The 12 Principles of Design


Arrangement of visual elements within the design is essential for designers to consider when creating their artwork. Effective use of design can help communicate powerful messages that leave an impact on viewers long after they have seen an individual image.


An unattractive design that has not been properly considered can confuse viewers, causing them to disengage from the artwork entirely.


What Makes Good Design?

While there are no hard and fixed rules as to what makes for a good design, understanding the fundamentals of design is essential for anyone who wishes to engage in effective visual communication. You want your design to clearly communicate its message in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to your audience.


The first step towards developing your design skills is to be sure you have a solid understanding of the 12 principles of design. These design basics will help to build your art vocabulary and provide a common language to examine these concepts on your own.


 

12 Design Principles - Contrast

01. Contrast


What

Contrast is the difference between various elements within a design, that makes them stand out from each other.


Why

Contrast is a very important aspect of creating accessible designs. Insufficient contrast can make text content in particular very difficult to read, especially for people with visual impairments.


How

Any number of visual elements can be contrasted within a design including colour, shape, pattern, and use of space.


 

12 Design Principles - Balance

02. Balance


What

Every element of a design carries a visual weight. The way these elements are laid out on a page should create a feeling of balance.


Why

Balance provides viewers with a sense of harmony and is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.


How

There are two basic types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical.


Symmetrical designs layout elements of equal weight on either side of an imaginary centre line. Note that while balance is essential for an effective design, symmetry is not necessary to achieve balance.


Asymmetrical balance occurs when you have unequal or dissimilar visual elements on both sides of a central line. However, even asymmetrical compositions can achieve visual balance.


 

12 Design Principles - Emphasis

03. Emphasis


What

Emphasis allows for specific parts within the design to stand out from other elements. Conversely, it can also be used to minimize how much an element stands out (such as fine print).


Why

It helps direct the viewer’s attention to a desired focal point or multiple points of focus but can also be used to reduce the impact of certain information.


How

Emphasis can be created by manipulating any number of visual elements within the design. Colour, shape, rhythm, and movement can all be used to create emphasis.

 

12 Design Principles - Proportion

04. Proportion


What

Proportion is the comparative relationship between visual elements, particularly as they relate to each other in terms of size, shape, and scale.


Why

Proportion signals what’s important in a design and what isn’t. Larger elements are more important, smaller elements are less.


How

Simply put, it’s the size of elements in relation to one another.


 

12 Design Principles - Hierarchy

05. Hierarchy


What

Hierarchy refers to the importance of elements within a design. The most important elements should appear to be the most important, and vice versa.


Why

A design with clear hierarchy can attract, intrigue and allow viewers to read a message easily. Failing to establish a clear visual hierarchy can confuse viewers as it leaves them without a clear visual guide.


How

Visual hierarchy is communicated through a number of design elements including size, colour, and spatial composition. By giving more weight in order to highlight important visual elements, it creates hierarchy structure.


 

12 Design Principles - Repetition

06. Repetition


What

Repetition occurs when an element or elements of a design appears more than once within the composition.


Why

Repetition reinforces an idea or perception, provides rhythm to your design and helps maintain overall visual unity.


How

It can be done in a number of ways: via repeating the same colours, typefaces, shapes, motif or other elements of a design.


 

12 Design Principles - Rhythm

07. Rhythm


What

Rhythm is created when a series of visual elements are repeated within a single design. The spacing between elements can create a sense of rhythm, either regular or irregular.


Why

Visual rhythm helps establish the tone and mood of an artwork; creates a variety of emotions, including calmness (with regular rhythms) and excitement (with irregular rhythms).


How

Any visual element can be repeated to create rhythm, and you can repeat more than one element within a single design.

There are five basic types of visual rhythm that designers can create: random, regular, alternating, flowing, and progressive.


 

12 Design Principles - Pattern

08. Pattern


What

Pattern is a repetition of multiple design elements working together in a consistent arrangement.


Why

Pattern creates an attraction to the eye and aids in providing visual harmony and overall design unity.


How

Patterns can refer to repetition of design elements (as seen in things like wallpaper patterns).

They can also refer to set standards for how certain elements are designed (such as top navigation).


 

12 Design Principles - Negative Space

09. Negative Space


What

Negative space, also known as white space, is the areas of a design that do not include any design elements.


Why

By creating negative space, it gives a design room to breathe. Negative space can also help highlight specific content or specific parts of a design.


How

The negative space is, effectively, empty!

For a text design, negative space includes the spaces between words, the spaces between lines of text, and the spaces in the margins.


Note: while negative space may be referred to as white space, the space itself can be of any colour.


 

12 Design Principles - Movement

10. Movement


What

Movement refers to the way the eye travels over a design. The most important element should lead to the next most important and so on.


Why

Movement implies action and provides energy and dynamism. Designs which lack sufficient movement can appear dull to viewers.


How

Use of rhythm, line, colour, balance, and pattern are a few examples of visual elements that can aid the development of movement within a design.


 

12 Design Principles - Variety

11. Variety


What

Variety in a design refers to the use of multiple visual elements within a single composition.


Why

Variety creates visual interest to capture viewer’s attention and make an artwork more interesting. Without variety, a design can very quickly become monotonous, causing the user to lose interest.


How

Variety can be created in a variety of ways, through colour, typography, images, shapes, and virtually any other design element.


Note: designs with too many visual elements can lead to a breakdown in the overall cohesion of the piece, muddle your message and confuse viewers. Keep in mind to develop the appropriate balance between unity and variety in every artwork.


 

12 Design Principles - Unity

12. Unity


What

Unity refers to how well the individual elements of a design work together. Visual elements should have clear relationships with each other in a design.


Why

Unity helps ensure concepts are being communicated in a clear, cohesive and aesthetic pleasing. Unity enables the viewer to make sense of your design as a whole.


How

Use of rhythm, line, colour, balance, and pattern are a few examples of visual elements that can aid the development of movement within a design.


 

In conclusion, what constitutes the “principles of design" is certainly up for debate. But understanding and implementing the principles covered above is vital to the success of any design project.


Good design is possible without understanding the principles of design. But it may take a lot of trial and error to create something that both looks good and creates an optimal user experience.

As a designer, you will return to the principles of visual design time and time again as you continue to progress. Also studying how other designers have implemented these ideas to structure their own designs is also an incredibly valuable tool in learning to create better designs.


 

Source:

  1. digitalsynopsis.com/design/design-principles

  2. toptal.com/designers/ui/principles-of-design

  3. wyzant.com/blog/12-fundamental-principles-of-design-explained