Graphic Essays and Comics

Overview   |   Recommended Software   |   Student-Made Examples   |   Other Examples   |   Instructional Video

A graphic essay (sometimes called a visual essay) uses a combination of text and images to explore a specific topic. Graphic essays can look like comics, graphic novels, magazines, collages, artist books, textbooks, or even websites. Graphic essays often first take the form of written essays and then have graphic elements added to enrich the reader experience. Unlike infographics, which also combine text and images, graphic essays are often more text-based and usually have a narrative arc or specific reading order.

Comics are a genre used to express ideas through images combined with text or other visual information. Comics can take the form of a single panel or a series of juxtaposed panels of images, sometimes called a strip. Text is conveyed via captions below the panel(s), or speech bubbles and onomatopoeias within the panel(s), to indicate dialogue, narration, sound effects, or other information. Graphic novels are often considered to be a longer form of comics, typically in book form.

A web-based graphic essay can take the form of a blog or a single page website, such as a Microsoft Sway page or an interactive Prezi. For Microsoft Sway and Prezi graphic essays, see the examples below. If you are creating a blog we recommend visiting the Web-Based Projects page .

Graphic Essay Design Tip: Graphic essays can take many forms, so we recommend being creative within the scope of your project! Get some help from DesignLab to brainstorm options and talk through the various tools available!

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Recommended Software

There are many different software programs that can be used to create graphic essays. Below is a list of the software that we recommend for making a graphic essay. We organized the software by category and put the software from top to bottom from best to worst. We recommend using a software you know well or learning the software well enough to establish an easy workflow, so you can spend less time troubleshooting and spend more time on your project. Check out our Software Support page for links to tutorials for all of these programs.

General Graphic Essay Software

Canva Logo

Web-Based Graphic Essay Software

Microsoft Sway Logo

Comic-Specific Graphic Essay Software

Comic Life Logo

Student-Made Examples

Print style graphic essay.

Becoming a Witness by Jessica Posnock

Becoming a Witness Thumbnail Image

Creative Graphic Essay

Virtual Communication by Max Hautala   *Award Winning*

visual design essay

Curb Magazine (2012) by Journalism 417

Curb Magazine Thumbnail Image

Web-Based (Magazine) Graphic Essay

Curb Magazine (Current) by Journalism 417

visual design essay

Web-Based (Sway) Graphic Essay

Language Influences Culture, Thoughts, and Identity by Kristen Luckow   *Award Winning*

Language Influences Culture, Thoughts, and Identity Thumbnail Image

Dyslexia by Maria Swanke *Award Winning*

Dyslexia Thumbnail Image

Other Examples

Web-based (blog) graphic essay.

Switch It Up: Graphic Essay by Amanda Zieba

Sceeenshot of Switch It Up Graphic Essay

Graphic Novel

Graphic Novels in the Classroom by Gene Yang

Screenshot of Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Instructional Video

visual design essay

Learn How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay: An Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Learn How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay An Ultimate Guide for Beginners

A visual analysis essay is not your typical everyday task, but students taking art history and communication will have to write it in their academic journey. For example, you may be asked to analyze an advertisement, painting, or photograph. How do you decipher hidden messages, cultural nuances, or symbolisms within visual media??

Whether you’ve handled a visual analysis essay before or not, this post will give you fresh and helpful ideas to help you write a winning visual analysis essay. It can seem hard at first, but following the right technique will help you complete it quickly and efficiently. Read on to learn how to write a visual analysis.


What is a Visual Analysis Essay?

A visual analysis essay is a type of academic writing in which the writer analyses and interprets visual elements in a piece of visual art, such as a sculpture, image, painting, or other visual objects. The essay goes beyond a mere description of the subject to explore the artistic choices of the creator and the effects of the choices on the audience.

The primary goal of a visual analysis essay is to help the reader understand the elements, techniques, and context of the artwork under study. Here’s a detailed list of the purposes of the visual analysis essays:

  • To critically analyze artwork or any visual work.
  • To discuss the elements of visual display in detail.
  • To unfold interesting facts about the artists and art
  • Assess the effectiveness of the art/image in current times
  • Explain the historical relevance and meaning
  • Evaluate existing literature on the subject

To achieve the goals above, students must incorporate different principles and elements of visual analysis. Also, the language used should be clear, descriptive, and simple.

Elements of Visual Analysis Essay

You can’t write a visual analysis essay without mentioning the visual elements of the subject under review. Below are common elements to consider when writing a visual analysis essay:

  • Composition — Composition refers to what the main figure is, what the other figures are, how they are placed, and what is missing. Composition is a mandatory element to consider in a visual analysis.
  • Elements of design — Usually, artists incorporate various elements of design in their work, such as different sizes, colors, lines, shapes, and other design features.
  • Focal point — To write a visual analysis paper, you need to know what the artists used to grab the audience’s attention. To know the focal point, you must understand the main goal of the piece.
  • Color — Describe the colors used and how they affect the tone and mood of the art.
  • Lines — Consider the actual lines used in the object and how they help grab the audience’s attention towards parts of the art.
  • Texture — This is the smoothness or roughness of the object. Consider if it’s real in two-dimensional or three–dimensional art.
  • Value — In art education, value refers to how and why the artist has used light and dark aspects in specific parts of their work.
  • Shape — What shapes are in the image, and what do they represent ?
  • Form — It refers to how the shadows and lights in a piece of art are used to create illusions and colors.
  • Size — This is about the overall size of the image. Artists choose a particular size so that you can see what they want you to see better.
  • Symbolic elements — If the art represents a certain art history or carries a symbolic meaning, you will need to find it and tell the reader what it means.

