Basic Elements & Principles of Design

Basic Elements & Principles of Design

I started this blog with the beginning of the creative process:  Inspiration and How to Thrive in Creativity. I did that on purpose so that we can roll right into the basics and principles of design. What are the basic principles? Just like when you pick up any skill or hobby, you have to start from the beginning and work to where you want to be. There have been many articles and books about basics; and to my surprise, they all have different numbers of basic elements of design. Some have 5, some 8, some even 15. I’ll keep it simple and talk about the basics I keep in mind the most.

1. Let’s talk about contrast! What is contrast? Do you ever design something, or even tell someone about a certain design, that something needs to “pop more?” That’s referring to the contrast. The contrast of a design refers to how the different elements compare to one another, particularly the elements adjacent to one another. The differences make various elements stand out better.

 2. Balance in a design is important. Ever look at a magazine and think “well, that seems off or out of place?” Chances are the design wasn’t balanced. Elements in a design carry a certain weight. Some graphics are heavy, which draw the eye straight to it, and some graphics/elements are subtle that add to the overall atmosphere of the design. The way graphics and elements are laid out in a design should create a certain visual balance. There are 2 types of balance:
      – Symmetrical: This type of balance layout elements of equal weigh on either side of the design. Think about it as there is a line straight down the canvas; if they are laid out perfectly on each side, you have a symmetrically balanced design!

      – Asymmetrical: Asymmetrical balance uses elements of weight that’s not centered in the overall design.

3. Proportion is the size of elements in relation to each other. It signals what’s important and what’s just an additive graphic in the design. Pick up a magazine and find an ad. What’s the first thing your eye is drawn to? The first thing your eye is drawn to is a graphic that is probably larger in size and positioned next to a smaller element. Voila, the beauty of proportion.


4. Repetition is important. It reinforces an idea and unifies the overall design. It brings in a few different elements together. It can be colors, fonts, shapes, or other elements.

5. White Space is a term we probably all heard at one point or another. To be honest, it’s one of those terms I hear people use without them even having a design background. It refers to the ‘negative space’ in a design. Don’t let the name fool you; empty space doesn’t necessarily have to be white. It’s the area of a design that doesn’t have any design elements. It’s effective to leave areas ‘empty’ to naturally guide the eye throughout a design. It serves many purposes and allows elements to breathe. White space can help highlight elements and create a certain atmosphere.

6. Movement refers to the way the eye travels over a design. The natural way is how we read: left to right. However, you can be creative with this one. Just let the most important element in the design lead to the next. It can be the center going out, top to bottom; it’s done through positioning, emphasis (the parts of the design meant to stand out, and other elements.

7. Unity refers to how well all of the elements of a design work together. Unity helps ensure concepts in a cohesive fashion. Designs with unity appear more organized, higher quality, and authority than designs with poor unity.

 These are just elements I encourage to keep in mind when working with a design. Keep in mind there are many more! What about you? What do you try to keep in mind or notice the most?

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