Part 1 on the Elements of Good Design

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Dot, I cannot read this word.

Dot (she looks at the notebook):

These were George Seurat’s words in Stephen Sondheim’s fabulous musical, “Sunday in the Park with George.” Between his stunning painting (one of my favorites) and his notes above, it pretty much summarizes what you need to know about design.

What? Not quite clear enough? Okay.

One day you’ll need an ad for your business. It may be for a magazine, newspaper, or online. It may even be a brochure or flyer for your product or service. You may have a great designer you use already.

You may be talked into using the publication’s “free” design service because the price seems right. (Warning: You can lose big time by going with the in-house design team. But that’s another newsletter.) You may even use me!

You say you don’t know a thing about good design? That makes it kind of tough to know if you’re getting a high quality product, doesn’t it?

After all, without good design your product or service may not be seen by enough of your target audience. That translates into lost revenue, and we can’t have that.

Let’s take a look at a few key elements of good design that you can look for yourself to see if your own ads will garner the largest potential audience.

George Seurat’s stunning painting (above) is a pretty good place to start. I’m going to disagree, however, with the ‘order’ of the elements in their script.


Without it you can’t see anything else. So it’s the most important first ingredient. You can’t see color, movement, shapes or “order” without light’s presence. And it works both ways.

We’ve all seen stunning visual ads that are surrounded by lots of “white space’ to draw attention to what is darker. Or, we’ve also seen images that draw us in because there’s a large dark area surrounding a small, central area of light, such as reversed out (white) text on a black background.

TIP: When reviewing your ad’s artwork, ask yourself, “Will the amount of light (or dark) in my ad stand out from the adjacent ad or adjacent text?” Ideally you don’t want your ad ‘blending in’ with its surroundings. You want it to stand out from the crowd. One way to ensure that is to ad a very strong border to your ad.


Ever had a near miss (or run in) with a deer in your headlights?

It proves my point. Your headlights may provide the light down a darkened country road. But at the first glimmer of something moving, your eyes dart in that direction. This is, after all, how the movies got started.

Of course a photograph or ‘still’ print or online ad literally has no ‘movement.’ (You’ll note that it’s not on George Seurat’s opening list of elements.)

Overall, I don’t think Seurat’s particularly good at movement. But can you spot the main element of the painting that does capture motion? (Yes, it’s a bit of a Where’s Waldo quiz.)

It’s the little dog in front of the monkey on the leash. It’s just starting to leap towards the Labrador on the other side of the painting.

TIP:  Movement in an ad can be as simple as an arrow pointing at the price or special deal. Sometimes movement can be implied, such as a coffee cup caught falling off a table in a photo. Ask yourself if you find your eye moving around the ad simply by virtue of the flow of information. If not, look for ways to ad simple movement to your ad to catch more viewers.

Next issue I’ll look some of the other key ingredients to good design. Perhaps it was a hot, sweltering day on the Island of La Grand Jatte when Seurat put together his composition, and that is why no one is moving?

Design Tips

A few design tips for your ads, brochures and whatnot:

While LIGHT is the most important element you cannot do without, CONTRAST against the light (or dark) is equally important to drawing the eye.

The greater the contrast, the stronger a design element draws the eye. Black against white, red opposite blue (or green), orange opposite blue (or purple)!

The human eye is better aligned to see red than blue. (This is why stop signs and lights are red.) Use red in your ad’s design to draw attention to a sale, a discounted price or an important feature.

Green is considered a calming color. (This is why it is used in hospitals.) It is also now heavily associated with all products and services to do with good things for the environment.

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