Principles of Design in Visual Analysis Essays

To write a winning visual analysis essay, you must also consider the principles of design. The principles help you to identify and explain various aspects of the visual display.

  • Balance — Balance is the distribution of visual elements in the art. Consider if the elements have symmetrical, radial, or asymmetrical balance.
  • Emphasis — It refers to what draws immediate attention when the audience looks at the art.
  • Movement — This refers to the use of objects or symbols repeatedly in a visual display. 
  • Pattern — Here, explain the colors of the image and how they affect the art. Discuss if they are dark or light and their impact on the mood.
  • Proportion — This principle refers to the realistic relationship between objects in the visual and their comparative link to the art.
  • Variety — How has the artist used different elements to influence the audience’s perception of the picture? Explain how different features create a certain mood or meaning.
  • Contrast — It refers to opposing elements in the visual. Describe them and tell how they affect the quality of the picture.
  • Hierarchy — Hierarchy refers to how people viewing the object can process it to different degrees. The hierarchy depends on color, size, and other elements in the images under review.
  • Rhythm — This principle refers to the use of spaces between repetitive elements.  
  • Layout — Layout is the way objects and symbols are placed in the piece of art. Explain it in detail.

How to Write a Stellar Visual Analysis Essay Step by Step

Collect all the information you can.

Before you start writing your visual analysis essay, you need to know what the artwork is about and who created it. This step involves collecting as much useful data as you can for your visual analysis. Questions to consider when gathering information for visual analysis essays include:

  • What does the artwork represent?
  • Who created the piece?
  • When and where was the visual work created
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • Where was the art displayed for the first time?
  • What elements are used?

This first step is the most time-consuming and confusing for many students, taking anywhere from several hours to many days. Yet, missing crucial details can lead to a poor paper that won’t impress your readers. If you don’t know where to begin your research or have trouble crafting a high-quality visual analysis paper, just get high-quality essay writing help with a few clicks typing “ write my essay online ” into the search bar. You can find the most-suitable service, like CustomWritings, which will take care of everything for you and help you complete your paper on time. Visit the site to receive all necessary information and talk to an expert who will help you with your assignment.

Collect all the information you can

Describe the object or subject

In the next step, you need to identify what the art depicts. You must summarize all the elements you can observe in the piece. To know the essential elements to search for, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it show?
  • What story is the artist trying to tell?
  • What characters are in the artwork, and what do they stand for?
  • What’s the primary setting?
  • What mood does it give off?

Perform detailed analysis of visual elements

Next, you will need to consider the design elements and principles discussed above and perform a detailed analysis of each. This step is another time-consuming part of writing a formal visual analysis essay. You may want to check with a professional essay writer before completing this step to speed up the process. Remember, each visual element is unique and can be interpreted differently by different people. So, don’t copy someone else’s analysis.

Perform detailed analysis of visual elements

Develop a thesis statement

Visual analysis essays typically have a thesis statement that represents the main ideas or interpretation you’ll convey in the essay. Ensure you write a thesis for a visual analysis paper that aligns with what you have observed and analyzed in the previous steps. The elements and principles you pick must support your thesis.

Create an outline

There are many aspects to be discussed in a visual analysis essay. The best way to order them is to follow a five-paragraph format for each discussion. A winning essay should contain the following sections:

  • Introduction . This is where you provide background information about the piece and the creator. Include interesting facts that will hook your reader, and highlight the main elements and principles you want to analyze. You will end the paragraph with a thesis statement.   
  • The main body . The body section can have 3 or more paragraphs that explore the artwork in detail. Choose the most significant elements you find during your research and discuss how they support your thesis statement. Present all details logically and explain how they relate to each other. Also, add your opinion about the visual argument made by the artist.
  • Conclusion . In the last section, mention the key points that strengthen your thesis. Also, reflect on the overall impact of the piece. This section must be well-done and not too short or too long.

Create an outline to good visual analysis essay

Write the essay draft

Follow your outline to write a good essay. When writing the draft, focus on the substance instead of wanting to produce a specific style. Review the first draft by identifying weak points and addressing them to create a high-quality paper.

Visual analysis papers must follow citation guidelines used in academic writing. Include citations of any external sources used in the text. Ensure you follow the correct citation style specific to the assignment guidelines e.g., APA or MLA.

Proofread and edit your essay

Once you’re done writing your essay, proofread and edit it for clarity, coherence, and logical flow. Revise it many times to make sure it is error-free. Also, delete any irrelevant details and confirm that you have cited all sources correctly. If you’re not proficient with editing, you can get fresh eyes from a friend or professional editor.

Things to Keep in Mind When Writing a Visual Analysis Essay

Do not make general claims.

Your visual analysis essay can be subject to criticism from the audience, so don’t make your claims sound like the gospel truth. Another student can have a different visual rhetorical analysis in their essay that also stands. The most important thing is to employ observable elements and principles to justify your claims and strengthen them with secondary sources.  

Avoid using excess information

If your goal is to use the elements and principles to cover the word count, it will be hard to prove the main idea. Choose only the strong features that will help you to drive the point home. Excess information can mislead or confuse the reader.

