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MASTERING THE PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN WILL MAKE YOUR DESIGNS BETTER

September 3, 2023

Do you want to create your own designs but aren’t sure where to start? Try not to get overwhelmed, there are some rules you can follow called principles of design. If you aren’t interested in creating your own design, you should still know the principles of design basics so you know what to look for in the designs you commission.

What are the Principles of Design?

The principles of design are standard guidelines to help people of all design skills create a beautiful composition.

Principles of Design Basics

Balance

You might not think that objects in a design carry weight, but they do. It’s called visual weight. This weight can come from color, size, or texture. Balance is all about how you place objects within a design to create balance.

There are two different methods for balance.

Symmetry (formal balance) is what most people probably think of as balance. Symmetry is when objects are arranged evenly within a composition. Usually, this means objects on both sides of the centerline.

two giraffes facing opposite directions perfectly symmetrical

Asymmetry (informal balance) is an accepted way to break the rules of balance. You arrange objects unevenly, with more objects tending to be one side of the centerline than the other.

5 boxes on one side of a seesaw and 1 box on the other side of the seesaw

White Space

While being an element of contrast, many find white space to be important enough to be its own principle.

It can also be known as negative space. This is because it’s all about empty space within the composition. When used correctly, white space can emphasize other objects within your design.

Many people associate white space with the chance to let the design breathe.

white tote bag with pink, bright blue, orange, bright green, purple popsicles on a chair with a bookshelf in the background

Contrast

Have you ever heard a person say that a design “pops?” This is due to contrast. Contrast creates differences within a design. This can be done through space, color, and shapes. Color tends to be the easiest way to create contrast for people.

Think black and white, light and dark, and big and small.

Balance plays an important role in contrast. If everything is bold and carries the same weight, then nothing is bold. It all meshes together.

thin red lines and thick white lines going across a black background image

Dominance/ Emphasis

Dominance is all about emphasis. You can emphasize things with size, color choice, and color combinations. There are 3 different stages of dominance in design.

Dominant: The object you put the most emphasis on. If there is something specific that you believe is important, then it should be the dominant object. Dominant objects tend to be in the center of the composition.

Sub-dominant: Objects that are the second most important within the composition. You usually put these objects in the middle ground.

Subordinate: Objects that are the least important and are found in the background.

chess board with chess pieces on it, white pieces are blurry in the front, there's a single clear white piece in the middle, then blurry black pieces in the background

Proportion

Also known as scale, this principle is all about the visual weight and size of all the elements in a design. The larger the object, the more you’re conveying its importance.

It’s also crucial that all these objects work with one another. The size of one object can help emphasize another.

Shower curtain with watermelon slices of different sizes with a bright green and white striped background hanging over a bathtub in a bathroom

Movement

Movement is the way the eye goes over a design. You use movement to tie one element to another. You can create movement with shapes, colors, and lines. Lines are the easiest way to convey movement within a design.

Arrows of various colors curving upwards

Unity

Unity is all about how elements work together within a design. If you don’t have proper unity, then people will feel like something is off, even if they can’t put their finger on it. Unity is crucial if you don’t have a specific object that’s important.

bulldog face filled with various colors and abstract patterns and red glasses on white canvas

Repetition

Some people may think repetition is a bad thing, but when done correctly, it can really strengthen a design. If you have a more creative design that’s a little wild, repetition can ground the work, making it more appealing for consumers.

Doughnuts of various colors in vertical lines on a white curtain secured in front of a window

Rhythm

Rhythm is not just for music, it’s also a classic principle of design. In visual art, rhythm is referring to the space between objects within a composition. There are actually 5 different rhythms that can appear in a design.

  • Random rhythm doesn’t have a specific pattern.
  • Regular rhythm does have a pattern.
  • Alternating rhythm is when there is a set pattern, but variations within the pattern.
  • Flowing rhythm works with movement by following bends and curves.
  • Progressive rhythm is a rhythm that changes as it goes along, and each change builds off the other one.
white shower curtain with blue, green, and yellow lines forming loose shapes in a loose pattern, there's a two wooden tables next to the bathtub

How Many of these Principles Did You Recognize?

After learning the principles of design basics, how many do recognize from your everyday life? They’re everywhere right? Did any of these principles give you an idea for a new design? Let us know on Instagram or Twitter!

If you want to learn more interesting art lessons, check out our color theory blog or our blog about the psychology of color.

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