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A collection of insightful tips and guides to help you become a great designer.

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Isometric Design: A Designer’s Guide

Isometric Design: A Designer’s Guide

We’re living in a 3D world. So, why on earth should you stick to a flat design? Isometric design gives you the best of both: a 3D design with no converging perspective lines.

Following web design trends can feel a bit like watching Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray’s character relives the same day repeatedly, always seeing the same things and experiencing the same events. 

Tracking digital trends can feel the same way – seeing the same designs over and over.

But Bill Murray eventually realizes how to make small changes to manipulate the day’s outcome. Web experts can do the same thing with popular trends. If a certain design style is causing user experience issues, or it is no longer capturing users’ attention, designers can put a twist on that style rather than changing it entirely.

Since its rise to popularity in 2012, the flat design trend has shifted and changed to provide a better user experience for viewers and website visitors. So, we're here to help you stay ahead of the curve so you can be one of the first on your block to have this dynamic technique at your disposal. 

Put on your 3D glasses, grab a bag of popcorn, and get ready to bob and weave because the ins and outs of isometric design are coming your way.

What is Isometric Design?

Isometric design is a facet of graphic design. It pertains to a unique way of presenting visuals by drawing three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional planes. 

The objects are created by starting a vertical line and two defined points. These points should be at a 30-degree angle. 

Simply put, isometric designs show an object as though it’s viewed from one corner at a bird’s eye angle. 

Isometric graphics are growing in popularity due to custom illustrations. As a result, many graphic designers use custom illustrations to attract more people. 

According to surveys, custom designs contribute to higher engagement and more conversions. But how can you differentiate isometric designs from the rest? 

Isometric designs are unique and simple. This type of design works for branding and marketing due to its beautiful shapes and an added depth that makes imagery more realistic.

Professional graphic designers integrate shadows on isometric objects. These objects are created in a two-dimensional universe, but they appear three-dimensional. And this is due to the lines and angles used. 

An example of an isometric illustration shows an object like it’s viewed from up above. Also, the object faces one corner, as if viewing it from that corner. The axes are set out from a specific corner angle as well. 

The Fundamentals of Design

Image Source: Unsplash

It goes without saying that graphic design plays a critical role in showcasing your skill-sets. 

Although branding and design are interlinked, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of graphic design before embarking on any new assignment – like isometric design. 

When working with clients, you get only one opportunity to make a strong first impression. Why not infuse their experience with your knowledge and application of design elements to a range of projects.

Of course, as a designer, don’t worry about drawing outside the lines and having fun while doing it. In fact, you must frequently color outside the lines to pull away from a mediocre or repetitive design structure.

But designers must first know what those prescribed lines are. So, let’s understand some basic design principles that create stunning graphics.

Balance

Balance lends stability and structure to an overall design. To understand it better, think that there’s weight behind each of your design elements. 

Shapes, text boxes, and images are the elements that form your design, so it’s important to be familiar with the visual weight each of those elements possesses. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that the elements always need to be distributed evenly or that they must be of equal size – balance is either symmetrical or asymmetrical. 

Symmetrical balance is when the weight of elements is evenly divided on either side of the design. In contrast, asymmetrical balance uses scale, contrast, and color to achieve the flow in design.

Proximity

Proximity helps in creating a relationship between similar or related elements. These elements need not be grouped. Instead, they should be visually connected by font, color, size, etc.

Alignment

Alignment plays a pivotal role in creating a seamless visual connection with the design elements. It gives an ordered appearance to images, shapes, and blocks of texts by eliminating parts placed in a chaotic manner.

Visual Hierarchy

In simple words, a hierarchy is formed when extra visual weight is given to the most crucial element or message in your design. 

It can be achieved in various ways – using larger or bolder fonts to highlight the title, placing the key message higher than the other design elements, or by adding focus to larger, detailed, and more colorful visuals.

Repetition

Repetition is a fundamental design element, especially when it comes to branding. 

It creates a rhythm and strengthens the overall design by tying together consistent elements such as a logo and color palette, making the brand or design instantly recognizable to viewers.

Contrast

Contrast happens when there is a difference between the two opposing design elements. The most common types of contrast are dark versus light, contemporary versus old-fashioned, large versus small, etc. 

Contrast guides a viewer’s attention to the essential elements, ensuring each side is legible.

Color

Color is an important design principle as it dictates the overall mood of a design. The colors you pick represent your brand and its tonality, so be careful with the palette you choose. 

As a graphic designer, it’s always helpful to have a basic knowledge of color theory, for example, gold and neutral shades evoke an overall feel of sophistication.