Select a good topic

The topic is the first thing a reader sees, so make it catchy. A good topic is concise, clear, and informative. You don’t have to get the topic right the first time. Edit it as you proceed with writing until you have an engaging and interesting topic.

Write a catchy introduction

A catchy introduction will hook your readers and make them want to read more of your essay. You can hook your readers using interesting hooks, such as a question, statistic, quote, interesting statement, or metaphor.

Employ a strong visual argument

The way you write your visual analysis essay should leave the reader visualizing the image you’re discussing without seeing it. Use words that bring out strong visual imagery because it adds to the reliability and authenticity of your paper.

Understand the central point of your essay

You must identify and describe the focal point of your piece. Identifying the main idea helps you to understand the meaning of the art and the overall conclusion. Also, your interpretation should convey the correct message you want the reader to know.

Follow instructions

To write a successful visual analysis paper , you must follow the instructor’s guidelines. This includes selecting the recommended visual work, following the required essay structure, applying the correct citation format, and adhering to the recommended word count.

Sample Visual Analysis Essay Topics

  • Analyze the symbolism and religious themes in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
  • Analyze the visual storytelling and cinematography in a memorable film scene from a classic movie.
  • What was Pablo’s intention in “Guernica”?
  • Generate a written report on social class shown through art.
  • What is special about Cleo Award-winning ads?
  • Review your favorite movie and analyze the visual arts in it.
  • Examine the use of space and perspective in M.C. Escher’s “Relativity.”
  • Discuss the controversy surrounding the Monalisa painting
  • Impact of ‘“The Last Supper” on religious imagery
  • Who was the audience of “The Night Watch”?

Wrapping Up

Writing a visual analysis essay can be intimidating. However, you now have all the information you need to create an outstanding visual analysis essay. Use our guide to successfully create a paper that appreciates the depth of various forms of art.

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visual design essay

The Key Elements & Principles of Visual Design

Visual design is about creating and making the general aesthetics of a product consistent. To create the aesthetic style of a website or app, we work with fundamental elements of visual design, arranging them according to principles of design. These elements and principles together form the building blocks of visual design, and a firm understanding of them is crucial in creating a visual design of any product.

Here, we’ll introduce you to the elements of visual design: line, shape, negative/white space, volume, value, colour and texture. While a close examination of each element is usually not necessary in your daily work as a designer, the principles of design — how to place the elements together to build pages and app screens optimally — play a crucial part in your role. Learning how to achieve unity, gestalt, hierarchy, balance, contrast, scale, dominance , and similarity will reward you time and again. Here, we will also show you how you should consider placing these indispensable visual elements to make the maximum impact. So, let’s begin.

Elements of Visual Design

Any product — from software products such as websites and apps to hardware products such as toasters and hairdryers — can be broken down into fundamental elements of visual design, as described by Alan Hashimoto, associate professor of Graphic Design and Computer Art at Utah State University, and Mike Clayton, director and associate professor of Computer Graphic Arts at the University of the Incarnate Word, in their book, Visual Design Fundamentals: A Digital Approach . These elements are the basic tools that we visual designers use in our daily work, and having a basic understanding of them is definitely a prerequisite for the job.

Lines are strokes connecting two points, and the most basic element of visual design. We can use them to create shapes, and when we repeat them, we can form patterns that create textures.

visual design essay

A line connects two points and is the simplest element of design. Put it this way, you can’t strip down any lower than a one-dimensional object in the world of design. (In science, you can, but that’s another story.)

Although simple, lines can possess a large variety of properties that allow us to convey a range of expressions. For example, lines can be thick or thin, straight or curved, have uniform width or taper off, be geometric (i.e., look like they are drawn by a ruler or compass) or organic (i.e., look like they are drawn by hand).

visual design essay

Lines are simple, but can convey different emotions by using different properties.

A line can also be implied: that is, suggested by forming an invisible connection between other elements. In the logo of the Interaction Design Foundation, for instance, the words “Interaction Design Foundation” around the tree connect to create a semicircular implied line.

visual design essay

The words “Interaction Design Foundation” form an implied semicircular line in our logo.

Shapes are self-contained areas, usually formed by lines (although they may also be formed by using a different colour, value or texture). A shape has two dimensions: length and width.

visual design essay

We can form shapes using lines (as above), or by using differences in colour, texture or value.

We tend to identify objects by their basic shapes, and only focus on the details (such as lines, values, colours and textures) on closer inspection. For this reason, shapes are crucial elements that we designers use for quick and effective communication.

Negative/White Space

Negative space (also known as white space) is the empty area around a (positive) shape. The relation between the shape and the space is called figure/ground , where the shape is the figure and the area around the shape is the ground. We should be aware that when designing positive shapes, we are also designing negative spaces at the same time. Negative space is just as important as the positive shape itself — because it helps to define the boundaries of the positive space and brings balance to a composition.

visual design essay

Negative space, also called white space, is the empty area around a positive shape. You can choose to see this as a blue ball set against a light blue rectangle — or, is it a light blue rectangle with a hole in it?

Some designs make use of negative space to create interesting visual effects. For example, the famous World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) logo makes use of the confusion between positive shape and negative space to create the image of a panda.

visual design essay

WWF’s logo doesn’t explicitly draw out the entire panda: it cleverly uses negative (white) space around the black shapes to suggest the rest of the panda.

