What draws us in Photoshop tutorials is how the authors were able to achieve a certain aesthetic effect on an image that looks as if it was meant to be that way. It is amusing to find out that a magnificent whole is a mere product of techniques that are distinct from each other. It is a hackneyed truth and yet being exposed to such is always a brand new experience.
There are times, however, when beginners manifest a tendency to be too naïve about graphic design. A lot of people treat Photoshop much like they would treat any word processor. They think that simply following Photoshop tutorials can make them great designers. What they tend to forget is the fact that learning Photoshop entails proper knowledge of the elements and principles of graphic design. If the elements are what give a design its completeness, the principles pertain to the “hows” of using these elements.
The four principles of graphic design that applies to Photoshop are as follows:
Balance. Simply put, balance is the equal distribution of visual weight. It is determined by the size, shade and depth of graphic and textual elements and how they interact within a piece. Color, value, size, shape and texture have something to do with balance.
There are two basic types: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is when elements are arranged evenly throughout the design. You can rarely find this kind in Photoshop tutorials as they are somewhat leaning to the uptight and conservative side of design. They do not show much of a designer’s creativity as they value tradition and function. However, clients prefer symmetrical designs because they exude strength and stability.
Asymmetrical balance is the arrangement of different graphic elements on each side of the page regardless of their symmetry. The important thing is that the weight of these two objects is still well-balanced. Asymmetrical creates more contrast and variety. It gives an illusion of movement across the page. Its informality elicits emotion from the audience.
Rhythm. You read it right. There is rhythm in the realm of visual arts. But no, it doesn’t mean that by merely looking, you get to hear the emotions that the graphic elements evoke. It’s nothing like that. Visual rhythm only means that a certain element is repeated and varied at regular intervals. It is achieved when you create a series of similar shapes evenly. That is what you call regular rhythm and it evokes a calming ambiance. Rhythm is also achieved when you progressively place a larger element to an even larger one. This connotes consistency and strength. Abrupt changes in size and spacing creates a more lively and exciting rhythm. Notice how these are played along in your favorite Photoshop tutorials.
Emphasis. This principle seems to explain itself. Emphasis pertains to the technique of anticipating which graphic elements should gain the audience’s focus. It involves what stands out and what gets noticed first. You have to control the elements of design to direct the audience’s eyes on what you think is important. It is not possible to focus on two or more graphic elements. That is defeating the purpose. In fact, that is not even possible in the books of communication theory. In stories, one character will always stand out as the main character. The same thing applies in visual arts.
Unity. We all like to talk about stretching our imaginations and experimenting. Truth be told, it is the easiest virtue to follow in graphic design. The difficult part comes in putting things together. In Photoshop, you don’t use all the filters on one project and expect to create a respectable design. More is never good. The least elements you can use for the clearest message is the aim of design.
The final effects employed in most Photoshop tutorials seem extravagant, you may say. But that is only because authors know how to distribute the elements to where they belong. In the end, they were able to create a sense of unity and wholeness to the piece.
The key is consistency. Know your purpose and visualize your ideas. Execute by keeping in mind that there is a technique for every effect and that learning is still better than following blindly.