tips March 27, 2020

7 Fundamental design principles explained with poster examples

Regardless of size and printing specifications, to be effective, posters usually need a few things: a call to action (mostly in commercial cases), key information – such as what, when, and where -, proper scale, and contrast. If you manage to successfully incorporate all of these elements, most likely you’re en route to a great poster.

But how do you even start? Having in mind some of the fundamental design principles can help you tackle any poster design with confidence and help you achieve those results. These techniques are constantly used by designers to visually entice the audience in diverse contexts so you can be sure they will help you as well.

Philographics Posters

Instead of just going through some of the principals of design by giving you an idea of each one of them, I think it’s better if we get to see them in practice. And since we’re talking about posters, it’s better to use them as examples.

Luckily, there’s one particular project that I truly love, and that I wish I was the one who designed it, called Philographics
It’s a set of posters that use simple shapes to translate complex ideas visually. It also makes use of fundamental design principals and that’s why I think it’s a perfect example to understand each one of them better.

Fundamental design principles applied to poster design


Balance is one of those principles that you feel even before you think about it. We get this sensation of visually pleasing stability. Even though there can be some elements that attract the eye, they aren’t as prominent that they don’t allow us to see the totality of the composition.
A balanced design implies that both positive and negative elements don’t overpower one another. Everything works and fits together.

An example of balance is the poster that represents Humanism. The forms are different in geometry but similar in color and they are vertically aligned to the background.
The proximity of the color hues of the forms and the background, combined with the alignment, makes us perceived this post as perfectly balanced.

In this image we see an example of a fundamental design principle being applied.


It’s a principle that connects or separates elements due to the use of space between them.
We assimilate that some objects are closed to each other – belong to the same group – when there’s less space between them. This happens in the Relativism posters. We clearly understand that all the objects are connected since they overlap.

In this image we see an example of a fundamental design principle being applied.


It exists when you add multiple elements to a page. It can help control the movement in the composition, and to direct the eye in a certain way.
Often times repetition is the best way to make the rhythm more noticeable and to establish a pattern between objects. But besides repetition, also alternation and gradation can help establish the rhythm of a composition.

Free will is a good example of this principle. As you can see, the designer used not only repetition but also alternation of shapes and gradation of colors to produce rhythm in the composition.

In this image we see an example of a fundamental design principle being applied.


Like we previously saw, repetition is a key strategy to achieve Rhythm. 
It causes viewers to associate and treat objects that share visual similarities as a group, instead of each unity.

The poster that represents Determinism demonstrates how repetition can be used to represent a group. Notice that because of the use of repetition, it also feels like you can see the rhythm in those rectangular shapes.

In this image we see an example of a fundamental design principle being applied.

Visual hierarchy

It communicates quickly and effectively if done properly and as a result, it allows viewers to scan information.
The dominant element should help to answer the mains questions. In the case of posters, these should be the key information such as what and when.
The sooner the audience can pick up the main message, the more effective is the poster.

Solipsism is a great example of a visual hierarchy technique. Besides the headliner, which we immediately see due to size and color, our eyes also perceive the biggest circular shape as being the most important because it stands out from the background both in size and color. 

In this image we see an example of a fundamental design principle being applied.


Contrast is a principle that we mentioned within other principles previously.
Humans can quickly perceive differences without even doing it rationally. It attracts our attention and therefore, it’s a powerful design tool to call for attention.
By applying different characteristics to several elements, we communicate that there’s something different about them or the message they convey. At the same time, it can also emphasize or create boundaries.
There more than one way to achieve contrast such as size, shape, color, texture, position, and orientation.

Skepticism shows how the use of color can contribute to creating a big contrasting poster.

In this image we see an example of a fundamental design principle being applied.


We’ve seen the power of space in a dedicated post before.
It gives elements the room to breathe and to stand out. Either to establish contrast, to reinforce hierarchy or to generate tension.

There are several examples of good use of space in the Philographics project such as Absolutism and Marxism.

In this image we see an example of a fundamental design principle being applied.


We’ve seen how fundamental design principles can help achieve great poster designs and how you can accomplish similar results in your projects.

Additionally, I would like to add that I do not own the images presented in the examples nor I’m trying to promote them. It’s simply a project that inspires me and that demonstrates the principles I was trying to explain. 

If like me, you love this idea, you can see more of it and also buy the book’s project in their online shop.

About Melted

Melted was born in 2017. 
Back then, I was facing some hard time regarding my profession (or lack of), but I wanted to push forward and inspire others to do the same.
So I put my fears aside, and several huge cups of coffee later, this project was online.

Read the full story

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