Volume applies to visuals that are three-dimensional and have length, width and depth. We rarely use volume in visual design, because most digital products end up being viewed on a 2D screen, although some apps and websites do use 3D models and graphics. (Technically, though, 3D images viewed on a 2D screen are still 2D images.)

visual design essay

Volume has 3 dimensions: length, width and depth. This image is a simulation of volume in 2D graphics.

Value, quite simply, describes light and dark.

visual design essay

Light value vs. dark value: value describes lightness and darkness.

A design with a high contrast of values (i.e., one which makes use of light and dark values) creates a sense of clarity , while a design with similar values creates a sense of subtlety . We can also use value to simulate volume in 2D, for instance, by using lighter values where the light hits the object and darker values for shadows.

visual design essay

Differences in values create clear designs, while designs using similar values tend to look subtle.

Visual Design Principles

Colour is an element of light. Colour theory is a branch of design focused on the mixing and usage of different colours in design and art. In colour theory, an important distinction exists between colours that mix subtractively and colours that mix additively.

In paint, colours mix subtractively because the pigments in paints absorb light. When different pigments are mixed together, the mixture absorbs a wider range of light, resulting in a darker colour. A subtractive mix of cyan, magenta and yellow will result in a black colour. A subtractive mix of colours in paint and print produces the CMYK (i.e., C yan, M agenta, Y ellow and blac K ) colour system.

In digital design, where the product shows up on a screen, colours mix additively , since the screen emits light and colours add to one another accordingly. When different colours are mixed together on a screen, the mixture emits a wider range of light, resulting in a lighter colour. An additive mix of red, blue and green colours on screens will produce white light. An additive mix of colours on digital screens produces the RGB (i.e., R ed, G reen, B lue) colour system.

visual design essay

The subtractive mix of colours in paint and print produces the CMYK colour system. The additive mix of colours on digital screens produces the RGB colour system.

We use colours in visual design to convey emotions in and add variety and interest to our designs, separate distinct areas of a page, and differentiate our work from the competition.

Texture is the surface quality of an object.

visual design essay

Texture can be created by a repeated pattern of lines, or by using tiled images of textures. Above, the diagonal lines add a ‘grip’ effect to an otherwise ‘smooth’ rectangle.

As a designer, you can work with two types of textures: tactile textures, where you can feel the texture, and implied textures, where you can only see — i.e., not feel — the texture. Most visual designers will work with implied textures, since screens (at least as far as the state of the art had pushed them by the mid-2010s) are unable to produce tactile textures.

The app icon designs in iOS 6 and earlier mimic the glossy texture of glass to incite users to tap them. Later, Apple (in)famously introduced a linen fabric texture to much of its user interface . With the popularity of flat design (a minimalist style that features clean spaces and two-dimensional, flat illustrations ), the use of textures in visual design would greatly decrease by the mid-2010s — although they can still be very useful.

visual design essay

Unknown, Fair Use

iOS 1-6 app icons feature a glossy texture so that they look like actual buttons.

visual design essay

Around 2011, Apple introduced a widespread use of linen texture (which first appeared on iOS) in all of its operating systems.

Visual Design Principles

The elements of visual design — line, shape, negative/white space, volume, value, colour and texture — describe the building blocks of a product’s aesthetics. On the other hand, the principles of design tell us how these elements can and should go together for the best results. Many of the principles below are closely related and complement one another.

Just how important are principles of design to a visual designer’s job? Partner and chief research and development officer at the Applied Management Sciences Institute William Lidwell, in his landmark and widely referenced book Universal Principles of Design , explains:

“The best designers sometimes disregard the principles of design. When they do so, however, there is usually some compensating merit attained at the cost of the violation. Unless you are certain of doing as well, it is best to abide by the principles.” – William Lidwell

Unity has to do with creating a sense of harmony between all elements in a page. A page with elements that are visually or conceptually arranged together will likely create a sense of unity.

visual design essay

A lack of unity in designs can create a sense of unease and chaos. Our eyes govern our judgements.

When we’re designing websites, we can make use of a grid for achieving a sense of unity, since elements organised in a grid will follow an orderly arrangement. We do need, however, to introduce some variety in our work in order to strike a balance between a boring and a chaotic design.

Gestalt refers to our tendency to perceive the sum of all parts as opposed to the individual elements. The human eye and brain perceive a unified shape in a different way to the way they perceive the individual parts of such shapes. In particular, we tend to perceive the overall shape of an object first, before perceiving the details (lines, textures, etc.) of the object.

visual design essay

Gestalt is the reason that we can see a square, circle and triangle even though the lines are not complete. We see the whole formed by the dotted lines first, before perceiving the separate dotted lines in each of the images.

The WWF logo, shown earlier, is an example of making use of the principle of gestalt to create interesting designs. By placing the parts of a panda near one another and strategically, the design makes use of our tendency to view the whole of an image rather than its parts, thereby creating an illusion of a panda.

Gestalt is important, for instance, in making separate sections of a website distinct by increasing the white space between them. As designers, we should make sure that the parts of a website we group together by using gestalt principles — i.e., if they are close to one another, have the same shape, and/or are similarly sized — are indeed conceptually grouped together. “Accidentally” grouping elements which are not conceptually similar will result in confused users.

Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Designs with clear sections are easier to process and scan than those without clear distinctions between sections — especially if the sections are conceptually distinct.

