Archived copy for reference only


Graphic Design / Interactive Design / Fine & Applied Arts / Parkland College

Graphic Design Exercises
Design Principles: Illusion of Depth

(Archived from 2019)


To learn design principles through exploration and experimentation. To learn visual grammar by making abstract compositions. To practice thumbnail sketching. To be introduced to Adobe Photoshop and InDesign's layout tools.


Creating an illusion of depth in two-dimensional compositions is a centuries-old tradition. We are attracted to this illusion for the same reason we are attracted to magic tricks and 3D movies. And indeed, these are tricks that can be mastered with a little practice.

Creating depth is an optional design principle. Use it only if depth will help communicate your concept. In fact, if the illusion of depth is overused or used for the wrong reason, the design can look cheap or cheesy. One example might be the overuse of drop shadows on type for no reason. Because Photoshop can achieve a drop shadow effect with a single mouse click, this effect has become a cliché (so use it with caution).


Part A (Preliminary Studies)

  1. download starter files, examine files, read directions
  2. using Adobe Illustrator, create at least five abstract compositions (3x2 ratio) that use only one typographic character per composition (use only "core fonts," try to retain the integrity of the original font design)
  3. optional: using Adobe Photoshop, create 3x2 inch (150 PPI) grayscale files as needed and import your Illustrator vector art (use the clipboard; paste as pixels)
  4. use Photoshop to manipulate your art further to enhance depth
  5. in your assigned small groups, critique each other's work on screen
  6. based on the critique above, make adjustments (if needed)

Part B (Best Solutions)

  1. place your Illustrator/Photoshop files into InDesign
  2. scale, crop, rotate as needed to create interesting compositions
  3. have your instructor critique your best solutions on screen
  4. based on the critique above, make adjustments (if needed)
  5. submit b&w laser proof with your name on it for grading
  6. file graded proof in your Process Book for midterm/final review
  7. also save a PDF of your best solutions (smallest file size) and publish it as a link on your Process Page

Photoshop Tips:

  • edit > fill: fills current layer with foreground color (opt+DELETE) or background color (cmd+DELETE)
  • edit > fill (retain transparency=yes): add the option key to the above to retain transparency (opt+shift+DELETE or cmd+shift+DELETE)
  • filter > blur > gaussian blur: gives you control over the amount of blurring
  • edit > transform: useful distortion tools
  • edit > free transform (cmd+T): scales, rotates, moves; ESCAPE to cancel, RETURN to accept, add SHIFT to constrain
  • important: pixels can be scaled smaller, but should not be scaled larger as the art will likely lose its integrity

Note: When working with InDesign, keep all linked images in the same folder as the original InDesign file to avoid broken links. When moving files, move the entire folder (never move just the InDesign file).

Last updated: 5/7/21