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Elements Of Design

In the creative world, the possibilities are, literally, endless. Whether you are doing the design yourself, managing the process with an agency or freelance, or having the Phillips Creative team work for you, whatever your mind can imagine can be made a reality. Each project will be unique; the following are some general considerations.

Elements of Design

The Audience

It is important to begin with the end in mind. Whether the project is a fully developed ad campaign, a simple brochure, or even a form, it is important to ask these questions first:

  • Who is the target audience? The more alike the audience is, the easier it will be to communicate with them. Find what they have in common.
  • What do you want the target to do? Buy something? Come to a party? Become a member? Subscribe? Be clear on the objective, and don’t forget the call to action.
  • How can you make it easy for the target to take action?Make the method of response be as convenient as possible…a website, a postage-paid reply card, a phone call.

The Message

Crafting a message that will make the target take the desired action is a fine art. Once you have defined your audience and found what they have in common, know what will move them. Put yourself in the target’s shoes and ask, “What’s in it for me?” That is the question that every communication must answer for the reader in one way or another. Usually, the reader of any communication is asking him or herself, “Will this make me smarter/stronger/richer/sexier/more important?” If the answer doesn’t seem obvious, the target loses interest.

About copy…The target will be less interested in the details than in what the product, service, or information can do for him or her. Come to the point—the main thing the target wants to know—right away. Find what will appeal to the target’s emotions and go straight to it. Skip the little stuff.

Once you have the communication written, decide how best to present it visually. Budget realities come into play here…it may not be appropriate for a small non-profit to produce a 24-page, full-color brochure for its annual fundraiser. Sometimes, a simple black-and-white piece, if well-designed, can make a big impact. The main thing is to find a creative designer who understands the audience and your objectives. The expected return on the investment of the project should be taken into consideration in budgeting for its design. If the project is an offer to investors in hopes of raising $10 million in venture capital, spend as much as it will take for the design. If the goal is more modest, design to that. Every design must ultimately be produced, and every creative choice has a production cost.

A Note About White SpaceDon’t be afraid to use it. It’s not necessary, or even desirable, to fill every inch of the page. White space, when effectively created, can draw the reader’s eye to what’s actually there.
Pantone Color Matching System


A picture is worth…well, you know. What type of picture, or other image, to use depends on the message, the audience’s emotional response to it, and the budget of the project. Sometimes, full-color photography is just the thing; other times it might be a drawing, a chart, a duotone (two-color photograph) or other type of image. The imagery should illustrate the message in a way that leaves an impression; pictures are remembered long after the words are forgotten. For your next project, you may want to hire a photographer or use stock photography, or commission an artist to do an illustration, or ask your designer to come up with a graphic element that makes sense. The style of the imagery has a production cost as well.


A hand-scribbled note can convey personal thanks, and a formal typeface in an annual report can give investors confidence. Choosing the right typeface can make a huge difference in whether the communication is read and in how the reader feels about the communication. There are literally hundreds of fonts on the market, and they all have personalities…some are literary, some are corporate, some are old-timey, some are fun, some are scary. The difference between fonts is often subtle; a good designer will choose well for your project.

The following is by no means a complete explanation of the elements of typography, but it may explain some of the terms you will hear designers and printers use.


Type size is expressed in “points,” with 8-point being very small as in a text, and 36-point being very large as in a headline. (Type measurement also used to be expressed in “picas”…if you hear that, you may want to reconsider the modernity of your printer!) Type size can be critical to readability. Type that is very small (under 12 or 14 points) won’t appeal to an older audience. The size of the type is only one consideration.

Serif vs. Sans Serif

This is one of the most basic descriptions of any typeface. It refers to whether a font has a “serif” or a “foot”…that little piece that sticks out beyond the basic form of the letter. If it does not, it is called “sans serif” (French for “without that little foot”). There are time-honored ideas about whether to use a serif or sans-serif font, and of course rules are made to be broken. In general, long sections of type in a sans-serif typeface can be harder to read; notice that long texts like books and newspapers are set in serif fonts. Large sans-serif fonts are often used for headlines, because they are easy to read at a large size and are visually simple. Some “serif” fonts have only a slight “foot.” Whether a typeface is serif or sans-serif, there are other considerations which will add to, or detract from, the readability of a font.


(pronounced “LEDDING”) This is a very old term that refers to the amount of space between lines of type. (It comes from the days when type was made out of metal, and the spaces between the lines were determined by the amount of lead. No kidding.) The amount of leading is still a very important idea in typography. The readability of even very small type can be improved by increasing the amount of leading. Leading is expressed in “points” just as type is. If a section of type is 12/12 (“twelve over twelve”), that means it is 12-point type with 12 points of space between the lines. Type that is 12/14 will be easier to read than type that is 12/12. It is important to leave enough “air” between lines of type, unless the type is really large.

(We could get into other typography terms like ascenders and descenders, baselines and the like, but let’s not go crazy.)

Line Length

Not a technical term, exactly, but important to readability. There is a rule of thumb that says that a reader’s eye gets tired after viewing more than 36 characters in one line. It is important to break type into manageable chunks; that’s why newspapers are in columns.

A Note About Graphic Standards: Most professional marketers will have a set of graphic standards that specify one or two typefaces that may be used in any of its communications. This ensures that the organization’s brand personality will be conveyed consistently. Using only one or two typefaces over and over may seem boring, but the reader will appreciate it. Doing so will mean less time choosing typefaces and more time defining the audience and crafting the right message to reach it.


If you are not sure which typeface is appropriate for your communication, or you want to establish a graphic standard for your organization, the design team at Phillips Printing can provide a solution.