Design principles

Principles of Design

Design principles

The principles of design are the fundamental aspects behind designing and making 2D design. This is not a rigid list but instead a series of tips or ideas that have been formed by others over time and which I will add to or modify. They are ideas which of course work together. Arranged here in alphabetical order.

Alignment allows us to create an organisation of disparate elements, shape, text. graphic or image. Aligning elements allows them to create an overall sense of order as it forms a visual connection. If this is not used  To create there may instead be a sense of disorder or chaos.

Balance comes about as a result of the spread of the objects, pattern, colour, space and textures on a two dimensional surface. It is the concept of visual equilibrium and relates to our own individual physical sense of balance. It is a reconciliation of opposing forces in a composition that results in visual stability. Most successful compositions achieve balance in one of two ways: symmetrically or asymmetrically. Balance in a three dimensional object is easy to understand; if balance isn’t achieved, the object tips over.

To understand balance in a two dimensional composition, we must use our imaginations to carry this three dimensional analogy forward to the flat surface. Symmetrical balance can be described as having equal “weight” on equal sides of a centrally placed fulcrum. It may also be referred to as formal balance. When the elements are arranged equally on either side of a central axis, the result is Bilateral symmetry. This axis may be horizontal or vertical. It is also possible to build formal balance by arranging elements equally around a central point , resulting in radial symmetry.

There is a variant of symmetrical balance called approximate symmetry in which equivalent but not identical forms are arranged around the fulcrum line. Asymmetrical balance, also called informal balance, is more complex and difficult to envisage. It involves placement of objects in a way that will allow objects of varying visual weight to balance one another around a fulcrum point. This can be best imagined by envisioning a literal balance scale that can represent the visual “weights” that can be imagined in a two dimensional composition. For example, it is possible to balance a heavy weight with a cluster of lighter weights on equal sides of a fulcrum; in a picture, this might be a cluster of small objects balanced by a large object.

It is also possible to imagine objects of equal weight but different mass (such as a large mass of feathers versus a small mass of stones) on equal sides of a fulcrum. Unequal weights can even be balanced by shifting the fulcrum point on our imaginary scale. If the design was a scale, these elements should be balanced to make a design feel stable. In symmetrical balance, the elements used on one side of the design are similar to those on the other side; in asymmetrical balance, the sides are different but still look balanced. In radial balance, the elements are arranged around a central point and may be similar.

Contrast is what people mean when they say a design “pops.” It comes away from the page and sticks in your memory. Contrast creates space and difference between elements in your design. Your background needs to be significantly different from the color of your elements so they work harmoniously together and are readable. If you plan to work with type, understanding contrast is incredibly essential because it means the weight and size of your type are balanced. How will your audience know what is most important if everything is in bold? As you seek out examples of really strong, effective design, you’ll notice most designs only feature one or two typefaces. That’s because contrast can be effectively achieved with two strong fonts (or even one strong typeface in different weights). As you add fonts, you dilute and confuse the purpose of your design.

Emphasis or hierarchy is that aspect of the design that aims to catch someones attention when there are multiple elements in a design. Although this can use contrast as per the previous principle it can also be achieved through shape, size, color, texture, BOLD(ness) and underlining (in the case of fonts).

Movement which can be directed along lines, edges, shape, and color within any artwork is simply the path a persons eye takes. This is often towards intended areas of focus. See Paul Klee on Taking a Line for a Walk.

Pattern or repetition, the repeating of an element or object or symbol. In conjunction with consistency this aids in making something recognisable.

Proportion is the feeling of unity created when all parts (sizes, amounts, or number) relate well with each other. When drawing the human figure, proportion can refer to the size of the head compared to the rest of the body.

Proximity creates relationship between elements. It provides a focal point. Proximity doesn’t mean that elements have to be placed together, it means they should be visually connected in someway.

Repetition works with pattern to make the work of art seem active. The repetition of elements of design creates unity within the work of art.

Rhythm is created when one or more elements of design are used repeatedly to create a feeling of organized movement. Rhythm creates a mood like music or dancing. To keep rhythm exciting and active, variety is essential.

Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts of the work of art, which creates a sense of completeness.

Variety is the use of several elements of design to hold the viewer’s attention and to guide the viewer’s eye through and around the work of art.

White space or simply the space around objects or elements. This can also be described as positive and negative space. Nothing exists in isolation, so awareness of what is surrounding something is a way to describe something. A simple example is a silhouette.

Elements of design

Colour is light reflected off objects. Color has three main characteristics: hue or its name (red, green, blue, etc.), value (how light or dark it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is).

Direction. All lines have direction – Horizontal, Vertical or Oblique. Horizontal suggests calmness, stability and tranquillity. Vertical gives a feeling of balance, formality and alertness. Oblique suggests movement and action

Line. The linear marks made with a pen or brush or the edge created when two shapes meet.

Shape.  A shape is a self contained defined area of geometric (squares and circles), or organic (free formed shapes or natural shapes). A positive shape automatically creates a negative shape.

Size is simply the relationship of the area occupied by one shape to that of another.

Texture is the surface quality of a shape – rough, smooth, soft hard glossy etc.


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