Author: dominiquevarron

Learn about the many elements of design.

The psychology of design

A thorough understanding of the psychology of design is important for any graphic design student. From the way in which the brain interprets what the eye sees, to the biology of the brain and its influence on what we focus on, psychology is as much a part of design as the correct use of color and placement of elements. This knowledge helps designers create user-friendly interfaces and successful infographics, and it is an ever growing and evolving field of study. Here, I look at four key elements of design psychology: attention, comprehension and retention as they relate to design.


The appeal of a design may depend on several factors including the culture of the viewer and the individual themselves. There are certain points to remember about creating graphics with appeal. An article by Connie Malamed titled “How to improve the appeal of your graphics” talks about the importance of “fluency” as an element of appeal. The article describes “processing fluency” and the ease at which a viewer is able to process information as being tied into the appeal of a design. Studies conducted on information processing have found that the typography itself can have a strong effect on how a person perceives the information. If a easy to read font is used, this increases the appeal of the information contained. Some aspects of visual fluency which effect appeal are symmetry, visual clarity, high figure ground contrast, and the idea that less information is more. These nuances of visuals have a strong effect on the appeal of a design, which in turn effect the ability of a viewer to process the information. (Malamed) Typography is very important because it can make or break a design. There may be times when a highly decorative or messy font matches the feel of the design, but Weinschenk points out that complex fonts that are hard to read can “interfere with pattern recognition and slow down reading.” (Weinschenk, p. 39)


In Susan M. Weinschenk’s book 100 things every designer needs to know about people, it states that “Attention is selective” (Weinschenk, p. 97). This means that people can be easily distracted, but they are also able to focus in on something even when distracting stimuli is present. The designer needs to be able to grab the attention of people in a world full of distractions. To grab viewers attention, it is important to know the context and purpose of the design and elements. Even though a viewer will likely focus on large photos and strong, bright colors, while engaged in an exploratory web search, if they are working on a task such as data input, they will likely try and focus on this task rather then other distractions. This tells us that it is not always easy to grab someones attention, and it is important to know the environment that the design will be in.


Comprehension is also an important factor of design. One aspect to consider is that when it comes to processing information, it is better to have smaller bits of information that the brain can handle, rather then large amounts of information at once. By breaking information down into “bite size” bits, designers can avoid the mistake of providing too much information to the viewer. (Weinschenk, p.62). Some other strategies to use to help with comprehension are put the information into story form, which people respond positively to and use many pictures rather then wordy descriptions or instructions.


When all is said and done, after the viewer has seen a design, how can you be certain that they have retained the information, or that they have retained any information at all? It is important to know that an “overload” of information has a negative effect on retention. Designers should be aware of the amount of data that their design contains, and how to provide it in a manner that supports retention. Just as smaller bits of information are better for comprehension, it also is the same for retention. Visual is not the only method of receiving information. If the designer has an opportunity to employ the other senses such as sound or linguistics, it might be a good way to reach a larger audience. The same techniques that help students prepare for an exam can also be an asset for a designer. The key is to think outside the box and find new and innovative ways of working with the information you are tasked to disseminate.

Though one would be hard pressed to acknowledge every facet of a viewers visual and mental experience upon seeing a design, by keeping in mind the aspects of appeal, attention, comprehension and retention, a designer will be better prepared to create successful and effective projects with precision. As a designer, it may be impossible to incorporate every lesson learned about the minutia of human experience into the elements of a design, but it is still possible to be aware of, and create with the knowledge that certain design conventions should be embraced, and some avoided, depending on the purpose and goal of the design itself.


Weinschenk, S. (2011). 100 things every designer needs to know about people. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

5 Tips on How to Retain Information. (2015). Retrieved August 9, 2015, from

Malamed, C. (n.d.). How to Improve the Appeal of Your Graphics. Retrieved August 9, 2015, from


Graphic Design History: Italian Renaissance

Venice, Italy

Centered in Venice, Italy, this time of “rebirth” which began in the 14th and 15th centuries would show innovations in typography, book design, page layout, ornamentation, and illustration.

