Understanding the common elements of graphic design

Understanding the common elements of graphic design

Graphic design is, by nature, a visual medium.

Because of this, it should come as no surprise that a lot of graphic design relies on symbolism. Pictures are, at their core, symbols. People subconsciously respond to certain pictures in a certain way. Graphic designers will take advantage of this to get these reactions out of people.

Are you curious about how certain symbols are perceived, and how graphic designers use them to their advantage?

Here are some common elements and symbols used in graphic design.


Color is one of the first things that people notice. So the color that stands out the most says a lot about a website, logo, or business.

Color means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Here are just some colors and their meanings:

Blue gives a sense of wisdom and authority. This helps to make a brand seem trustworthy and stable.

Green can have two meanings. On one hand, it calls to mind money and wealth. On the other, it calls to mind nature and tranquility.

Red is a vibrant, energetic color. This color portrays things like passion, bravery, and leadership.

Yellow is bright and cheerful. Using it gives a brand a childish, optimistic vibe.

Pink is seen as inherently feminine. It calls to mind things like love, beauty, and romance.

Orange is another cheerful color, but somewhat more mature than yellow. It's the color or creativity and fun.

Purple is associated with loyalty, luxury, power, wisdom, creativity, and magic.

Brown is earthy, dependable, rugged, trustworthy and simple.

Black is dark and mysterious. An abundance of black makes things seem elegant and powerful when done correctly.

White can be luxurious. It's clean, simple, innocent and honest.

Color meanings


Many famous logos incorporate nature, like plants and wildlife, into their design.

There's a good reason for this. Nature gives a feeling of calmness and serenity that you want your clients to feel when using your business. At the same time, nature is alive. This energy is something that you want to bring into every job that you tackle.

Some companies use subtle nature in their designs, like having a nature-inspired color scheme.

Others are more overt, putting a tree or leaves into their logo or some other part of their design.

If it suits your business, then nature can be a powerful symbol to have at your disposal. It gives a sense of being grounded and focused, one with the earth.

If that sounds like your business, find symbols that work for you.

4 Elements


So, we've discussed nature. But did you know that Earth isn't the only element that can be used symbolically?

In fact, we have a lot of preconceived notions about the elements that often factor into our designs.

As stated before, Earth is seen as stable and trustworthy. Grounded, focused, and hard working, this element as seen as always achieving the goals that they set out to do.

By contrast, Air is far more free-spirited but no less enticing. Air imagery is part of common symbols for intuition, charm, and logic. Fire is seen as passionate. Linked with the color red, this element also share's that color's link to leadership and bravery.

Finally, Water is seen as a calm but constantly moving element. This element is perfect for businesses that want to seem flexible and loyal.

These common symbols can be used in a number of ways.


Shapes are common symbols that people often overlook or don't consider. The shape of the design gives the viewer all sorts of impressions. For example:

Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical Shapes. Symmetrical means that both sides of something are identical. Asymmetrical means the opposite: the two sides are different in some way. Asymmetrical things are irregular and crooked, and don't match up perfectly when folded in half. Symmetry in design creates balance, stability and harmony. Asymmetrical designs create tension by avoiding balance.

Curved lines, like circles and ellipses, are generally positive. Circles represent community and love. Rings have the connotation of marriage. In general, closed circles like these project a feeling of unity.

Straight edges, like squares and triangles, come across as more business like and professional. Less emotional than curved lines, these common symbols imply a sense of stability and logic.

Triangles have a bit of a masculine bias. They are related to things like power and science.

Horizontal lines are generally seen as calmer and more tranquil than vertical lines, which are more aggressive.

This sort of logic even applies to the font you use — fonts can have more curved lines or more straight edges, just like shapes.


Animals hold a lot of meaning in graphic design. They can feature as common symbols in many logos. But, of course, different animals mean different things. Here are just some animals and their meanings.

Birds are tied with soul. They can carry connotations of joy and wisdom. They also are seen as free and hopeful.

Dogs are seen as loyal, faithful, and honest. They are a very positive kind of symbol, making them one of the more common symbols in graphic design.

Eagles are a symbol of power and action. They are seen as inherently American, due to being the country's bird.

Elephants are known for their memory, so using them as a symbol implies the same!

Horses are symbols of vitality and beauty. They have a sort of graceful strength that is very appealing from a design standpoint.

Lions are brave and strong. They are seen as a symbol of determination and fearlessness among many.

Want to put these common symbols to use?

Now that you know how common symbols factor into design, you probably want to try incorporating them.

If you like this, please share!

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