Bright colors signal happiness, and blue creates a feeling of calmness. Color palettes can be used as a contrast or to complement the elements.

Negative Space

We’ve discussed the importance of colors, images, and shapes, but what about the space that is left blank? 

It is called the ‘negative space’, which means the area between or around the elements. If used creatively, negative space can help create a shape and highlight the important components of your design.

Typography

“Words have meaning, type has spirit.” – Paula Scher

Typography is one of the critical pillars of design, and it speaks volumes about a brand or an artwork when executed stylistically or even customized. Sometimes, the ‘type’ is all you need to showcase your design concept.

Rules

Once you’re an adept graphic designer who understands the foundations of design, then it’s time to break some of those rules. And by that, we don’t mean using pixelated images or an illegible font type. 

Remember, whatever it is that you’re choosing to communicate should not be compromised.

The Evolution of Flat Design

Before Flat Design: Skeuomorphic Design

Before flat design rose in popularity, skeuomorphic design was king. Skeuomorphic illustrations, icons, and logos feature shading, highlights, textures, and more to make images and objects look like their real-world counterparts. 

For example, when the first iPhone came out in 2007, its apps and buttons were designed to look realistic to help users transition to the experience of using a touchscreen with no tactile buttons.

Flat Design 1.0: Simple and Streamlined

When the shift toward flat design began, users learned how to interact with touchscreen devices, and they became familiar with common icons, shortcuts, and device functions. 

Realistic designs were no longer needed to teach people how to use their devices, and in fact, complex, realistic designs started to feel cluttered within user interfaces.

To combat the clutter and improve the user experience, designers created minimalist, flat designs to replace skeuomorphic illustrations and icons. 

The new flat design UX was a welcome change for users because it made apps and devices more streamlined and simpler to use. By using flat imagery, designers can provide a clearer user pathway and emphasize important messaging.

Flat design 2.0: Improved Flat Design UX

Overall, users benefitted from the shift from skeuomorphic design to flat design, but web designers and UX researchers discovered a few flat design UX issues. 

For example, some users may not click on a flat button if they don’t recognize it as a clickable element.

To provide a better user experience, flat design needed to evolve. Instead of creating completely flat icons, logos, and illustrations, designers began to add small details like highlights, gradients, and drop shadows. 

These elements add depth and direction to icons and images while focusing on minimalism and preventing the style from backsliding into skeuomorphism.

Flat Design 3.0: 3D isometric design

While flat design 2.0 evolved from the original iteration to address some flat design UX issues, we’re now starting to see a new trend emerge: isometric design, also known as flat 3D design.

Flat 3D design may seem like a stylistic paradox, but it’s actually a natural progression of the flat design trend. Throughout the history of flat design, designers have strived to enhance the user experience. 

To be effective, flat designs should simplify user pathways and highlight important messaging, but to stand out on a page, designs need depth and dimension. 

While flat design 2.0 simply added depth to images, isometric design actually makes designs appear 3D.

Because it presents a three-dimensional view of an object, isometric flat design is a great option for different types of projects. 

This flat 3D design style combines some elements of realism from skeuomorphism with the clean, modern approach of flat design.

The Difference Between Flat and Isometric Graphics

Before isometric design came flat designs, and these are simpler approaches to convey information via visuals. However, flat designs don’t have depth, unlike isometric designs. 

There should be no unnecessary details in flat designs. Flat graphics are typically clean, two-dimensional objects with crisp lines, shapes, and edges. It also features an open space without any distracting elements in its surroundings. 

On the other hand, isometric means equal measure. This means all the object’s axes should come together at a point with a 120-degree angle. This also means that isometric objects have equal and accurate measurements. 

The rule of thumb in isometric objects is all horizontal lines remain at a 30-degree angle. Plus, all vertical lines should maintain their position as well. 

Overall, the isometric design creates visual interest due to its realism and depth. And this is the reason why more people prefer this type of design. 

The Limitations of Flat Design

Isometric design is a natural evolution out of flat design that retains its simplicity, but it also adds some new texture.

However, here are ways that flat design can hold you back:

Usability Concerns

When it comes to more complex user experiences, flat design can sometimes fall flat. Not all users are comfortable with the style of interface or its overall usability.

An analysis by the Norman Nielsen Group found that flat design styles can hinder usability because users don’t know what is clickable. Furthermore, flat design projects tend to include less information density to keep it simple.

To emphasize flat design’s clean, streamlined qualities, some designers fall into the trap of focusing too much on aesthetics – to the extent that it negatively impacts a design’s ease of use. 

This is a particular risk for web and mobile design.

Important features and actions can also be hidden from view, or visual cues that users are accustomed to might be missing.

