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Principles of Design

The Principles of Design The principles of design should be the basis of all art and design. The way a designer applies these principles, usually determines how effective it will be in the long run. The principles should be able to help a designer convey a message, by making it appear attractive and there are often many correct ways to apply each principle. These principles also include elements of design can be thought of as the things that make up a design, whether good or bad.

Sources principles aa_pod1.htm handout.pdf




Unity is the hallmark of a good design. It’s the final result in a composition when all the design elements work


















harmoniously together giving the




also serve some functional purpose

complement the key theme and must

selected for use in a composition must

been correctly applied. Everything

contrast, proportion and space) have

movement, emphasis, visual economy,

all of the design principles (balance,

the key theme being expressed in a

design elements and relates them to

reinforce the relationship between the

than compete for attention. It serves to

design complement one another rather

been achieved when all aspects of the

and relationship. You know unity has

viewer a satisfying sense of belonging

Unity in a composition is achieved when


within the design. Achieving unity in your compositions will only result from


practicing, knowing and selecting the right visual elements and using the best principles of design to relate them.




so that no one section is heavier

arranging elements on the page

Visual balance comes from out.

get equal billing, emphasis is canceled

attention. Where several components

of balance to create tension or a

intenionally throw elements out

with its subordinates, or emphasis can

is by contrasting the primary element

The second way to create emphasis

than the other. Or, a designer may

certain mood. It can be either symmetrical or

tone or line.

direction, size, shape, texture, color,

be created by a sudden change in asymmetrical depending on if the

and don’t give a feeling of being

dominant focal points are balanced

Balance also refers to a sense that

but a good composition is one in which

the attention. Emphasis is necessary,

emphasis it should never demand all

No matter what element is chosen for

right or left side is identical or not.

pulled too much to any part of the

all the elements work together for a unifying effect.

Without Emphasis

design. Balance lighter colors with darker colors, balance neurtral colors and patterns with synthetic colors, balance bold colors with light neutrual colors. For example, colors with high contrast in a room may be more visually pleasing.

With Emphasis




Emphasis is the stressing of a particular area of focus rather than the presentation of a maze of details of equal importance. When a composition has no emphasis nothing stands out. However the effective use of emphasis calls attention to important areas of the painting. By placing emphasis on certain areas of the composition, an artist creates elements of interest which causes the eye to return to again and again. One way of achieving emphasis is by creating center of interest, a.k.a. a focal point. A focal point is an area where the eye tends to center. It is the focus of the viewer’s attention. A focal point is created by making one area of element of the painting dominant, or most important visually with all other areas contributing but subordinate. The focal point may be the largest, brightest, darkest, or most complex part of the whole, or it may get special attention because it stands out for some other reason. No more than one component should vie for primary

Focal Point






Alignment excitement to a boring design.

read. Alignment also helps bring

layout easier or more difficult to

to each other can make your

graphics on a page and in relation

How a designer aligns type and

similarity or near-likeness. Actually,

duplication either, but it does mean

Repetition doesn’t always mean exact

sometimes creating a visual rhythm.

are repeated regularly or irregularly

which have something in common

In horizontal alignment left and

1. Horizontal Alignment

touching or not and is an easy way to

tie thing together whether they are

will add interest. Repetition tend to

slight variations to a simple repetition

right margins are exactly or visually

achieve unity.

Rhythm is created through repetition.

Variety through alternation and contrast.

Repetition with variety.


equal. Horizontal alignment can be across the page or within columns. It doesn’t necessarily mean center alignment. A block of flush left/ ragged-right text can be aligned horizontally. Even though individual lines of text are not perfectly aligned on each side, careful attention to the amount of rag (white space at the end of the line) can result in a visually balanced amount of margin on each side of the block of text. 2. Vertical Alignment In vertical alignment the top and



Movement unity in the artwork with eye travel. This

purpose of movement is to create

when we look at a work of art. The

Movement is the path our eyes follow

portions of the page.

can be the full page or within

visually equal. Vertical alignment

bottom margins are exactly or

work together by relating the various

rhythm, and action. Movement ties the

objects along their top, bottom, left,

Edge alignment lines up text or

3. Edge Alignment

can be achieved by using repetition,

components of a work together.

in a certain way, an artist controls and

Center alignment may be

4. Center Alignment

or right edges.

