What makes gradients in graphic design look attractive and what's the best way to use them?
There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to the use of gradients in graphic design.
One argument seems to be that it is not a very clean or appealing design, not to mention that it is more trouble than it is worth, because it needs to work on both dark and light backgrounds or a greater range of colours, and that it is also less flexible because of the constraints imposed on a gradient background when you add other text or graphic elements on top of it. Then there is another group of people that believe in the aesthetic appeal of using gradients rather than having sharp contrasts in colours.
I am just wondering what the visual or psychological reason that gives colour gradients the perceived 'prettiness'. Personally I find it difficult to deal with and even distracting in charts and graphs, so when and where should it actually be used for the optimal design benefit?
I would like to know if there is an actual visual design principle or psychological basis for the use of gradients in graphical design, or if it is one of those things that people have made assumptions about its use without the proper application of good design principles.
I haven't heard either of them. And I think the reason for that is that you are targeting it from the angle if a gradient can be visually pleasing or not. And it goes for most design elements: of course, but it depends on how you use it. You can't rate the aesthetic appeal of an element alone. That's like rating the letter b on it's looks and then deciding if you are going to use it.
Design elements are supposed to underline a bigger concept or message. Not stand for themselves. So if your design would profit from a gradient, use one.
As to your questions about usage, the same applies. Why use it in a chart unless it can help translate information. As a decorative element, it will probably always be in the way.