5 Newbie Hurdles for Graphic Artists to Get Through Quick

Newbie hurdles are the the first items to get past - Pyragraph

The best way for newbie designers to begin hurdling is by tackling a big project. Here’s a phenomenal student design from one of my classes.

After many years in higher education, I have delighted in teaching hundreds of graphic artists introductory design skills. I marvel at how intuitively they gain ground with their work, and put themselves in a position to earn money. My students have become professional architects, art directors, photographers, graphic designers, anchor women, PR execs, filmmakers, multimedia artists and and much more. After introducing so many individuals to design, I’ve noted some common issues that repeatedly seem to challenge newbies. Some of these “hurdles” are easy to sail through, memorize and avoid.

Newbie Hurdle #1: See the Shapes

We are simply arranging shapes within a space, and all components, including blocks of text and background areas, have a shape, shade or color. Example: your type will commonly take on a block-like form, while images and drawings may seem more organic.

Newbie Hurdle #2: What Dominates Your Design?

Make sure that the first thing that jumps out at you is the most important information or idea you want to convey. Attend to hierarchy in order of importance. Example: objects that are large and dark will dominate; so will large, legible texts, especially when placed high on a page.

Newbie Hurdle #3: Evaluate and Adjust Contrast.

Contrast can be created by color and texture, but it is also seen when pairing typefaces or imagery. Contrast results in clarity; since communicating is usually imperative in design, this is top priority. Example: white type on a black background might look cool, but is it really relaxing enough on the eye to keep a reader engaged, and complete the story?

Newbie Hurdle #4: Let your Type Breathe.

Do not set or place type too close, it’s like information claustrophobia! All type needs ample breathing room to be understood. Example: type that neighbors other type (blocks or headlines) usually should have even space around it; so should type that sits near images or page edges and folds.

Newbie Hurdle #5: Aim for Rhythm.

Good design achieves unity via rhythm, no matter how disparate the components are. Just as it is considered a social oddity to wear mismatched clothing, so for design. Example: don’t combine more than three typefaces. Watch your use of color, pattern, texture and image, and make the negative spaces as potent and as rhythmic as possible.

I always conclude a lesson like this with the following contradiction: “All design rules can and will be broken, but wait until you know the rules before you try breaking them.” In time, managing these issues becomes inherent and fluent. Designers become seasoned with experience, and problem-solving is routine. The more problems you solve, the more seasoned you’ll be, and the sooner you’ll be ready for more complex design challenges!

Photo by Mariah Fox.

Digital Strategy Sessions - Clarify online strategy, streamline systems, and detangle tech
Avatar photo

About Mariah Fox

Mariah Fox, Assistant Professor of Media Arts at New Mexico Highlands University, is an Addy Award winning art director and illustrator. In 2001, she founded her company, Ital Art, which provides creative services for a variety of clients. Mariah’s mixed media work has been exhibited internationally and she has contributed art, editing, research and writing to 32 books and 14 publishers, including several major New York houses.


  1. Gerald Hausman on September 25, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Mariah Fox’s book designs are attracting national attention. Her successful cover for Prairie Journey by Frances Bonney Jenner is one of the reasons the book has won three major awards in three months. Congratulations, Mariah!

  2. mariah on September 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Thank you, I am happy people are seeing and enjoying them!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.