Color Palettes Can Be Tough to Match

The more colors you use in a project, the tougher it can be to match them properly.

Creating a harmonious color palette is a challenge on its own, and it can be even more challenging when you add four, five, or more colors. 

Designers who create the most successful flat color palettes tend to stick to a uniform look in terms of saturation and brightness, so color choices look intentional.

Weak Typography Becomes More Obvious

Just as flat design helps focus on good typography, it can really make bad typography stand out. 

Just look at all the flack Apple received after previewing iOS 7 with an ultra-thin primary typeface, a design decision that has since been revised.

Flat design is very unforgiving when it comes to boldness. Every choice has some degree of drama, making it hard to hide less-than-ideal typography.

If you are not comfortable pairing or selecting fonts, flat design may not be the best option for you.

It Can Look Too Simple

Every business, brand, or individual planning a design project wants results that represent their unique qualities – whether they’re looking for a website, app, business card, event poster, or something else.

Depending on the use, some have called flat design ‘too simple’. It can be difficult to convey a complicated visual message in flat design.

The other argument against flat design is the simplicity of user-interface tools. Proponents of skeuomorphic design say embellishments that add a sense of realism make tools easy to use. But it depends on the context.

Visual hierarchy can also be a concern with super-simple interface designs. So, ask yourself: What is most important and how do you emphasize it visually?

Some Decoration Can Be Good

Not all decorations are bad, and flat design limits the number of tricks you can use if you want the project to be truly flat.

Overly Focused on Aesthetics

On the flip side of the trend equation, you never know how long a trend will last. Already we are beginning to see more of a move from purely flat designs to almost flat designs, or flat designs using long shadows.

Flat designs regularly show up on design trend lists, as it continues to be a popular choice for designers who want their work to come across as modern or reflective of current technology.

But one of the problems with trends is that some designers will apply them just to follow the crowd, without really thinking about their usefulness. 

This can result in purposeless design choices – for instance, early flat design’s fondness for long shadows.

Worse than designing just to create a trendy aesthetic are choices that negatively impact usability, as discussed earlier. One example is the use of very thin or light typefaces that may look clean and minimal, but sacrifice easy readability.

Neglecting to scale lightweight fonts to an optimal size for a given viewing method can be particularly problematic when designing for smaller dimensions.

So, if you reinvent your website or app frequently, trendy design may be for you. On the other hand, if you want a website that has a long shelf life, consider something a little less in the moment.

Elements of Isometric Design 

Isometric flat designs are created in a 2D space, but they appear 3D due to the use of specific line angles. To create isometric designs, you don’t need fancy 3D design software, you just need some basic geometry knowledge.

The isometric design has primary elements or rules. Here are what makes up an isometric style:

Parallel Lines Don’t Converge

Humans have a natural way of looking at objects, and this is called a perspective in graphic design. 

The parallel lines in a perspective design meet at a vanishing point. However, in isometric objects, the parallel lines never converge. That’s because all the axes’ angles are equal in measurement and spacing. 

120-Degree Rule

One of the reasons people choose isometric illustrations over flat ones is because of their whimsical and exciting nature. 

And to achieve a quirky yet realistic outcome, the object’s x, y, and z axes should be at a 12-degree angle. Also, the horizontal lines should be at a 30-degree angle from their converging point.

Minimalism

Because isometric design displays several angles, it can be confusing if you put in many various elements. That being said, it’s best to keep isometric graphics simple, getting rid of unnecessary clutter. 

You want to keep the elements as minimal as possible while still portraying the imagery’s message. Plus, you want to keep the colors vibrant yet subdued. 

Choose Appropriate Applications 

DIY Instructions

Before isometric style became popular with graphic artists and web designers, engineers and technical illustrators were using isometric projections to show complex objects, machines, and systems. 

This flat 3D design style remains one of the best ways to illustrate complicated objects and processes.

Layered Graphics

Just as with technical drawings and DIY diagrams, isometric style is perfect for displaying layered items. In a layered isometric graphic, viewers can see two full sides of an object instead of one flat surface. 

This allows an image to contain more detail while remaining simple and easy to understand.

Icons and Logos

Isometric illustrations started in iconography. Icon illustrations are extremely useful for your company websites and business apps. Icons make it easier for users to navigate throughout your site and app. 

The disadvantage of flat icons is that they’re not distinct from the other design elements. These icons tend to blend in with the background.

However, using isometric icon illustrations means users can quickly see where they need to click. In addition, since the icons protrude from the background, they’re more apparent. 

Isometric icons grab users’ attention and help them know where to go.