Mark for the society of Venetian printers, 1481

facsimile of the title page from Nicolo Zoppino’s book Convivio delle belle bonne

Convergence of Cultures

Venice, Italy was the gateway of trade for Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, India and the far east. This convergence influenced Italian style of the time. This was a time when printers made their mark, starting with Johannes de Spira in the 1400s to Nicolas Jenson, Laurentius de Rubeis and Pere Miguel. The Floral decoration was popular at this time. Erhard Ratdolt made significant innovations in the printing press. Some pattern forms of the period were influenced by Islamic cultural aesthetics. The introduction and evolution of the printing press meant that they were taking the spot that manuscripts had once held. This led to the decline of manuscript writing and a growth of the printing industry that would expand out to France. The 16th century is known as “the golden age for French Typography”

Robert Estiennes Bible in latin, 1545.

The Roman typeface

During this time. Gothic and Garamond type were used extensively. Robert Granjon is considered to be one of the most original of the designers in his use of the Garamond roman typefaces. His work became so popular that from 1550 to the 17th century, most designers referred to his typefaces.

Granjon Gros Cicero, by Claude Lamesle, 1742


During the 1700’s copperplate engraving became popular, this allowed for refined images and printing techniques which created excellent printed works. The copperplate made it easier for people to have artwork in their homes, who would otherwise not  be able to afford expensive oil paintings and works of art.

Copperplate etching, 1700’s


During the Renaissance era, censorship of materials was strengthened and was of increasing concern fro the authorities. Despite the taxation and censorship of printed materials, printing was growing and was established in the Americas within the 13 colonies.

A Page of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, printed by Aldus Manutius in 1499.

Learn more about Graphic Design History of the Italian Renaissance at:

Color theory: Tints and shades

Graphic Designers deal with tints and shades in their work. Tints and shades deal with the contrast of dark and light which determine the strength of the colors of an image, rather then the hue. So it is the contrast in values that effects readability of text, for instance, not the hue in itself. Tints and shades are the less saturated version of a color and are are used more often then the full saturated version of a color. Diluting a fully saturated color results in tints and shades.

You can see in this example how tints effect readability.

Shade: a darker version of a hue, shades are sometimes described as hues with black added. Can be referred to as “added dark”

Tint: a lighter version of a hue, tints are sometimes described as hues with white added. Can be referred to as “added light”

Tinting will increase the light reflective properties of a hue. A small amount of white added to a hue will create a strong and brilliant tint and create a stronger effect then the original saturated hue. Shades do the opposite of this. They dillute the intensity of a hue, since black aborbs all wavelengths of light. Using grey can dilute a pure hue, as well as adding some of the compliment of the color.

Here is an example that shows how tint and shade alter the hue of pure red.

Radha & Krishna – Illustration

Radha and Krishna

The Radha-Krishna amour is a love legend of all times. It’s indeed hard to miss the many legends and paintings illustrating Krishna‘s love affairs, of which the Radha-Krishna affair is the most memorable. Krishna’s relationship with Radha, his favorite among the ‘gopis’ (cow-herding maidens), has served as a model for male and female love in a variety of art forms, and since the sixteenth century appears prominently as a motif in North Indian paintings.


Social Network for professional use: the pitfalls

Social networking has changed the way we approach employment opportunities

It wasn’t long ago that graphic designers had to carry a print portfolio around when looking for employment. “Snail Mail” was used as a method to send potential employers some samples of portfolio work to give some idea of what the designer had to offer. Nowadays a new set of rules and etiquette help us navigate the often confusing web of social networking and marketing.

Social Networking’s professional pitfalls

Things aren’t like they used to be. Today designers are expected to have some kind of internet presence. Luckily there are many avenues for designers such as Behance and Deviant Art, and a place for motion graphics such as Vimeo and YouTube. Yes, there are so many places to showcase work but there are some things to keep in mind. It’s important to be mindful of what you put on the internet. Not only is work information readily available about you, personal or private information may potentially be available as well.

