Montage of text and images tells powerful story, wins film award
If you could recommend only one book (on graphic design)

10 rules for making good design

Design_elements I picked up a book recently called Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual by Timothy Samara* that is quite good. Samara starts off his book — after a short discussion on what is meant by design and graphic design — with a list of "Twenty Rules for Making Good Design" which includes a brief but good elaboration of each of the rules. Now, as Samara points out, rules are important to understand but it's certainly permissible to break the rules (he even shows how later in the book). What is not permissible is to remain ignorant of the rules. Samara quotes Typographer David Jury here: "Rules can be broken — but never ignored." I tend to think in terms of Principles rather than Rules, though this is really just a matter of semantics. This stuff is old hat for longtime designers, but for the rest of us Samara's list of 20 Rules is a useful reminder. Here are just Ten of Samara's twenty rules below just as he wrote them (though not in this order). I chose the rules (principles) which I think are both the most important and yet easiest to grasp without much or any explanation. Keep these rules in mind when designing your next presentation or website, poster, etc.

10 design rules to keep in mind
   (1) Communicate — don't decorate.
   (2) Speak with one visual voice.
   (3) Use two typeface families maximum. OK, maybe three.
   (4) Pick colors on purpose.
   (5) If you can do it with less, then do it.
   (6) Negative space is magical — create it, don't just fill it up!
   (7) Treat the type as image, as though it's just as important.
   (8) Be universal; remember that it's not about you.
   (9) Be decisive. Do it on purpose — or don't do it at all.
   (10) Symmetry is the ultimate evil.

This list of ten above which I pulled from Samara's list of twenty are self-explanatory for the most part; let me clarify just two of them. Number 3 (Type). Remember that even within one family there is lots of variation possible (e.g., regular, light, ultra light, narrow, italic, bold, extra bold, and so on depending on the typeface), so consider even working with just one professional typeface family for a project and see what you can do. I have a preference for san serif typefaces but a combination can work well too in display type (such as Apple using Helvetica and Apple Garamond together). Number 10 (Symmetry). OK, symmetry isn't evil, in fact it can be quite beautiful, and calming, (or serious, etc.). But symmetry can also be rather dull and predictable. Asymmetrical designs are more dynamic generally and can allow for a bit more freedom of expression. Like the author, I have a thing for asymmetry myself (maybe because my nose is crooked from playing American football). The Zen aesthetic is all about asymmetry as well (Fukinsei 不均斉). 

Another good book
New_basicsAnother book I received recently that I really like is Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips (a pic of my copy on posterous). This is a good book. It covers the fundamentals of graphic design, much of which has not changed over time (that's why they are fundamentals). But the author stresses some fundamentals such as layering and transparency that have become perhaps more important today for many reasons, including the fact that powerful digital design tools are ubiquitous and layering and transparency effects are easier to do now.

* I do not have Timothy Samara's newest book — Design Evolution: A Handbook of Basic Design Principles Applied in Contemporary Design — but it looks good. I'll let you know.


Michael Marlatt


As usual, fantastic tips. I am aspiring to do the "right" things when creating presentations but I always seem to be falling short of a few principles.

Thanks for the great tips...

Teaching Kids Yoga

Thanks for the tips - very useful for blogging too.

My favorite: #6 -Negative Space, it makes reading a blog so much easier when there are paragraphs with spaces between.

I've pondered the question of font size too and what is most easy for the eye to read. Any suggestions around this?

- Aruna


Hi Garr,

I'm lookingo forward to read any/some of the books you recomend, spacially about design. Can you PLEASE categorize them? I mean, if I only could read one book (or 2 or 3), which one should I star with?

Thanks for your blog


I look at rule #1,3,4,5 & 6, then I look at the cover of the book.

Serhiy Kostyshyn

Garr, would you please fix #2: "Speak with ONE visual voice" – it's crucial for understanding the point.
And thanks, the former book seems to be truly interesting.

Michael Eury

Will get this book, thanks for the review.

Have got Tim Samara's new book "Design Evolution ....", it is a really good design resource through its use of concrete examples and case studies to illustrate design principles.


Great blog. Very inspiring.
How do you keep up the rythm? Amazing!
hello Garr,
One thing struck me as quite surealist "speak with a VISUAL VOICE"

Could tell us how you do that, i'd like to hear about it, or see how it sounds!
Do you mean miming or articulating exagerately? (just kidding)



I'll have to look into these books.

Etienne Chabot

Garr, since Guy Kawasaki recommended your book, I bought it, read it and started to implement its concepts in my daily work. It changed my life. Literally. I recently started my own blog on Marketing Strategies for Small and Medium Size Businesses. I just did a post to highlight all the benefits your book have provided to me. My blog is in French and English but I think your book has been translated recently. My readers will be able to order it in its French version if required.

Thanks again for all these insights!

Etienne Chabot

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)