Independent Study in Graphic Design

Jo Ninham

Design Principles and Design Elements

Design Principles

– Balance

Balance in design is similar to balance in physics. A large shape close to the centre can be balanced by a small shape close to the edge. Balance provides stability and structure to a design. Its the weight distributed in the design by the placement of your elements.

– Repetition

Repetition strengthens a design by tying together individual elements. It helps to create association and consistency. Repetition can create rhythm.

– Contrast

Contrast is the juxtaposition of opposing elements (opposite colours on the colour wheel, or value light/dark, or direction – horizontal/vertical). Contrast allows us to emphasize or highlight key elements in your design.

– Pattern

Pattern works with repetition to make the artwork seem active. It helps to create unity within the artwork. Patterns often occur in nature, and artists use similar repeated motifs to create pattern in their work. Pattern increased visual excitement by enriching surface interest.

– Unity

Unity has to do with all elements on a page visually or conceptually appearing to belong together. Visual design must strike a balance between unity and variety to avoid a dull or overwhelming design.

– Hierarchy

The principle of hierarchy determines how important or dominant an element or set of elements is to a design. The most important elements are at the top of the hierarchy, while less important elements are at the bottom. Size, weight, and scale all can contribute to creating a visual hierarchy.

– Proportion

Proportion within a design deals with the relationship between various elements and whether they are pleasing to the eye. It comes down to a mathematical formula, with four ratios being the most pleasing:





These are guidelines and can be kept in mind when visually assessing a design. Most designers do not use rulers or other measuring devices to guarantee these proportions, but they are rules learning and practiced over time.

– Space

Space in art refers to the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within elements. Both positive and negative space are important factors to be considered in every design.

Design Elements

– Line

Lines are another design element that can be used to show direction (where you want the eye to go) and movement. Vertical lines give elegance and elongation to the page, while horizontal lines create a more relaxed feel. Curved lines suggest an organic theme. Repetition of lines, or other elements can be used to also create patterns.

– Shape

A shape is exactly what it sounds like: circles, squares, rectangles and triangles etc. They are all design building blocks. Repeating shapes or grouping them in an organised method works to create patters too.

– Size

In graphic design, size is sussed to convey importance, attract attention and create contrast.

– Texture

Another design tool is texture, which officially is defined as the character of a surface. Texture on paper adds dimension, through repeated dots or lines, for example. Using many different textures can be confusing and work against the overall design of a piece.

– Colour

Any kind of colour adds impact and interest to objects and design. Brighter colours make elements of a design seem larger, while cooler colours make them seem smaller. While there are thousands of shades of colour, designers approach them in three major categories: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.

– Form

Form is another design element that has to do with the appearance of depth. Form gives a three dimensional perspective. Sometimes through drop shadows and tone. While physically occupying space or giving the illusion of occupied space in a flat, two dimensional surface.

– Value

Value is how light or dark an area looks in a design. It is everything from the darkest of blacks through to the brightest of whites. Used correctly it will create depth, contrast and emphasis.

– Typography

Typography refers to which fonts are chosen, their size, alignment, colour and spacing.


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This entry was posted on October 9, 2014 by in Research, Uncategorized.
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