What are the Principals of Design?

Authored by:
Emily
March 8, 2020

When you see a good design, you know it’s good because it’s pleasing to the eye. We all have different tastes when it comes to art and beauty, which makes creating a good design tricky. Fortunately there are some general guidelines that you can follow to create beauty.

Design is a form of art that has a clear, specific purpose. Design work needs to draw attention to a central point of focus, and all the elements in the design must work together to deliver a clear message to the audience.

Many people think that design is simply about creativity. While to some extent, that’s true, a good designer will follow basic rules to help guide the creative mind towards harmony and beauty in their designs. These “rules” are called Design Principles and, when used, can help prevent a design from appearing crowded, muddled, or unfinished. These rules, or suggestions, can help a designer create a clear, stable design that is effective in delivering their message to the audience.

Of course, there are always exceptions! Some groundbreaking designs ignore rules and are still considered design masterpieces. Even if they ignore some principles, they make sure that all the elements have a clear purpose and they guide the eye throughout the design to convey the right message. All the items are in harmony and move together to tell the real story even if they seem random at first.

Here are seven design principles to follow as a good design is a layout of a creative mind guided by some strong design principles:

Seven design principles

 1.    Emphasis

Emphasis is the design principle that catches the attention of the audience. It’s the “bang” of the design and can be obtained through sharp contrast with the rest of the design, but without losing the unity of the whole work. Designers can draw attention to a particular element from their entire design using any or all of the following:

  • Color
  • Size
  • Texture
  • Shapes

The focal point depends on what is essential for the designer. It can be a brand, an event, a certain date, or a very distinctive element. Before even beginning to work, a designer can try to picture the work as a whole and then decide where the emphasis should be. The focal point is the starting point of the story, and the main thing the viewer's eye notices.

2.    Balance and alignment

Design is art with a purpose, with each element having a specific weight created by color, size, or texture. Balance is the distribution of the design elements, colors, texture, or space throughout the whole work. When a design is balanced it is stable and easy to follow.

The balance of designs can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance means that the elements are similar on both sides of the design, whereas asymmetrical balance means the sides are different (but still in harmony with each other). Out of the box designs use something called Radial Balance, where similar elements are arranged around a central point. Designs should have a balance, but the type used depends entirely on the message and the story the designer needs to get across. Symmetrically balanced designs are beautiful and pleasing, but they can sometimes seem dull. Asymmetry can create unique and daring designs, but it is a more dangerous, or risky, approach if not pulled off successfully.

3.    Contrast

Contrast is what makes a design pop out and draws the audience to a specific element. Contrast is an extremely important design principle as it’s the one that sticks in the viewer’s mind for a long time. There are a variety of elements designers use to create contrast and here are just a few:

-       Space

-       Position

-       Form

-       Direction

-       Structure

-       Size

-       Color

-       Texture

-       Density

-       Gravity

Contrasts create sections in your designs and differentiate the elements. One of the most common contrasts is created by using fonts. Great designers use one or two strong fonts in different weights to prevent their message from being diluted throughout the design. Keep in mind, however, that the background and other elements in the design need to be in harmony to make the message readable.

4.    Repetition

Repetition works with patterns to make the design look more active while offering harmony and unity of the work. Patterns strengthen the design by creating a distinctive motif that sticks to the audience's mind. Also, the brand identity is obtained through repetition. 

5.    Proportion

Proportion is the sense of harmony and unity offered by a design in which all the elements interact well with each other. Designers play with sizes, mass, and number of items to draw attention without losing sight of the balance of the whole work. They usually approach the design in sections and then balance the entire composition. Proportion can be obtained if all the elements are well sized and placed with a determined purpose. It should also emerge organically if the design has the correct alignment, balance, and contrast.

6.    Movement

Movement is the path the audience’s eye takes through the design to read the story. There are many things you can use to draw attention to focal points - lines, edges, and shapes, for example. Designers control the elements to guide the eye from one point to another in the right order, so that their message comes across. Items too large or too bold can make it so the eye gets “stuck” in one place, and dilutes the message of the entire work. Harmony and balance are essential to achieve the correct movement.

 7.    White Space

So far we’ve seen that the other principles refer to adding elements to the design. The white space deals with something you don’t add. It means the empty space around the design elements, and it can often make or break a composition. The purpose of the white space is to create hierarchy and organisation.

All the elements of a design are moving parts that tell a story. The designer’s job is to tell this story creatively utilising and combining these design principles.

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