Hierarchy shows the difference in importance of the elements in a design. Colour and size are the most common ways we can create hierarchy — for instance, by highlighting a primary button, or using larger fonts for headings. Items that appear at the top of a page or app also tend to be viewed as having a higher hierarchy than those appearing below.

visual design essay

Font size and style is one of the ways to establish hierarchy.

Balance is the principle governing how we distribute the elements of a design evenly . Balanced designs tend to appear calm, stable and natural, while imbalanced designs make us feel uneasy.

visual design essay

Balanced designs appear stable, while imbalanced designs seem unsustainable and unnatural.

Balance can be achieved by having symmetry in the design (for instance, having a webpage with centralised text and images). However, you can also achieve balance without symmetry — perhaps unsurprisingly, this is known as asymmetrical balance. We achieve asymmetrical balance when we arrange differently sized elements in a way that results in unity. We can imagine a centre point of the design and distribute the elements in a way that creates balance.

We use contrast to make an element stand out by manipulating differences in colour, value, size and other factors. For instance, as designers (be it in logo design, UI design, etc.), we often use the colour red to make certain elements stand out. In iOS, red often appears in the “Delete” action to signify that an (often) irreversible action is about to occur. On the other hand, green is often something we use (at least in Western design) in positive actions such as “Go” and “Accept” — thus highlighting that we cannot ignore the cultural meaning of colours when designing for contrast. If you’re designing for a client in a far-off land, learn about and adjust your work to conform to the cultural considerations. For instance, ask yourself, “Is their red lucky or angry?” or “Is their black businesslike or funerary?”

visual design essay

Red, a colour with high contrast, is used widely in iOS for the “Delete” function.

Scale describes the relative sizes of the elements in a design. By using scale to make an element larger than others appearing with it, you can emphasise that element. Not only can you make an element stand out this way—you can also use scale to create a sense of depth (since nearer objects appear larger to the human eye). Exaggerated scales of images also add a certain level of interest and drama to them.

visual design essay

Scale can be used to create a hierarchy for and add emphasis to certain elements on a design.

Dominance creates focus on a single element. We can use colour, shape, contrast, scale, and/or positioning to achieve this. For instance, most websites have a main “hero” image, which uses dominance to appeal to users, drawing them to it naturally.

visual design essay

Dominance can be established by using positioning, shape and colour, among many other factors.

When working in visual design, we should ensure that we use dominance while still maintaining the unity and balance of websites — if not, the design would potentially produce a disorienting experience for users.

Examples of Visual Design Elements and Principles

With the elements of visual design and design principles in mind, we will analyse a few websites to see how they come together, and why the designs work.

Google’s homepage

Google’s homepage is one of the most visited webpages in the world. The raw simplicity of the page is partly why it is so well designed, but here are other factors that make this page work superbly:

visual design essay

Dominance : The large Google logo and search box gives it dominance, making it the core (and to most, sole) focus of the entire page.

Contrast (and colour) : Google’s logo uses bright (mostly primary) colours, and these mix well, forming a visually pleasing logo. The logo also has sufficient contrast against a white background, making it stand out on the page.

Shape : The search box uses a rectangular shape to delineate the search field, making it very usable .

Negative space : Google’s homepage is predominantly made out of negative space, which makes the search box (the main function of the page) the centre of attention. The negative space also works well for the page, as it acts like a blank sheet of paper before users type in their search terms.

Balance : The page is almost vertically symmetrical, resulting in a sense of balance that is very pleasing and calm to look at.

Quartz’s homepage

Quartz is a digital-first and mobile-first news agency with a global audience, launched in 2012 by Atlantic Media, which also publishes The Atlantic . It has a bold homepage that puts the featured news stories front and centre. Here’s how the principles of design and design elements come together:

visual design essay

It’s easy to admire the effect as a whole without looking past it at the nuts and bolts—the elements that are set together so well and according to age-old principles so as to create that ‘wow’ effect.

Dominance : The main news story immediately catches your eyes because its large, bold font makes it dominant on the homepage.

Hierarchy : The homepage uses a clear hierarchy to establish the relative importance of various elements. The main story, with the largest text and bolded weight, has the highest hierarchy. The next four stories, positioned below the main story, have smaller fonts to show their subordinate hierarchy under the main story.

Scale, value and colour : Quartz’s homepage features a large (full page height) “Q”, which is a mask of the hero image for the main story. The large “Q” quickly establishes the identity of the website (since “Q” stands for “Quartz”) with the use of scale. However, the relative light value and greyscale colour of the “Q” makes it fade into the background, thus bringing the overall focus to the headline of the main story instead.

Negative space : Most of the homepage is negative space, which allows the content to shine through. When the mouse is brought over the main story headline, the “Q” mask disappears, filling the negative space with the featured image. This is an example of how a unique play of negative space can stimulate interest in a website’s design.

Unity : Quartz uses a grid system in its website to create a sense of unity. For instance, the four stories have equal width and are uniformly spaced, creating a sense of orderliness and structure.

Visual Design Elements

The Take Away

The elements of visual design make up the fundamental building blocks of a product. While we as visual designers do not really need to examine each element closely in our daily work, the principles of design — how to place the elements together to build pages and app screens optimally — do play a crucial part in what we do. Learning how to achieve unity, gestalt, hierarchy, balance, contrast, scale, dominance, and similarity will be extremely useful as you work in visual design.

