Graphic design is an art that encompasses a range of techniques and styles. To be successful in this field, you’ll need to experiment to discover what makes your work stand out.
Because this is a competitive field, exploring a variety of styles is a great way to find a way to carve out a space for yourself. Designers often challenge or revamp old styles, experiment with new tools, and flow with (or against) broader design trends. Different approaches to typographic design, color, and layout further underscore the versatility and creativity that graphic design offers, making it a dynamic field for those willing to push boundaries and try new things.
Defining your identity in such a diverse field is challenging, but exploring foundational graphic design styles, their history, and aesthetic characteristics can help you forge your own distinct creative path.
10 key graphic design styles
Here’s a collection of 10 fundamental graphic design styles that laid the foundation for graphic design as we know it today. We’ll briefly discuss the design principles of each style, then look at one example of each.
Minimalist design emerged in Western art and architecture in the early 1960s as a response to the ornate, decorative styles that prevailed in previous decades. Stripping away everything but the absolute essentials, this design philosophy prioritizes simplicity and minimalism in its use of color, typography, and composition, aiming to communicate its message with clarity, efficiency, and aesthetic impact by simplifying elements to their essential forms.
Minimalist designs are deliberately easy on the eyes, which is why this style is so prevalent in web design. These designs often feature neutral or pastel color palettes, lots of negative space, thin lines, and a clear visual hierarchy. Minimalist typography leans towards clean and light sans serif fonts to further emphasize legibility, clarity, and simplicity.
The Maker Makes designer Mike Ouellette employs minimalist design in a food blog by stripping away everything but the essentials with a gray color palette, line drawings of produce, and ample use of negative space. The clean and simple design emphasizes and complements the fresh, natural appearance of the food.
Maximalism embodies a “less is a bore” and “more is more” mentality and emerged as a response to the minimalist aesthetic. Where minimalist designs aim for subtlety and simplicity, maximalist designs strive for attention-grabbing impact, leveraging contrasting color palettes, exaggerated design elements, and unconventional fonts and typefaces.
Maximalism is the antithesis of minimalism, allowing for ample creative freedom and opportunities for experimentation, Plus, it’s gaining popularity among web designers who want their designs that pack a visual punch.
Despite the creative freedom and opportunities maximalist designs provide, their bold use of colors and abstract elements might lead to legibility and accessibility issues. As such, designers need to be conscious of these potential issues when undertaking maximalist design projects.
The maximalist Paradam Studios website, designed by Eloy Be, is full of vibrant colors, quirky interactions, and just-for-fun animations like a fluttering butterfly in the hero section.Despite the abundant abstract elements, their strategic placement draws attention toward specific areas of the site, like their previous work.. Eloy Be also uses heavy contrast between the background and the text to optimize legibility.
3. Art Deco
Originating in 1920s Paris, the Art Deco (from the French Arts Décoratifs) movement reacted to the soft curves, muted colors, and nature-inspired themes of the late Victorian Art Nouveau style of the 1890s. With its emphasis on bold lines, rich colors, and detailed decorative elements, Art Deco exudes a sense of luxury, glamour, and opulence.
Stage, screen, and theater elements feature heavily in Art Deco designs, with triangles, starbursts, and chevron patterns representing stage lights. Typography in this graphic design style combines curves, strong strokes, and sharp angles to create a bold and dynamic visual language.
Product designer Nick Herasimenka’s online portfolio combines Art Deco and modern elements. Nick includes a line drawing of the Empire State Building (an Art Deco architectural icon) and also applies a color scheme reminiscent of stage lights to add glamor and drama to their portfolio while still keeping it sleek and contemporary.
Human sensitivity to geometric shapes and their application in art has transcended cultures throughout human history, so it’s only natural that geometric design became and remains popular.
Originating from the Bauhaus design movement of post-WWI Germany and the function-led Swiss style of the 1950s, geometric design operates on the belief that geometric shapes, angles, and geometrical curves convey a sense of order, balance, and harmony in visual composition. Geometric design embraces bright colors and sans-serif typefaces to communicate information clearly and concisely, allowing for creative freedom and artistic expression.
Graphic designer Ritesh Raj embraces the principles of geometry, simplicity, and abstraction. Incorporating triangles, squares, circles, and other shapes into portrayals of animals, his geometric illustrations accentuate the streamlined curves of the animals he draws. The simple color palette also creates a strong visual impact to draw attention to the bold, contrasting colors of the background, animals, and other key visual elements on his page.
Flat designs have a two-dimensional appearance, and they avoid any design elements that give a 3D effect, such as drop shadows and beveling. In user interface (UI) design, the flat design style became popular in the early 2010s, replacing skeuomorphism, which aimed to imitate real world-objects such as buttons or folded pages.
Since its emergence, this design style has undergone various transformations and adaptations. Microsoft, Apple, and Instagram changed their logos and UI from skeuomorphic to flat design between 2012 and 2016. Google promoted an intermediate style, material design, in 2014. Another variation of flat design, neumorphism, is a more recent graphic design trend that attempts to combine skeuomorphism with flat design.
