You’re probably wondering what makes good design and how you can create visual materials that stand out.
While no one can answer this question in just one paragraph, you should know that there are a few elements and principles of design that can make your work much more manageable.
The elements of design are the parts that define the visual, the tools and components that a person uses to create a composition. In other words, they represent the base of graphic design.
The principles of design, on the other hand, are all about how a person uses the elements to create a visual and convey a message.
These elements and principles of design represent a set of guidelines that have the purpose of helping you create aesthetically pleasing visuals.
The most significant difference between elements and principles is that the latter can be labeled as rules, while elements are the components that are going to help you follow those rules for the best design outcome.
And even though rules can be broken, they have been created for a reason.
Design is all about carefully combining design elements and using the right principles to create a visual representation of an idea.
In today’s article, I will walk you through some of the most essential elements and principles of design that will hopefully provide the inspiration you need for your next projects.
Elements Of Design
Lines are the most basic element of design, and they make up pretty much everything. They can also be defined as linear marks that can describe a shape or outline something.
You’ll often see that lines are also used to create perspective or evoke a certain feeling. They can be thick or thin, vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, or they can create texture. A straight line can send the feel of order and neatness, while a wavy line can create movement.
A technique that’s often used with lines is directing the eye towards a particular area of a design. You can play around with this type of element and see how you can implement it in your visual materials.
Color is one of the most important elements of design because they can evoke certain emotions. It’s well-known that the color red is usually associated with love, passion, or anger.
There are also cultural differences that you need to take into account when using colors in design. For example, a color that’s happy in a particular country can send negative emotions in another one.
Also, something as simple as changing the hue or the saturation can send a different type of feeling.
Color has three different properties:
- Hue, which is the color name;
- Saturation refers to how intense the hue is;
- Value refers to the lightness and darkness of the hue.
You can use color as a background, or to support other elements in your design. Combining colors between them is the key to creating a visual that matches your brand.
I talked above how lines can create shapes, among other things. By reversing this, we can define shapes as something enclosed by lines, which are its boundaries.
Shapes can be geometric (rectangle), realistic (animals), or abstract (icons), and they have two dimensions: height and width.
If you want to suggest feminity, then you can use curvy shapes such as circles. If, on the other hand, you want to induce a more masculine feeling, then use angular shapes.
You’ll often hear people refer to space as white space or negative space, which can be defined as the space between or around objects.
If you want to be creative with your designs, you can leverage negative space by manipulating it and forming an object, a shape, or an animal. When you use it strategically, you can genuinely create stunning designs that draw people’s attention.
Symmetry is one of those things that us, humans, find extremely pleasing. According to science, this happens because we love familiarity and when we see something that has symmetry in it, it’s easy for us to recognize it. It’s also one of the shortcuts we use to make sense of the world around us.
There are plenty of brands, such as Starbucks, Target, or Chanel, that use symmetry in their logos, and not only in their designs.
However, note that there’s a fine line between symmetry and making it seem like the other side of the design was copied and pasted from the other one. It’s recommended not to strive for perfect symmetry but to add elements that suggest this idea.
Scale refers to the size of an element in relation to another one, and it can help bring balance, proportion, and hierarchy in any design.
Usually, scale is used in design to represent the accurate size of an object or to emphasize the difference in size between two objects. However, if you want to create something that you will make an impact on your audience, then it’s best if you forget about scaling objects according to reality.
For example, you can make an elephant dramatically smaller than a cat and make the cat the size of a dinosaur.
If you want to draw attention to a particular object, then this is the way to go.
Texture refers to the surface quality of a design, which can be smooth, rough, glossy, etc. It can be physical or visual. For the purpose of this article, we’ll talk about visual texture.
Clean designs are nice and all but adding a little bit of texture can make it pop even more. You can use it to accentuate a specific part of your visual, so you draw people’s attention to the dominant part.
The use of a font or a background image that mimics a particular texture is going to help you create a memorable design.
Direction not only gives the illusion that there’s movement in your design, but it also lets people know where to look and how to move their eyes across the visual.
Generally, the human eye starts with the top left of a page and then gravitates towards the bottom right corner so you can take advantage of this pattern whenever you’re designing.
Principles of Design
You know how sometimes you look at a design, whether it’s a poster or a banner ad, and everything feels right about it? That means the composition is balanced.
Balance is all about how your elements weigh in the visual, and it can be achieved through symmetry, asymmetry, or radial symmetry.
Shapes, colors, objects, textures, or values can create balance in a design. This is an essential principle because imbalance can cause discomfort for the viewer.
When you want to emphasize key elements in your design and make it pop, then using this principle is one of the best things you can do. Contrast helps you grab people’s attention and generate interest in your visual by making an object more distinguishable than the other objects present in the design.
A good example of contrast is negative space or the use of complementary colors, which is going to redirect someone’s attention to a particular portion of the visual. Other common forms of contrast are dark vs. light, large vs. small, or thick vs. thin.
Another significant advantage of using contrast is the fact that it improves the design’s readability and legibility.
Repetition is boring and monotonous only when there’s no variation. When some degree of variation is added to a design where certain elements are being repeated, it changes everything.
You can repeat colors, fonts, shapes, and other objects to create consistency and unity. Moreover, repetition is a crucial principle in branding because it’s going to keep your design on the same level.
Emphasis is all about highlighting the most important area in your design. For example, if you want to accentuate the headline in your visual, then make sure to use a font size that will stand out and will draw people’s attention. Similarly, you can utilize a bold color to make the text pop.
If you want to make a particular element more prominent, you can use scale to make it bigger or smaller than it is in real life.
Let’s say that you want to use a bunny in your design. You can make it look humongous, or you can make its eyes look bigger and bolder.
You’ve probably heard before someone explaining a piece of art as having a lot of movement. Even though a visual is static, it can still give the feeling as if the design is actually moving.
For movement, you can use shapes, lines, edges, or color, the purpose being to direct the human eye.
When designing something, you can take advantage of certain elements to control how the human eye travels over a design.
Unity is all about how the different elements of your design come together and form a relationship. You’ve most likely seen before designs that give you the impression that the fonts and everything else were chosen at random, so there wasn’t any sense of unity.
All the visual elements you use in your design should be connected to one another. Also, unity is going to help you communicate your message in a clear, organized, and concise manner.
The same way spaces between musical notes create rhythm, spaces between design elements can give rhythm as well to a visual.
Visual rhythms can be regular, flowing, progressive, random, and alternating.
Regular rhythm is when the spacing between elements is the same. The flowing rhythm gives a sense of movement through curves and bends. Progressive rhythm is all about changing and iterating with each step. The random rhythm doesn’t have any clear pattern. Alternating rhythm uses a set of patterns.
Graphic design has its principles and rules that you generally need to follow to create stunning visuals. You can learn some things by following these principles and using the elements I talked about, but in the end, you’ll also do a lot of learning on your own.
Trust your instinct, take every principle with a grain of salt, and feel free to dismiss any rule when you feel like it doesn’t make sense to apply it.
As a beginner, however, these elements and principles of design will definitely come in handy and will help you develop a personal style.
If you have any other tips you’d like to share, feel free to leave us a comment.