So, using your elements, namely:

Negative space

and gearing them around the principles, namely:

—will enable you to produce winning results consistently.

References & Where to Learn More

Alan Hashimoto and Mike Clayton, Visual Design Fundamentals: A Digital Approach , 2004

William Lidwell, Universal Principles of Design , 2003

Digital Communications Division in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Visual Design Basics .

Gestalt Psychology and Web Design: The Ultimate Guide

visual design essay

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Table of Contents

Ai, ethics & human agency, collaboration, information literacy, writing process, design – the visual language that shapes our world.

  • © 2023 by Joseph M. Moxley - University of South Florida

Design refers to much more than how something looks or works: Design is a powerful tool of communication that empowers writers, graphic designers, and product developers to reach their target audience at a viscera, visual level. Good design makes information easier to understand, more engaging, and more memorable. It creates emotional connections, influences perceptions, and shapes decisions. If your design is unappealing or confusing, you've lost your chance at engaging your audience in the 8 seconds they're willing to give attention to your work. The essay below defines design based on research and scholarship, explores the importance of design in our contemporary information ecology, and serves as an introduction to design resources @ Writing Commons.

visual design essay

What is Design?

Design , most conventionally, refers to how something looks or works . For instance, by any measure, the Apple iPhone is well designed: the colors it displays are brilliant; it fits in your pocket; it’s easy to use as a camera, a recording device, or phone; and it provides easy access to friends, music, and the internet.

Yet, design may refer to more than whether or not a text or product looks good or accomplishes its aims . For instance, d esign may also be defined as

  • a social construct
  • a form of visual language , a mode of human communication
  • a signifier of identity and community
  • a subject of study, an academic discipline, a catechism regarding usr, an interpretative framework , based on principles of design .

Related Concepts: Composition ; Composing Processes ; Design Thinking ; Gestalt ; Information Architecture ; Information Design ; Semiotics

Definitions of Design

1. design refers to how a text, application, or product looks or works.

“ Design is a fun word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”  Steve Jobs

Design refers to the aesthetics and functionality of a text , application, or product—concepts often encapsulated under the banner of “look and feel.”

Aesthetics (Look): 

This dimension of design involves the visual, tactile, and sometimes auditory elements of a product or system. It encompasses attributes such as color , shape , texture , typography , and layout . In terms of a digital application, for example, the choice of icons , the color scheme , typography , and the overall user interface (UI) fall under aesthetic considerations. These elements contribute to the overall visual appeal and user experience.

Functionality (Works): 

This refers to the operational aspect of a design. It involves how well the product, application, or system serves its intended purpose. The functionality of a design is often evaluated based on its efficiency, effectiveness, and ease of use. In the case of a digital application, it would include aspects like navigation flow, load times, responsiveness, and overall usability.

In essence, the balance between aesthetics and functionality is key in design. A design that excels in both dimensions creates an engaging, user-friendly, and effective product or system. This outlook is crucial in fields like product design, web design, graphic design, and user experience (UX) design, among others.

For writers, d esign largely concerns

  • the use of data visualizations and other elements of design and visual language
  • the page design & scannability of a text .

2. Design is a Social, Historical Construct

Design, a social and historical construct, stands at the intersection of art, culture, history, and technology. It serves as a mirror to our collective intellect, reflecting our beliefs, history, and advancements. Each culture, each epoch has its unique interpretation and manifestation of design, thus weaving a rich, multifaceted tapestry of human creativity and evolution.

Art and Culture

Art and cultural norms seep deep into the core of design, infusing it with distinctive colors and patterns. Take, for example, the traditional Mexican design. Its bright geometric patterns symbolize the nation’s vibrant culture and rich historical narratives. It’s a testament to the cultural sensibilities that pervade design.

But look closer, and you see a paradox: despite periods of hardship and scarcity, Mexican people devoted resources to create opulent gold temples and intricate religious artifacts for the Catholic Church. This underscores design’s role as a reflection of cultural priorities and beliefs, sometimes extending beyond immediate practical needs.

Design reflects the dialogues , epistemologies , and circumstances of particular cultures and specific time periods. Consider, e.g., in the heart of the desert, the ancient Egyptians designed pyramids and temples that continue to astound us millennia later. These structures, built with an extraordinary precision that baffles modern engineers, stand as a testament to the design sensibilities of a civilization that existed over 4,000 years ago. Their hieroglyphic scripts and symbolic art formed a design language that communicated spiritual beliefs and pharaonic authority.

Fast forward to the Victorian era, characterized by its industrial growth and prosperity, and you see a markedly different design narrative. The Victorian designs embraced opulence and ornamentation, with an emphasis on detailing and a penchant for grandeur. This was reflected in their architecture, fashion, and even their typography.

In stark contrast, the 21st century has been marked by a shift towards minimalism in design. Embodying the mantra ‘less is more,’ modern design trends advocate simplicity and functionality. From the sleek lines of contemporary architecture to the user-friendly design of digital interfaces, the present-day design ethos emphasizes usability and clarity .

3. Design is a Form of Visual Language

Design refers to much more than how something looks or works. Design, at its core, is a sophisticated form of visual language . More than just aesthetically pleasing arrangements of elements, it holds the power to communicate, provoke thought, and stir emotions.

This communication occurs at a fundamental, prelinguistic level–as a form of felt sense . While conventional languages use words and syntax to convey meaning, design communicates through a rich vocabulary of visual elements: lines, shapes, colors, spaces, and typography. These elements are arranged using principles like alignment, balance, and contrast to create a cohesive visual message.

