Design Principles 101

Design principles are the rules or laws of designing. In other words, to have a decent or good design, you should think through these principles for the finest design possible.

The key distinction between principles and elements is that principles are rules you have to follow and elements are things that will help or aid you accomplish those rules for the best task result.

In this article, we are going to consider seven design principles; namely contrast, emphasis, balance, unity, pattern, movement, and rhythm. Take into consideration each of these for your design project and you’ll be assured of a great design.

Seven basic design principles:

Contrast means showing a difference in two different sections of the design or showing somehow that the design being made or created is very different from other designs because of its contrast. Contrast can also be used to show emphasis in any part of the design. Hence contrast is the use of opposite or unlike elements to emphasize differences and add interest.

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As important as contrast is Emphasis. This is given to an area within the design because that area is meant to be seen or is more important or relevant to be noticed when compared to other places of the design. Emphasis is also used by designers to create dominance and focus in their design or work. Designers can emphasize color, value, shapes, or other art elements to achieve dominance. Various kinds of contrast can be used to emphasize a center of interest. For example, your design might have parallel lines going up and down. In the center of this design could be a square. This square would be a part on the design that is emphasized.

parallel (emphasis)

Balance is the distribution of visual weight of designed element within a composition. Well we can also say it is visual stability achieved by placing equal visual or actual weight on opposite sides of an imaginary central axis. For instance, a balanced pattern would be if you had a border on your pattern in black. Unbalanced would be if approximately one-third of the border was red and the other two-thirds in pink. To keep your art work or design balanced, make your measurements as accurate as possible. Keeping your design symmetric is a good technique for all types of designs.

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Unity is the degree of arrangements existing among the design elements. Unity means that a congruity or arrangement exists among the elements in a design; they look as though they belong together, as though some visuals connection beyond mere chance has caused them together. Unity helps the design to be seen as one design instead of randomness all around your design.

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Pattern is simply keeping your design in a certain or a particular format. For example, you could plan to have wavy lines all around your design as a pattern, but then you must continue those wavy lines throughout the design for good patterns. Pattern uses the art elements in planned or random repetition to enhance surfaces. Designers use repeated motifs to create pattern in their work or design.

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Movement is the suggestion or illusion of motion in a painting, sculpture, or design. For example, circles going diagonally up and down from right to left could show that the design moves up and to the right or down and to the left. Movement is also the way the designer or artist leads the eye in, around, and through a composition. Movement in a visual image occurs when objects seem to be moving in a visual image. Movement in a visual image comes from the kinds of shapes, forms, lines, and curves that are used.

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Rhythm is the movement or variation characterized by the regular recurrence or alternation of different quantities or conditions. In simpler words, it’s just like pattern and shows that the design has a ‘beat’ or ‘flow’ going with it. Movement and rhythm work together to create the visual equivalent of a musical beat. A plain white box has almost no rhythm what so ever. Rhythm can also be regarded  as repetition of visual movement of the elements–colors, shapes, lines, values, forms, spaces, and textures. Variety is essential to keep rhythms exciting and active, and to avoid monotony. Movement and rhythm work together to create the visual equivalent of a musical beat.

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So there it is! Seven design principles to follow for your next design project. Follow the Thrive blog to read my next article on ‘Elements of Design’

Principles of Design, written by Gilbert Godwyll for the THRIVE blog, on