Another great thing about isometric design is it’s memorable. Flat logo designs can be eye-catching. However, you can be limited when you’re dealing with flat designs. On the flip side, use an isometric logo if you want it to resonate with users. 

Create a clever and stylish logo using isometric style. You can play with your logo designs as much as you can. In addition, this type of style will also bring your logo to life. 

Creative Lettering and More

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to 3D flat design, so experiment to see what isometric design applications work for you. Just watch out for designs that are too busy and hard to make out from afar. 

How to Use Isometric Designs 

Landing Pages

A popular way people use isometric illustrations is through landing pages. Marketers create landing pages to increase their conversions. Compared to ordinary web pages, landing pages have one purpose – convert leads. 

Therefore, the overall structure and design must be free from distractions, with only the essential components. 

Visuals are one of the most crucial elements of a landing page. For users to read the copy and click on the call to action, you need to hook them through compelling imagery. And this is where isometric illustrations come into play. 

Hero Images

Hero images are banner images that are placed at the top of your website. These are typically larger than the usual website design elements. These images are also displayed front and center, in full width. 

Users see hero images first the moment they land on the website. And this is why hero images should capture attention right off the bat. Isometric hero images are more playful than using stock photos. 

With the right colors and imagery, your website can be geared for conversion.

Maps

You can also apply isometric design on maps. Isometric map designs are more realistic than flat ones. They give users better visualization due to their angled axis. 

Because they appear 3D, isometric maps are better if you want to emphasize a building, street, or people. Overall, using isometric maps can convey directions better. 

Infographics

Infographics are excellent for summarizing a complex topic into easily digestible chunks of information. The only drawback when using infographics is designers might tend to cram everything in there. 

The overall design can look cluttered and confusing for the readers. When you use isometric illustrations and icons for your infographics, it can make every element distinguished. 

They add perception and depth to the elements, which make them easier to follow. 

Typography

Simple lettering and typography also work with isometric design. They offer more visual interest and a playful style. The simplicity of the lettering can be livelier and more recognizable when presented in 3D. 

Also, isometric typography is more interesting to view from all angles. 

Why is an Isometric Grid Useful?

The isometric grid is an absolute game-changer for designs. It enables designers to create work with an incredible 3D appeal that just makes their work stand out. If you’re in the design world, you must know this tool in and out to leverage that ‘pop’ aesthetic and take your design game to the next level. 

The isometric grid itself is basically the guideline to have the right angles when drawing from an isometric perspective, no matter what type of design you are looking to bring to life.

Graphic design software like Vectornator offers the feature to easily edit the angle of the isometric grid. Also, you are able to increase and decrease the size of the grid, which is helpful if you want to add, for example, a small balcony on your isometric housing.

What is Isometric Grid Paper?

If you want to draw on a classic paper, you should definitely download isometric grid paper templates and print them. They are extremely accurate and come in different sizes for your projects, tasks, client requests, and campaigns. 

The best part? A lot of them are available for free. When you are looking for a thicker, more art-proven paper, you can also buy an isometric grid paper notebook. Get a few of them to see which one you like best.

But why not combine both digital and non-digital illustrations by first sketching art on your grid notebook and then quickly tracing it in Vectornator? Your real-life sketch then becomes digital vector art. 

Check out this video on how to draw on an isometric grid paper.

How Do You Draw an Isometric Grid?

In less intuitive graphic design tools like Adobe Illustrator, you are forced to draw and create an isometric grid by using the rectangular grid tool to create a basic grid first. 

After that, you need to scale your grid to the right size. Then, you shear the grid to get the angles as we previously discussed. In the end, you need to rotate the grid again. After all those steps, you are able to use your self-made isometric grid as a guideline for isometric projection.

Luckily, intuitive isometric drawing tools like Vectornator offer a much easier intuitive solution. 

You are easily able to create an isometric grid with one tap, while still having the chance to resize it in your design process. We will show you how to do all of that in the following paragraphs.

Want to switch from Illustrator to Vectornator? Learn more on our Adobe Illustrator alternative Page ->

Drawing an isometric grid on paper is rather hard, and we would not recommend it. It’s better to buy a relatively cheap isometric notebook or use your digital pen and a great isometric drawing tool like Vectornator.

How to Create and Use an Isometric Grid in Vectornator

If you haven’t already – download Vectornator on your iPad, iPhone, and Mac.

Set the Grid

Vectornator supports two types of grids: the classic Perpendicular Square Grid, and the triangle-based Isometric Grid. When a grid is enabled, it will appear on your canvas to help you align elements. However, it won't actually be part of your final design and can be disabled any time.