When the audience interacts with a design, they are not just passively observing. They are actively ‘reading’ these visual elements and interpreting them. This interpretation often happens instinctively, tapping into our innate human capacity for visual perception. We are, as a species, highly attuned to visual information. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns, discern contrasts, and respond to visual stimuli.

Audiences read the design of a text or product just as they read words and sentences . Yet rather than words or sentences , they read design elements : They trace the line on the page or screen. They note the images, colors , shapes , contrast , spaces , and typography of the copy . They consider the alignment , balance , proximity , repetition of symbols. And then they interpret these symbolic elements to mean something. Their interpretation may be experienced as a form of felt sense of gestalt . In other words, they engage in acts of communication .

4. Design May Function as a Signifier of Identity and Community

In business, companies spend small fortunes defining their brand. They aim to distinguish their products and services. Thus, it’s fairly commonplace for business and nonprofit organizations to have style guidelines.

Typically style guidelines

  • call for standard written English
  • call for a professional writing style
  • call for a particular citation style
  • define logo, color, and photo-usage guidelines.

5. Design May Refer to a Curriculum, a Catechism, a Subject of Study

Design is an extraordinarily broad field, a convergence point where disciplines such as arts, engineering, sciences, and humanities intersect and engage in a dynamic discourse . Its interdisciplinary nature stems from the fact that design problems often require diverse perspectives and multi-faceted solutions. Hence, design isn’t just about aesthetics or usability; it’s about crafting solutions that reconcile functionality, sustainability, social impact, and user experience.

In academic settings, design manifests as a robust field of study, encompassing a broad spectrum of topics, including

  • accommodation s(how designs cater to different user needs)
  • aesthetics (the principles that guide visual harmony and appeal)
  • information architecture (how information is organized and structured in a design),
  • information design (how information is presented)
  • usability (how user-friendly a design is).

Communities of Practice: Shaping the Design Landscape

Alongside academia, communities of practice contribute significantly to the evolution of design as a field. These communities, composed of practitioners and scholars, engage in rigorous scholarship and empirical research. Their primary objective is to enhance clarity in communication and improve design outcomes.

These communities continually shape the design landscape through the development of conventions and best practices. They respond dynamically to technological advancements and societal shifts, adapting design practices to better fit new paradigms. This iterative process of exploration, adaptation, and refinement is what keeps design relevant and effective in a rapidly changing world.

Through this ongoing conversation of humankind and the ever-evolving technological landscape, design continues to evolve, offering innovative solutions to both old and new problems. This is a testament to design’s versatile nature and its inherent capacity to adapt, innovate, and inspire.

Related Concepts

Writers, designers, and usability experts design texts and products by composing with design elements (e.g., Color – Color Theory ; Line ; Shape ; Space ; Typography ). Additionally, they consult their knowledge of design principles — (e.g., alignment ; balance ; color ; Contrast ; Emphasis ; Gestalt, Gestalt Theory ; Proximity ; Repetition ) in order to inform their compositions.

Recommended Books on Design

  • Cooper, A., Reimann, R., Cronin, D., & Noessel, C. (2014). About face: The essentials of interaction design (4th ed.). Wiley.
  • Krug, S. (2013). Don’t make me think, revisited: A common sense approach to web usability (3rd ed.). New Riders.
  • Norman, D. (2013). The design of everyday things: Revised and expanded edition . Basic Books.
  • Williams, R. (2014). Non-designer’s design book (4th ed.). Peachpit Press.

Why does design matter?

In 2023, we’re living in a world where attention spans are shrinking, digital content is proliferating, and consumer expectations are escalating. The average person spent around 6 hours and 42 minutes online every day, and this time is scattered across various platforms – social media, news sites, video streaming, online shopping, and much more. The explosion of digital content means people are inundated with information, choices, and distractions, making it harder than ever to stand out. In this context, excellent design isn’t just nice to have – it’s a necessary tool for survival. It’s a way to respect your audience’s time, to reward their attention, and to rise above the noise.

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  • Essay on Design

Sample Essay On Graphic Design

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Design , University , Skills , Future , Students , Virtual Reality , Career , Education

Words: 1100

Published: 06/16/2021


Graphic design is the art of capably applying an individual style through the use of layout, typography and visual aesthetics in order to exhibit design with a commercial rationale. I strongly believe that I developed design ability and ingenuity naturally throughout my life since my capabilities in graphic design have been increasing rapidly. An opportunity in the university would be important in improving my competencies as well as preparing me into a future career in graphic design. Once granted with a chance to study in the university I would work hard to ensure that I grasp everything including the finest details in graphic design. My intellectual strength has been endowed in creating advertisements. I have been doing this for fun over many years since I was a child. For this reason, I am confident to assert that I can do better in designing graphics for advertisement since I have shown immense love and passion of that over a long period of time.

Another personal strength that I possess is having proper leadership traits which were identified by my graphic design teacher. As a result, these would be helpful in facilitating the development of a bright career in graphic design through careful application of my leadership qualities. I have also been taught to uphold team work and I love working together with others so as to share ideas which would be helpful in molding strong careers. However, I have a weakness in writing papers but in my class I have always loved to create the cover page of assignments so as to put my design skills into practice. Another weakness I have is the fact that am suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which means that I show poor attention in class and this has led to a poor performance in a majority of my subjects. Conversely, despite having ADHD I still have the ability to focus completely during my designing sessions and thus this would not deter my need to study further in graphic design.