It is possible that personal info may be viewed by potential employers, and things like political preference and lifestyle choices that would otherwise have been beyond the arena of potential employers is now a part of it. Basically, if you do not filter what you put on the internet, it may cause you issues later on, regardless of your skills as s designer. It’s definitely not fair. but it fair to say that there is information available today that is easily accessed by your social circle as well as employers. Having a solid online presence can have a substantial impact on your career. This has implications on our individuality and the ability to maintain a separate personal life aside from work, but its realistic to be prepared and aware of your online presence. Design is all about communication and is heavily influenced by advances in technology, but using social networking for business purposes is a double-edged sword. It not just designers that should be weary of social media, since all people who use the internet are effected. Any quick news search will display the most current email or social media related scandal.

The ABA Young Lawyers division posted an article on how to prevent the “professional pitfalls of social media” here

Navigating Social Media Pitfalls

Though your portfolio is obviously the showcasing of your Quality and Skills as a designer or artist, its important to remember that professionalism is also an important skill. The way you are portrayed on the internet may not provide the best judge of character, but it definitively influences outside opinion. Your internet presence is am increasingly important part of the larger picture, so make it count.

What inspires me as a designer

This week one of my assignments is to discuss what inspires me as a designer. Its not hard to think about all the many reasons why I love design.

The design field is dynamic and broad reaching, so my inspirations are many. My goal is to design things that are visually interesting. I want to design things that are visually appealing and successful in the way design can convey information in its most simplistic and eye catching form.

It is the challenge of a design project that inspires me. Such as the challenge to create a successful design; something the client is really happy with and something that the customer base appreciates.

All the possibilities of design inspire me. When I see really awesome works such as print design and logos that are seamless and memorable, I aim to reach that level of design skill. The great, vast ocean of possibilities of design is inspirational, like any art form, it is up to the designer-artist to create something, and to be a part of that process, whether it be in the conception, rendering or completion of a project, or being the sole designer for the whole thing is one of the reasons love design.

Inspiration is everywhere, and I am truly inspired to explore the way design blends art and technical skill seamlessly. Seeing that end product is a great feeling.To know that all your hard work paid off makes it all worth it. I enjoy designing and it is the creativity involved, the way art and technology meet and the challenge inherent in the design process that serve to inspire me.

Presenting your portfolio: the basics

You make think your portfolio is a sort of representation of your inner soul, but you must also take into consideration that your portfolio is showing your prospective employer what you have to offer them.Your portfolio should show a enough range that it indicates that you are able to fulfill the needs of the design firm or employer. Gear your portfolio for each job you apply for. A large corporation will have different needs then a small printing company. Prepare your portfolio accordingly depending on the specialization of the place you are applying to, so that you can best showcase relevant skills.

Before you can create the successful portfolio you need to know what your prospective employer is looking for. You will only know if you do a good amount of research. Once you have a clear idea who they are and who their customer base is you can better adjust your portfolio.

While it is impossible to have one general portfolio that works for a number of prospective employers, having subcategories can save the amount of time you are creating specialized portfolios. For example, your main content might showcase your top designs, while a secondary page highlights skills that the employer is also looking for. You can structure your portfolio in a way that indicates versatility and well-rounded design skills while also featuring a few of your specialties as well, be it video editing, animation, print design, etc.

How do you decide what should go into your portfolio?