forces the movement of the viewer’s

horiztonally or vertically aligned, or

By arranging the composition elements

eyes in and around the composition

Bad Alignment


Good Alignment

with the painting. For example, the eye will travel along an actual path such as solid or dotted line, or it will move along more subtle paths such as from large elements to little elements, from dark elements to lighter elements, from color to non color, from unusual shapes to usual shapes, etc. Graduation of size, and repeated shapes and size of related elements subtly leads the eye as well. The use of repetition to create movement occurs when elements




In design, proximity or closeness creates a bond between people and between elements on a page. How close together or far apart elements are placed suggest a relationship (or lack of) between otherwise disparate parts. Unity is also achieved by using a third element to connect distant parts. Proximity is used to organize the materials on the page. They tell your eyes where to stop. You can use proximity to indicate a relationship between items. The principle of Proximity tells you to put related items close together physically. Things that aren’t related should be farther apart. The amount of separation between items or groups tells your reader how the material is organized.

Bad Proportion

Good Proportion

Positive Space




When the principle of proportion is applied to a work of art it is usually in the relationship of size. That is, the size of one element of the composition as compared to the size of another related element. In the instance of a relationship of size a comparison is made between the: -height, width and depth of one element to that of another -size of one area to the size of another area -size of one element to the size of another element -amount of space between two or more elements Proportion is usually not even noticed until something is out of proportion. When the relative size of two elements being compared seems wrong or out of balance it is said to be “out of proportion�. For example if a person has a head larger than their entire body, then we would say that they were out of proportion.

Good Vs. Bad Proximity

Elements that are closer together will be perceived as an object. In this example the same dots are used but their proximity creates two lines.




The principle of repetition states

your work. When you make headlines

recognize.You already use repetition in

be anything that a reader will visually

format, spatial relationships, etc. It can

color, design element, particular

font, a thick rule (line), a certain bullet,

The repetitive element may be a bold

design throughout the entire piece.

dimensional by giving a feeling of

dimensional artwork appear three-

space can be used to make a two-

feeling of depth. However, the same

lie on the same plane. There is no

flat because all the objects and forms

example below, the image appears

no depth, only length and width. In our

flat surface such as a canvas. It has

Two-dimensional space is found on a

our composition.

all the same size and weight, when

depth. Three-dimensional space has

that you repeat some aspect of the

you add a rule a half-inch from the

width, height and depth.

Positive Space

bottom of each page, when you use

Negative Space

the same bullet in each list throughout the project- these are all examples of repetition. What beginners often need to do is push this idea further- turn that inconspicuous repetition into a visual key that ties the publication together. Repetition can be thought of as “consistency�. As you look through an eight-page newsletter, it is the repetition of certain elements, their consistency, that makes each of those




impacts on and affects the reading of

complementary to one another. One

dimension and three-dimension art and

composition. They occur in both two-

factors to be considered in every good

and negative space are important

positive and negative. Both positive

There are two types of space in art:

if a piece looks interesting, it is more

power of the visual interest of a page-

visual interest. Don’t underestimate the

of repetition is to unify and to add

its cohesive look and feel. The purpose

page 6, then the entire newsletter loses

repetitive elements carried over from

same newsletter. If page 7 has no

eight pages appear to belong to the

likely to be read.

the other. Positive space is the “occupied� areas in a work of art that is filled with something such as, lines, colors and shapes. It is the primary subject matter of a painting; the animals, plants, building, mountain, vase, people, etc., that forms your area-of-interest. It dominates the eye and is the focal point in a composition. Negative space (a.k.a. whitespace in page layout), is the unoccupied areas that surround the subject matter. It is more passive in nature and is defined by the edges of the positive space it surrounds. It is what gives definition to




contrast. Contrast adds variety to the

greater the difference the greater the

two related elements are different. The

Contrast in art and design occurs when

contrast are by creating differences in:

The most common ways of creating

make sure the differences are obvious.

The key to working with contrast is to

and helps to guide the viewer around

draws the viewer’s eye into the painting

• alignment

• shape

• size

total design and creates unity. It is what

the art piece.

components in any design becomes

of contrast. Too much similarity of the

Most designs require a certain amount

Contrast in art also adds visual interest.

• texture

• type

• color

• value

• movement

• direction

monotonous. In other words the use of too little contrast can cause a design to be bland and uninteresting. On the other hand too much contract can be confusing. Just the right amount of contrast engages the viewer’s participation in comparing various components of the work. For instance, the viewer will compare light and dark areas of a painting, wide lines and thin lines, light-weight forms and heavy forms, filled spaces and unfilled spaces, etc.


*Final Project DL.indd @ 100%  

Design Principles of 2009 Sources 21 prin- ciples

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