My ability to advocate for team work would be efficient in ensuring that I gain maximally from my colleagues in case I show signs of a reduced attention at any point of my study. I also have high interests in studying psychology since I love socializing with people. My interest in psychology has been effective in developing my comprehension of human beings behaviors as well as knowing how their mentality works. I have a strong conviction that I can use this skill in graphic design to relate with my target audience and also help me to build strong networks to form a distinct career path. Graphic design is meant to create a commercial purpose which would require associating with the society. Hence, there is need to have proper communication skills so as to be a good designer who can communicate a given message to the people. Although, I have not been exposed to an expansive platform, my communication skills are well above par because I have always loved to share ideas as well as socializing with my colleagues at school.

Thus, this would be very beneficial for me in facilitating a good association with colleagues in this career as well as with the society. This will form the basis of my commercial role in graphic design. I have also had numerous chances of presenting my work in class which has really helped in improving my communication skills. In high school, I have been able to undergo a graphic design program for four semesters and this occupied a great deal of my time in school. In this period I was able to learn the basics of graphic design which includes typography and illustration. The program was very insightful as it helped me to learn more about my future career and hence I find the need to further my study in graphic design. I also acquired Photoshop and consequently learnt how to use it on my own. This knowledge has been important in helping me to sharpen my abilities in other areas such as advertising which am so good at and also in the general improvement of my graphic design skills.

After learning Photoshop I have been mentoring other students in our class on the principles of Photoshop. This is due to the fact that I love sharing out my ideas with friends and colleagues. I also anticipate passing on this desirable quality that I possess in the future course of my career in graphic design. I also registered for the Adobe certification exam and I passed the exam. Hence, I am certified in Adobe Photoshop and this gave me the motivation to teach and mentor other students so that they would learn the same. At this juncture, I would be tempted to seat back and search for an advertisement job. However, I feel that would be an untimely assessment of my talent which I still feel is at infancy stage even after all that work. Currently, majority of my trainings have been self learnt and I have developed good creative design proficiency solely, hence I am deficient in formal learning of the theory.

This forms the basis of my application for a M.A degree in Texas State University in their department of graphic design. At the university I look forward at formalizing my training in graphics design and gaining greater knowledge in my career so as to create a personal artistic uniqueness that I can relate to my individual designs. The program offered by the university presents a precise balance of practical training and enough ingenious practice. These would be essential in my artistic development as well as applying technology in graphics design. However, I intend to use my current and future academic and extra- curricular activities to help me in achieving my goal of having a successful career in graphics design.

The reputation of Texas State University as a good arts college coalesced together with the professional works presented by graduates of the university persuaded me to prioritize this university above all others. I desire to improve my inventiveness and skills in my entire stay at the university as well as play a role in upholding the prestigious position that the institution holds in the country and also build up strong associations with fellow students and the faculty. In conclusion, my primary objective is to graduate as a highly competent graphic designer and a self-motivated artist who would develop a distinctive culture of beautiful and sensible designs in the career. This would mark one big step of realizing my dream goal of excelling in my career.


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Turning an Essay into an Infographic

 Remediation can be surprising

Remediation is the process of presenting material from one form in another form, such as recording a podcast that narrates the ideas and information from a photo. 

There are infinite ways that remediation can transform one work into another, so for the purposes of clarity, this resource will focus on turning a written text-based essay into a audio-visual product of an infographic.  

Before you jump into creating a new infographic form of your written essay, you need to make plans.  These plans should start with an understanding of what you are being asked to create using what you already have. 

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What were the main ideas of your essay?  What will they be for your infographic?
  • How did the written format help you to express your ideas?  How will the infographic help you?
  • How did the written format challenge the expression of your ideas?  How will the infographic format challenge you?
  • What thoughts and feelings did you intend your writing to elicit from your readers?  What thoughts and feelings do you want to elicit from your viewers?
A picture is worth a thousand words...

Visual Literacy  

As you work to answer the above questions, you may find yourself wondering how to express your written ideas in a visual format.  Explore the resources linked on our Visual Literacy support page .

Here are some important parts of the Design stage:

  • Outlining - Creating an outline of the topics and ideas that you want to express in your infographic.  
  • Read about outlining your infographic (Venngage)  
  • Designing your infographic - Steps 1-4 of the website linked below by infographic maker Venngage details the design process and offers many examples
  • How to make an infographic in 5 steps (Venngage)
  • Venngage infographic maker

The design process also includes bringing in materials from other sources.  The internet provides access to millions of images, icons, and other resources for your infographic.  Depending on your assignment requirements, you may be allowed or required to use these materials.  Knowing where to find them, as well as the legal and ethical guidelines to using them is vital.  

Learn about copyright, licensing, and usage of other creators' works.

The creation process for your infographic can start like the above image with a pencil to paper.  It can also start at one of the software apps or websites that you can use to create an infographic.  Your software tool can be as simple as PowerPoint or as advanced as Adobe InDesign.  You can start with a blank canvas or use one of the many templates available from the web.  

Keep the Digital Media Suite's resources and tutoring services in mind as you are creating your infographic.  We are available to provide support with the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of programs, as well as offer advice and support as you design and create.

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