This is a basic introduction to graphic design. You won’t be a pro designer after reading through this but you will be armed with a few simple things you can do to make anything you are working on look much better.
I won’t go into detail on these topics. Instead I’ll introduce them and give you enough information to put them into practice. It can be a good idea to do further research on these topics as there are many good pages out there that go into much more detail.
When most people think about good design they think about making something that looks amazing and mistakenly think they can achieve this with bells and whistles. This can actually work against you. Well designed and stylish items present material in a way that best suits how our subconscious takes in information and draws meaning from it. What you will find is that things which look stunning are normally very simple but in a way that makes it crisp and clear.
Whenever we look at anything (a web page, a photo, a plant, a person, a garden etc) our subconscious immediately starts trying to understand and draw meaning from what it can see. It wants to know what is important and what is less important and what is related to what and by how much. This happens largely without us even realising it and we have little control over it. Our subconscious will do this whether we like it or not.
Our minds have evolved to do this over many many thousands of years and is hard wired to do it in particular ways. For the vast majority of those years we have existed out in the real physical world and so our minds are best suited to interpreting physical things and environments. This is why it is often relaxing to sit in a garden or go on a bushwalk. The mind is surrounded by things it is naturally suited to understanding so it has to do little work and is thus happy.
The Colour Wheel
The Colour Wheel is a basic tool that designers use to create colour schemes. Two quite good ones are Kuler by Adobe and Color Scheme Designer. The basic idea is that the 3 primary colours (red, green and blue) are spaced out around a wheel and evenly transitioned between. You then pick your colour scheme by picking points evenly spaced around the wheel.