends.

Remember, current graphic design trends perform best when you put your own unique spin on them. Play around, see what sparks your creativity, and learn which new graphic design trends resonate with your audience. Whether you’re creating a new T-shirt for a client, designing a billboard, or just experimenting, see what unexpected creations can result from the latest graphic design trends. You could give your brand identity a major revamp if you follow key digital marketing trends.

Have you used these trends in any of your recent designs? Let us know in the comments below!

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Content Specialist at

Jackie Vlahos is the Content Specialist at Printi. She is an expert in design, marketing and anything in between. When she's not blogging her life away, she can be found with a camera in one hand and a coffee in the other.

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