The flat style favors function over form, simple visuals, and usually limited or no color gradients. This modern design style is a perfect fit for logo design, infographics, and icons.
Retro-style design evokes nostalgia by drawing inspiration from earlier eras, drawing on the psychedelic style of the 1960s and 1970s,1980s grunge, or early-internet vibes from the 1990s. They’re effective at engaging a specific demographic because retro styles tap into the cultural zeitgeist of a particular era.
In the broadest sense, retro-style design pays homage to the past while still creating something new and relevant for today’s audiences.
Designer KC Katalbas went retro with her cloneable Cats With Jobs site — the loading animation, intentionally pixelated icons and font, and lower-left menu with its “shut down” option most likely stir long-dormant memories in anyone who used a computer in the 1990s.
Corporate design is a broad term encompassing various aspects of a company’s visual persona, including branding, web design, social media, and marketing campaigns. Corporate designs are built around the company’s brand and aim to communicate professionalism and trustworthiness alongside the brand’s identity.
Most corporate designs are relatively conservative and risk-averse, as most companies are reluctant to scare away potential customers by using unconventional design elements. Color palettes typically include white, black, and one or two other bold colors.
Businesses want to convey success and professionalism to potential customers, so these designs typically feature clear visual hierarchies, calls-to-action, and consistency across all visual elements to present a cohesive and polished image.
On consulting firm Graditur’s website, designer Gerson Iglesias chose a background image of a cityscape, consistent with the firm’s work in the engineering and construction industries. The sans serif font communicates professionalism and competence thanks to its familiar appearance and legibility.
Neobrutalism (or “neubrutalism”) is a current trend in graphic design that draws inspiration from 1950s brutalist architecture. Brutalist design revolted against decorum and detailing that architects perceived as frivolous. In architecture, brutalism deliberately reveals what’s under the hood, using bare concrete and exposed structural elements to create a harsh yet honest industrial aesthetic.
The current design trend of neobrutalism has a similar motivation: In contrast to the sleek, simple, and minimalistic designs of the present, neobrutalism embraces honesty and authenticity by stripping away the excess and focusing on the essentials, even deliberately exposing some of the site’s structural elements.
Neobrutalist designs often feature strong color contrasts, pure black, hard drop shadows, and visible gridlines. They communicate an approach that values substance over style.
Created by Phil Bastiaans, interior architectural firm Contekst’s graphic design employs a brutalist monospace font reminiscent of the fonts used in programming. The honesty of the neobrutalist aesthetic matches the Contekst team’s self-description: “Creativity always trumps vanity around here.”
9. Media blending
Media blending combines different visual elements to create a dynamic, multilayered, playful effect. By blending various forms of visual communication, designers can experiment and play with different aspects of composition, such as visual weight, balance, and leading lines.
Blending illustration and photography allows the designer to draw visual interest without overwhelming the viewer. Combining multiple forms of design media can yield unique, engaging designs with a playful touch that captivates audiences.
10. Interactive media design
Interactive media design is an offshoot of graphic design enabled by recent advances in technologies and tools, turning viewing a design into an experience.
Less of a style and more of a medium, interactive media design creates captivating digital engagements by combining visual design, technology, and interactive design. Design elements such as scroll animations, hover effects, and transition effects immerse the viewer and guide them through a digital journey that is intuitive, visually interesting, and immersive.
Designer Sergio Martos did just that in his website for Granada-based ceramics artist Maite Rodriguez, Cerámica Colibrí. This site’s landing page features a creative scrolling effect that sees the studio’s name disappear inside a bowl as visitors scroll down the site. The studio’s namesake, a hummingbird, also flies in to sit on the final “i.”
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Pro tips for choosing a design style that fits you
Looking over these 10 styles, chances are some resonated with you more than others. This initial intuition is the first clue to your style. Dive deeper into your design preferences by considering the following:
- Are there any common themes or patterns in your past work?
- What design styles would best appeal to the clients you wish to attract and work with?
- What is your target industry or audience? What are the dominant styles within those areas?
- How can your style stand out and be distinctive from other designers?
Once you narrow your focus to two or three styles, try experimenting with each in your graphic design projects or combine them for a completely unique and innovative look and feel.
To make your style truly unique, try adapting techniques from designers you admire and checking out graphic design blogs. You can also draw inspiration from sources outside design like your family and friends, natural and urban environments, other cultures, art, and music.
Finally, any work you create for a client will be a dialogue between your style and the client’s requests. Remember, you may need to adapt your style to the diverse needs of a range of clients, so flexibility is critical.
Show off your designs in style
Once you’ve created various designs that showcase your style, be it one of these graphic design styles in particular or a mix, you can publish an online portfolio to share your work with others and attract new clients.
Whether you want to build your portfolio from the ground up with our free 21-day portfolio design course or streamline the process with a portfolio website template, Webflow can help you get your work out into the world — exactly where it deserves to be.