Rules of Design - Cover

Why do some things seem beautiful to us while others don’t – and we can’t tell why? And how does beauty and design affect our decisions as customers?

We had a chat conversation with Paulius Staniunas, who’s creative artist and photographer at Mindvalley.

ln this talk, Paulius hacks into the concept of beauty unveiling the patterns and the formulas behind it. He believes there is a knowledge applied behind beauty, which designers and artists understand and that can be learned.

Design is a game changer regarding some marketing goals, such as engagement and conversion. Still, most marketers don’t have any clue on how to make a beautiful design. This article will help you to align beauty and functionality to achieve better results.

Check it out to understand how our brain decodes beauty by reading it applying these tips and tricks to your daily life, business and website.

MVI: Paulius, you say there are patterns, formulas and knowledge behind beauty. Let’s start by asking: what are the principles of beauty?

Focusing on visual beauty, is to say: what your eyes see and how your brain decides that, the main formula can be scientifically described through one theory, called Gestalt. It’s a german word which means “Unified”, “Whole”. To explain it in really simple words, it teaches us that little details that unify that big picture do matter as much as the big picture itself.

An example could be: you’re browsing through an Ikea furniture catalogue and, looking at the full picture of a living room, you see an object, like a table, and you think: “wow, this table is so amazing!”. So you go to Ikea, buy the table, you come back home and put it in your living room and it loses like 20% of its beauty or more. And you don’t know why. Than you look at it in the picture and it’s still amazing, but in your room is not that amazing.

Ikea pic

Details matter as much as the whole. So if you think of this example, in order to make that beautiful room in the catalogue, the Ikea designers thought of what colors to choose, where to place the chair, the bed, how to set the lights, all produced by Ikea – it means, following a certain pattern.

But when it comes to our own house house, most of us design it unconsciously. It’s either you, your husband/wife or house mates, who most of times buy nice beautiful stuff that are not connected to the whole.

So the next time you go to a free market and you see a beautiful object, the next thought you should have is: where am I gonna fit it in my house? Would it match on my shelve?

In other words, when you look at the details you must think where are they going to fit in the big picture.

MVI: And how does this rule apply to design in general?

The same rule goes to design, no matter if printed or web. Certain elements like typography, colors and shapes give the mood to the design you create. Designers know to match certain colors with others, as well as shapes and fonts.

MVI: What are the main rules you should remember, knowing that the detail should match the context – but how can it be put in a practical way?

There are 5 parts that form the Gestalt theory – Similarity, Continuation, Closure, Proximity and Figure & Ground (read more: It basically explains how the elements should go together, is to say how certain shapes go with each other, how certain shapes extend or complete each other.

Talking about shapes. For example let’s say you have a squared menu website and your last “call to action” button is still squared but with round edges: it will look out of place. Because you have everything sharp and suddenly a form is softened, it won’t look good. But what might look good is a circle, which is surrounded by squares, your attention focus will immediately go to the circle: because it’s the shape that contrasts with other shapes, but doesn’t fight with them – it completes the whole picture.

Another practical example would be fonts: don’t use more that two family of fonts, is to say more than two styles. Preferably use only one, playing with different variations (bold, italic, bigger, smaller). If really needed, use maximum 2 fonts.

If you don’t know what font to use, there is a golden rule  for the fonts: it is that Headlines must me Sans Serif and body should be Serif. Why? Usually body is small letters and headlines are big letters. For the body, if you put many many letters together with Serif, it will look like align, so scanning it will be easier to your eyes.

MVI: Do you believe that these rules can help non-designers to make beautiful pieces of work?

When you just know these simple rules it becomes easier to make attractive designs. There is no magic behind it and I do believe that talent is a very little part of any design. Is mainly about knowing the rules that and applying it.

Sometimes designers may say that they don’t know how they did it, they just “felt it”. It may happen, sometimes people have this feeling towards beauty, but I don’t believe that only gifted people can create, everyone can.

In my opinion talent is between 5% to 15% of design. The rest is hard work and knowledge of you field applied in a suitable way.

