The Elements of Design are the individual pieces that combine together to make up a design solution. The Principles of Design are how designers arrange these elements. How we apply both the Elements and Principles determine how successful the design is.
The Elements of Design
Simply, a line is a mark between two points. There are various types of lines, from straight to squiggly to curved and more. Lines can be used for a wide range of purposes: stressing a word or phrase, connecting content to one another, creating patterns and much more.
Height + Width = Shape. We have all learned basic shapes in school – triangles, squares, circles, rectangles and so on. Odd or lesser seen shapes can be used to attract attention. There are three basic types of shape: geometric (triangles, squares, circles, etc), natural (leaves, animals, trees, people) and abstract (icons, stylizations, graphic representations etc).
Color is used to generate emotions, define importance, create visual interest and more. Color can be created by adding or subtracting from other colors. The CMYK color model (cyan/mageneta/yellow/black) is subtractive and is seen in printed materials; The RGB color model (red/green/blue) is additive and is seen on computer monitors and televisions. Some colors are warm and active (oranges, reds); some are cool and passive (blues, purples). There are various color types (primary to analogous) and relationships (monochromatic to triad) worth learning more about as well.
Value is how light or dark an object appears. A gradient or ramp is a great way to visualize value – illustrating the tones from black to white and all the shades in-between. Use value to create depth and light; to create a pattern; to lead the eye; or to emphasize.
Size is how small or large something is: a small shirt vs. an extra large shirt, for example. Use size to define importance, create visual interest in a design (via contrasting sizes), attract attention to specific areas of your design and more.
Space is the area around or between elements in a design, and is described in terms of positive and negative. It can be used to separate or group information as well. Use it effectively to give the eye a rest, define importance, lead the eye through a design and more.
Texture relates to the surface of an object- the look or feel of it. Concrete has a rough texture; a mirror has a smooth and subtle texture. Using texture in design is a great way to add depth and visual interest. Printed material has actual, textile texture while screen material has implied texture.
The Principles of Design
Unique elements in a design should stand apart from one another. One way to do this is to use contrast. Good contrast in a design – which can be achieved using elements like color, tone/value, size/shape and direction – allows the viewer’s eye to flow naturally.
Proper alignment in a design means that every element in it is visually connected to other elements and the frame as well. Alignment allows for cohesiveness; nothing feels out of place or disconnected when alignment has been handled well.
Repetition breeds cohesiveness in design. Once a design pattern has been established – for example, a dotted border or a specific typographic styling – repeat this pattern to establish consistency. The short version: establish a style for each element in a design and use it on similar elements.
Proximity allows for visual unity in a design. If two elements are related to each other, they should be placed in close proximity to one another. Doing so minimizes visual clutter, emphasizes organization, and increases viewer comprehension.
Many thanks to the great studio of Paper Leaf for designing these posters and making them available for educational use!