Graphic Design Workshop


  • Introductions
  • Basic Design Principles
  • Introduction to Exercise and Walkthrough
  • Exercise Start, Break, Discussion

Welcome to the graphic design workshop! Today we will be covering basic design principles, how to apply them to presentations, a technical demo, and an exercise. We will be centring this workshop around Powerpoint as it works well for our needs but will go over other technology (Pixlr). However, if you would like to talk more about Photoshop or another program, there will be time at the end of the workshop to work on your files, consult or get one on one help on a program.

Design is an extension of language. When we speak with someone face to face or to a crowd, it not just our words but our body language that helps people understand what we are talking about.

However, it would be more appropriate to say that design is actually an extension of written language. Written language is different from spoken as the speaker is often not present to clarify the information. Written language has to be much more explicit in meaning. With writing, intonation, the manner of speaking, and body language are lost, and with that, the emphasis of that information. Graphic design extends written language to create clearer communication to mitigate the information loss due to the lack of a speaker.

In graphic design, there are three elements, content, context and audience. You must make sure that everything aligns together. Often, as a graphic design, I receive content that is immutable, and I have to work with that. However, for my own work and for my own writing, and for your own projects, you can adjust the writing to be more clear, and to fit its context, say, a syllabus, a presentation, a poster, etc.

For example, content on a presentation should not be long. You are there to elaborate and if not, like in this presentation, the elaborated information can be found under the slide. We want to keep the information short and succinct in a presentation because you don’t want to distract your audience from your speaking with other information in their environment. Align your content to the context, and you can shift it for the design and vice versa.

The principle of appropriateness is from Massimo Vignelli, a legend in the graphic design field. Please read his canon for a lovely read about graphic design.

If the quality of thought is clear, it will be expressed in your design. If the content is muddy and obfuscated, then it will be harder to create a design that is clear. This is also in Vignelli’s Canon as noted above.

Graphic design is a craft, and like a craft, it takes time to master and to develop that specific mode of thinking. It is simple in many ways, and with desktop publishing, graphic design is more accessible than ever. However, there are plenty of elements and principles to be aware of, such as proper glyphs to use (like quote marks), typefaces and systems, columns/grids, line length and height, baselines, gestalt theory, colour, imagery, and proportion.

All those choices go back into reflecting the content and appealing or being appropriate to the audience. We should be aware of our audience. What do they desire? What do they know? What will surprise them? If you know these, than you can make designs appropriate to your audience.

Discussion Point: What do these colours express and to what audience? What could they be used for? Look at the colours individually and in their columns (i.e the blue, yellow and red).

This is a simple timeline of the history of type, mainly from a western perspective. Type ( and objects and cultures in general) derives meaning from their history. Why was this typeface first made? What were the values in this time that lead to the design of this typeface? What do modern day uses of this typeface represent? Just remember that a typeface has meaning beyond the word it expresses.

Discussion Point 1: If this was a product, what would be inside and who would it be for?

Discussion Point 2: If this was a product, what would be inside and who would it be for?

Discussion Point 3: If this was a product, what would be inside and who would it be for?

Examples of type use for titles.

Type Systems – Here are some consideration of what you would need a layout or document but also a presentation. Consistency is key in typography and forms a very subtle way to move your audience smoothly through your content? I suggest using a simple “display” typeface that expresses short text like titles and headings, and a more readable “body” type to express main content

A research poster – For example, here is an idea of a system you would need for a research poster. Remember that you can also re-edit your graphs and charts to follow the type system of the main poster for more consistency.

Some Type details

Line length – Lines that are too long tire out the readers’ eyes and also make it easy to lose one’s place in the text. Too short lines are awkward to read and break up the content too much.

Line height – To read comfortably, make sure your lines are neither too close together nor too far apart. Too close makes it hard on the eyes and too wide makes the design “fall apart”. In both contexts, it may cause the reader to lose their place in the document.

The best action is to test the text in situ. It is also better to go larger than smaller for the sake of accessibility.

Structure and Creating Grids – It is always good to start out with guides to help you keep consistency throughout your presentation. Have consistent placement of titles, body content and images. the easiest way is to start with a grid and move elements around to fit the nature of your content. Sometimes the page can suggest a “grid” or structure as well as in the picture on the lower right. The intsersecting lines can indicate where a title and body text can go in a book.

Also remember that you can also align type to type for a very clean look. However keep the leading/line spacing consistent on each page. This can achieved by setting the linespacing to “exactly….” rather than “multiples of …”

What is also very nice is to align the text with the images. This is one example of how to do it. The most important part is that the baseline of the type is aligned to the bottom of the image. To do this, block out the place where an image belongs and crop them so that they fit with the rhythm of the type.

Images – Always choose high-quality images for your design. Is it high-resolution? Is it pixellated? Look at the file size of the image to get an idea of whether it can be used for your presentations. Remember that screen quality and print quality are different, but not for long!

You can also judge an image’s quality by its colours, contrasts and focus. Are the colours even and bright? Are there areas that are over or underexposed? Is everything in focus with a nice sharp line on edges?

I often use icons to indicate more abstract ideas and create an eye catching design. However remember to choose icons that look like they belong together. Look to see if they are visually consistent. Are the lines the same width? Are the shapes organic or geometric? Are the edges round or pointy?

Discussion Point – Which icon does not belong?

Creative Commons – Finding appropriate images is often difficult. However, there are a lot of resources out there that have images and icons that you can download for free and use. If you look for CC0, then you do not need to cite the artist, otherwise, you can reference the icon later, say at the end of your presentation. This is a list of resources where you can find creative common images.


Also, take some time to scan through my visual literacy pdf.


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