-make an honest assessment of what you have to offer your potential employer
-know your strengths and understand your weaknesses
-understand that creating a strong portfolio may be daunting, but it is essential
-ask yourself “who is my audience?” (a good portfolio indicates that you understand the needs of the employer)
-gain confidence by building a strategy for what should be in your chosen works
-be critical and weed out mediocre work
-try to use only newer and relevant work
-remember that an emotional connection to a work does not guarantee it will translate well for a portfolio

Creating Interactive Documents with InDesign

An interactive InDesign document makes use of the same elements used in a traditional InDesign document, with additional interactive features:

  • Animation of text, headlines and images
  • Image resolution should be 72 PPI (rather than the 300 PPI used above)
  • Hyperlinks that take you to another page or new website
  • Sound files on buttons
  • Page transitions
  • The ability to play videos
  • Interactive forms

When creating an interactive document, it is important to consider the following:

Page Transitions Should be used carefully. Too many transitions could distract your viewer, cause confusion, or detract from your design aesthetics. It is important to review all of the page transitions and stick with one or two different transitions for your document.

Interactive documents Need to be configured for document RGB. You can set this under Edit → Transparency Blend Space → Document RGB. Interactive documents should be less than 1024 pixels wide.

Interactive Effects: Roll overs on buttons should change color – the color should complement the colors in your design, however, stand out enough so the user notices the roll over color effect. Buttons can have as many appearances as you want, however, it is recommended to not include more than four per button. We do not want to overwhelm the user with effects.

Sounds on buttons need to be used cautiously. Before you add sound to a button, decide whether or not it truly enhances the interactive document? Will it annoy the viewer if they return to the document the second time? How long is the document and how many sounds will be used? What happens if the viewer doesn’t have speakers or has their sound muted?

When you add hyperlinks to buttons, make sure you apply an appearance to them that helps the user navigate to different pages within the document. When the user clicks on the button, should the document take the user back a page, to the next page, to a URL, or to the start or end of the document?

Export SWF Files: When you export an interactive document as a SWF file, check under the Advanced tab to make sure the image quality is set to maximum. When you export an interactive document as a SWF file, check under the Advanced tab to make sure the image resolution is set to 72 PPI. After you export a SWF always test the interactive features. Make sure they all work correctly. If you find an error, correct the problem in InDesign. Then export as SWF again and test the new document.

The International Style: Integral to the history of typography

A major force in the history of Typography is arguably The International Style, also known as the Swiss Style. This is the style that is most firmly planted in my mind as being a 20th century methodology that has shaped modern typography. Though decades have passed since this style rose in popularity, it is still a methodology of sorts that is still used today.

The International Style came about in 1950’s Switzerland where the hallmarks of modern style began. It is characterized by the use of flush left sans-serif fonts and the use of a grid to create clean, readable and objective design concepts. International Style relies on strong and vibrant color, geometrical forms and effective photographic images as elements. Layouts are based on a mathematical grid and elements are planned out in accordance to this structure. The grid system and strong typographical statements gives the Swiss/International style that certain look and feel. From the 1550’s to 1960’s this style dominated the commercial design scene.

ITS had its origins in the 1920s and 1930s when designers were developing new ideas to coincide with industrialization and technological advances. Printing technology was advancing and growing and a clean readable font was required. The sans-serif font of the Swiss style was an answer for that. Jan Tschicholds 1928 book Die Neue Typographie was a major influence of Swiss style designers as well. This style was not only a response to new technologies but also also an outlook by designers who saw there work as useful and as elements of social change.

The Swiss style is still important today, especially in the arena of corporate design. The focus on legibility and cleanliness are still important facets of logo design, government and corporate. The simple and flat designs of the time period which sought to remove excessive ornamentation was criticized as being cold and formulaic, but Swiss Design has an important place in the 20th century and today. The idea that designers are not only artists but should also be aware of there social responsibility, and also problem solvers trying to fix problems associated with technology, accessibility and readability, are just as relevant today.

The International Style was an important style in terms of its place in typographical design history and its influence today. The method in which designers such as Joseph Muller-Brockmann and Max Bill chose to tackle design problems is the basis for modern Graphic Design theory. The Swiss Style was created in an era of scientific advances, social strife and war. Today is an era of scientific advances, social strife and war. The lessons learned from ITS are no less relevant in the world of mobile devices, web accessibility and marketing.