Start With The Fundamentals

The first time I learned about the ‘three C’s of Design’ was in a book called Design Basics Index by Jim Krause. It was a good intro to graphic design book for me since I was a brand new designer at the time it was published in 2004.

Even after going to design school, it was great to have a handy reference guide for the fundamentals of design. Above all, the concepts are clear and the book is easy to use; outlining all the basics of graphic design.

Fifteen years later, the basics outlined in the book remain unchanged for designers, including the Three C’s of Design. If you’re unfamiliar with them, the three C’s of Design are Composition, Components, and Concept, and they are key graphic design fundamentals to know.

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Design Basics Index Book - Three Cs of DesignGraphic Design Fundamentals: Three C’s of Graphic Design

The three C’s dictate how designers create a piece of visual communication. Therefore, it provides a framework for the creative process.

Composition

This is the way in which all elements in a design are arranged. How elements are aligned, balanced, and how the eye flows from one element to the next is all part of composition.

How you deal with the composition of a design tells the viewer what elements are deemed most important and what elements are unimportant. All designs should have some sort of hierarchy. This means that the information that is the most important should be the biggest, most colourful, or emphasized in some other way so the eye is drawn there first. Less important information should be smaller, lower contrast, or just less emphasized in the overall design.

“When you design, do not allow the spacing between elements to ‘just happen.’ Develop an active awareness of the spatial relationships that are occurring between the components of a layout or image. Practiced consciously, this awareness quickly becomes second-nature to a designer or artist.”Design Basics Index

Components

These are all the individual elements that make up a design. Text, photos, icons, borders, background colour/image, etc., are all considered components in a design. Designers must find a way to balance, create hierarchy, attract attention, and communicate a message. Doing that depends on the organization of those components within the composition.

Creating a balance and harmony among all components in a design can often be a challenge. It’s the designer’s job to find a way for all components to work together within a design or eliminate components that are not needed.

Concept

The concept is the overarching idea or message of the design. It’s what the visuals are trying to communicate. In an advertisement, the concept might be ‘our product is better than the competition.’ The portrayal of this depends on the arrangement of components within the composition.

While all three C’s of design are important in creating a cohesive and effective design, concept is likely the most important. Without a concept or reason for a design, there is no purpose to it. The most successful designs are well thought-out and evoke a message, idea, or an emotion to the viewer. This is considered part of the concept of a design. Some amazing designs have been created that were minimalist on both composition and components, but heavy on concept.

To Conclude

The three C’s of design are, in theory, important graphic design fundamentals worth knowing. You will utilize them in every single design you create. However, they won’t be things you’ll refer back to often. The three C’s are graphic design themselves. Even if you’re new to design, they will quickly become second-nature.

Have you heard of the three C’s before? Do you consider them part of the graphic design fundamentals or are they too basic? Let me know in the comments below!

If you want to learn more about graphic design fundamentals, check out Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton.

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