Setting the Isometric Grid on iPad

To enable the grid on iPad, go to the Quick Settings and then tap on Artboards & Grid. Then, switch on the toggle at the right of "Show Grid". Select Isometric Grid and change the Spacing and Angle values to exactly how you want it.

A classic isometric grid has lines with a 30 degree angle, but you experiment with different angles to achieve different perspectives.

Setting the Isometric Grid on iPad on Vectornator

Setting the Isometric Grid on Mac

Setting the Isometric Grid on Mac in Vectornator

When using Vectornator on a Mac, go to View > Grid Settings. In the pop-up window, select Isometric. Here, you can adjust the distance and angle of your grid lines.

Looking for inspiration?

Follow this video tutorial on “How to Create an Isometric Illustration" below.

All in all, the isometric grid is an amazing tool to create outstanding artworks. To be able to reach your full potential, you should use intuitive and isometric drawing software.

Benefits of Isometric Graphics 

If you’re still not utilizing isometric designs for your design needs, then it’s high time you should. Here’s why:

Emphasize Every Detail

Use isometric illustrations if you want to emphasize all details of your design. For example, if you want users to process the data from the top, sides, or front, then the isometric style helps you achieve that. 

A Simple Yet Creative Approach

Isometric design is key if you want to keep your icons, illustrations, or designs minimalist and creative. This design technique should always be kept simple to avoid a confusing outcome. 

However, simplicity doesn’t always relate to bland designs. Use isometric design to keep designs recognizable yet straightforward as it creates more visual appeal.

Convey Messages Clearly

Another benefit of using isometric imagery is it conveys your message clearly. For instance, if you’re distributing infographics for marketing, your materials can offer more understandable information. 

Present Products in All Angles

If you’re showcasing your products, it’s better to use isometric designs to present them in the best light. Due to angled features, users can see some internal or hidden parts of your product. 

This way, they won’t see a flat image that shows only the top or front part of your product. This can be excellent on your website’s product pages. 

Modern 

Without a doubt, isometric graphics are a trend. And it will be for the coming years as this style presents your visuals more distinctly. 

In addition, isometric designs are more refreshing and modern, allowing newly established brands to make their branding assets stand out. 

So, if you’re a contemporary designer with a younger audience demographic, isometric visuals keep your designs updated.

Useful

Isometric drawings are very useful for designers – particularly architects, industrial and interior designers, and engineers, as they are ideal for visualizing rooms, products, and infrastructure. 

They're also a great way to quickly test out different design ideas. 

There are a number of other situations in which isometric projection is useful. 

In wayfinding systems, for example, in museums or galleries, an isometric wall can show visitors where they are in the building, what is going on elsewhere, and how to get around. 

The Best Representations 

Some of the best infographics use isometric projection to enable them to show more information than would be possible in a 2D drawing. Some logo designs also use this approach to create impact.

Representations of places are just one use of isometric drawing techniques.

To create an exploded isometric, you need to know the detailed inner workings of whatever you are drawing, which is why they're usually used at the final design stage for presentations to clients. 

In Conclusion

Every designer or brand has needs. If you feel that the isometric design benefits we’ve just outlined suit your design preferences, then it’s best to use isometric styles for presenting your work better. However, one thing to remember is that using isometric styles on your visual materials might not work every time, especially if you don’t have a concrete design plan or tool. 

Vectornator is an intuitive illustration software that empowers you to design anything you can imagine, such as creating sophisticated digital art with precise vector tools. You’ll have a crafted set of features that help you design in the most precise and innovative way – with your finger. 

Vectornator’s tools give you the precision you need whether you're using a finger, a stylus, or a trackpad. Just grab the tool you enjoy the most and experience the future of illustration. The fact is, most of you professional designers rely on a drawing tablet to achieve your high-quality work. Whether you prefer a keyboard and mouse, a digital pencil, a touchscreen, or a drawing tablet to create your design, Vectornator supports all input forms. Inputs that you need on both desktop and mobile platforms make your experience unforgettable. In general, isometric designs don’t work well on all projects. So, try not to overwhelm users with too many complex isometric icons or illustrations – which Vectornator can help you simplify. 

Just remember – it’s best to stick to a few color palettes, so your design doesn’t come out as jarringly over-the-top.

It's recommended to maintain minimalism yet keep the overall visuals uniquely appealing. The innate advantage of using isometric designs is that graphics using isometric drawings are even clearer and more realistic than traditionally ‘realistic’ 3D graphics, which make use of perspective. Isometric designs create a reality in which we can perceive things as they are.  Weird but true, but this makes them a great addition to the design alternatives already in your portfolio.

As the saying goes: “Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it’s so complicated.”

So, be sure to uncomplicate your works of art by partnering with design software experts like Vectornator.

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