MVI: Awesome. So coming back to rules, you mentioned shapes, fonts and colors. What would you give as a practical example about colors?

H&M ExampleJust the same, the usage of colors is not magic at all. The most simple way to see which colors match is to look at the color wheel – every photoshop and similar programs has one. If you look at the color wheel, take opposing colors and they will match. That simple, that’s trick number one.

For number two, when you choose the colors, make sure you choose a certain shade of them. If you take bright colors you should keep it with bright. If you choose faded, keep it faded colors.

Think of it as of the clothes combination. The tonality of the colors as important as the clothes itself. The shoes should go well with the bag, that goes well with the glasses, following the same tonality pattern.


You have to match saturation, tonality and vibrancy. A quick suggestion is: try to stay on  the same color palette when picking the colors. One of the secrets is: go online and there are plenty of websites that give you already color matching pallettes.

There is a Photoshop plugin called Kuler ( which is for free if you have the photoshop software. It’s basically a plugin where you can type in the mood and it will give you already pre-matched color palette.


MVI: These are great examples on how to bring it to practice, thank you.  So when it comes to web design applied to online marketing? What are the good examples to follow?

Design has to solve the problem and be attractive as well. Personally, as a designer I’m against just problem solving design: I always go for beautiful problem solving design. If you can come up to a beautiful solution to the problem, you add much more value to your audience than just having them to do what your design wants them to do.

In other words: if you want them to click on a button and you make the button bigger or brighter: yes,that would solve your problem and you will get more clicks. But why not to think on how differently you could engage people to click on that button and still keep it beautiful and aligned with the rest of your page design?

Maybe you can position that button differently, following a heatmap (at Mindvalley we use Visual Website Optimizer, which we recommend for that). Positioning can make people still click more without making the button so disconnected to the rest of the website. Or it could also be aligned to a flow, in a way that after jumping through the elements (texts and images) in your website they end up in that button?

You could also change the shape, anything else than just making the button bigger. You can do something more aligned the whole website design to get a beautiful solution.

MVI: Why do you think beauty is important: how does it affect a business?

Good design builds credibility and long lasting relationship with your target audience. It’s like the coffee spot you like, where you feel good, it’s beautiful, service is amazing and coffee tastes just the way you like it. So design is the beauty of your coffee spot. Think about it, no matter how good your coffee is or how politely staff behaves, would you come back to the place that is painted in horrible colours and has no taste in interior decorations?

 I’ll be boring in here and give an example everyone knows: it’s Apple. Beautiful design. Well crafted product, easy to use way, more expensive than other competitors products, but still wining the hearts of the consumers.  People keep buying their products.

So I’m sure that a beautiful website will make people remember you and even share your website.  – you can communicate your brand by your design: people.

When talking about a branding strategy, it’s better when people can recognize your design throughout all the websites you have, instead of using free templates that will help you save an extra buck, but won’t keep your audience connected to your brand.

MVI: When building a website, do you think it’s better when design follows the main purpose (more towards being minimalistic), or do you think adding extra colors, shapes and decorations is a good practice?

Design must help the content to be more visible. My belief: less is more. But I also don’t wanna discourage people from being brave and experimenting – when you make something differently, which may feel scary, the outcome can always be rewarding.

MVI: Finally, what are is the biggest mistake marketers commit when it comes to design?

They don’t know the rules of design, so they don’t follow it. If they knew they could think about following it.

Marketers don’t need to know how to design, but if they know the rules they can give more constructive feedback to the designers working with them instead of just saying “I like” and “I don’t like”. Than can say exactly what they would change and why  – enabling products to be delivered in better timing and quality.

MVI: Wrapping up everything we talked about, what would you like to add for people who would make design aligned to their bigger purpose?

When you design you always think about the target audience.

If you’re designing it for children, of course you should keep it childish. If designing it for other marketers, they might not care about it that much so your design should be minimalistic and content should be the king, but if you’re doing it to a creative community, you should make it unconventional. Now, you’re designing something such as an airlines booking system, it has to serve the function before anything.

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