Elements and principles of design


What is design?


Design is everywhere. Its what drew you to the last piece of furniture you bought and its what  made online banking possible. Its made taxi cabs easier to get in and out of and it made Coco Chanel’s name. Its driving  whole  business cultures and making sure environments from hospitals to airports are easier to navigate.

Design could be viewed as an activity that translates an idea into a blueprint for something useful, whether it’s a car, a building, a graphic, a service or a process.

Scientists can invent technologies, manufacturers can make products, engineers can make them function and marketers can sell them, but only designers can combine insight into all these things and turn a concept into something that’s desirable, viable, commercially successful and adds value to people’s lives.

But good design isn’t simply about the surface. Aesthetics are important, but only a part of a bigger picture.


Elements of  design 

  1. Lines
  2. Dots
  3. Shape
  4. Form
  5. Space
  6. Texture
  7. Value



  • Since lines can be straight, curved, or irregularly shaped, you can also think of a line as the track of a point in motion.
  • Vertical lines can stop eye movement.
  • They also equate to power and strength.
  • Horizontal lines symbolize rest and relaxation.
  • Diagonal lines are dynamic and action oriented.



lines in nature - zebra
lines  in nature


Lines can be formed into a pattern and are also found in nature. This example here of a zebra is used as a universal code for road crossing due to the prominent stripes on its body.





lines guitar
lines in instruments



Another example here is the strings on the guitar which create music. These strings are an example of lines found in instruments.





lines as a part of human body



Even the human body has lines embedded in its being. This image of a person’s palm shows that lines exist in each one of our bodies, creating a pattern which some choose to believe predicts futures as well.


  • The point serves as the focus of a visual, highlighting or drawing attention to important information.
  • Several points in combination may represent a more complicated object or idea. For example, constellations can be thought of as points in the sky representing the figure we “see.”



ladybug dots nature
dots in nature


Dots can be used to put emphasis on certain objects. Even in nature we see the existence of dots. The example of a ladybug here has its signature dots which is now widely used in designs for children’s cartoons , clothes etc.




dots in outer space



Even in outer space, stars form in line making a constellation all in dots. Here we have an example of Orion’s belt , one of the many known constellations.






twister dots game
dots in game design


Dots can also be used to design many connect the dots indoor and outdoor games. For example, twister is a game in which participants use their body parts to connect the dots given.


  •  A shape is defined as an area that stands out from the space next to or around it due to a defined or implied boundary.
  • A shape is formed when a line encloses an area.
  • Shapes can vary endlessly and can suggest physical form and direct eye movement.


honeycomb shape
shapes in nature


As an example, a honeycomb has multiple cells in hexagonal shapes which can be turned into a pattern as well.






icecream cone shape
shapes in an ice cream cone




This ice cream cone has a conical shape to it with a hemisphere of ice cream on top of it.







cylinder drum
cylindrical shape of a drum


Another example of shape is of a drum which is cylindrical in shape. Its hollow centre produces sound and allows the instrument to create music


  • Form can be thought of as either two dimensional or three dimensional. Two dimensional forms have width and height. They can also create the illusion of three dimensional objects. Three dimensional forms have depth as well as width and height.
  • Form can also be described as either organic or geometric.
  • Organic forms such as snow-covered boulders typically are irregular in outline, and often asymmetrical. Organic forms are most often thought of as naturally occurring.
  • Geometric forms are those which correspond to named regular shapes, such as squares, rectangles, circles, cubes, spheres, cones, and other regular forms.



dice form
form in object


The example here of a dice which is a small cube with spots marking numbers on each of the six sides. Usually used for gambling and in games, a dice is a geometric form.







organic form
organic form



Seashells are organic forms found in nature. They are found at the sea bed , oysters contain precious pearls. The pattern is organic in nature.







geometric blog spiderweb
geometric form

Another example is of a spider web which is a geometric form but occurs organically. The web consists of regular forms in the shape of  hexagons and octagons.


  • Form and shape are areas or masses which define objects in space.
  • Form and shape imply space; indeed they cannot exist without space.
  • The effective placement of objects in relation to the surrounding negative space is essential for success in a composition.


wwf logo space
space in logo


As an example , this logo of  World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) shows great emphasis on negative spacing in the shape of a panda, thus generating focus on the logo itself.





spacing in yin and yang sign


The yin and yang sign represents balance in the universe in its own way. Perfectly balanced negative and positive spacing indicates existence of harmony in the design.


  • Texture is defined as the surface characteristics of a material that can be experienced through the sense of touch or the illusion of touch.
  • Texture can be used to accent an area so that it becomes more dominant than another.
  • In visual images, actual textures can be used, such as cloth, boxes, small objects, and natural items.
  • Textures can be rough, smooth, angular, bumpy, curvy, shiny etc.


satin smooth texture
smooth texture



As an example, this image of a satin fabric sheet here gives an illusion of a soft, smooth and glossy texture.




woven texture
rough/woven texture



This texture here is achieved by weaving fiber. It has a coarse, rough finish which gives us an illusion of it being rough and bumpy in nature.



shiny gold texture



This gold sheet here is reflective in nature. Not very smooth as some uneven surface can be seen but it is reflective and shiny in nature. This texture can also be seen as metallic due to its properties.





  • Value is the relative degree of lightness and darkness in a design element.
  • Value is used to describe objects, shapes, and space.
  • Dark areas tend to denote gloom, mystery, drama, menace etc.
  • Light areas tend to denote happiness, fun, gaiety, warmth, closeness etc.




value droplets
value in nature



As an example, this image of water droplets on a window pain as it has tonal value and the whole theme of the image is cloudy, gloomy weather which the shades of black and grey represent.





value example.jpg
value in composition





Value differentiates as the source of light changes or shifts. In this composition, the source of light is the sunlight and its showcasing the three dimensional nature of the pillars and arches using highlights and shadows.









Principles of design 

1. Static

  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Dominance
  • Variety

2. Dynamic

  • Movement
  • Harmony
  • Repetition
  • Rhythm
  • Pattern


  • unity




  • Balance is a psychological sense of equilibrium.
  • As a design principle, balance places the parts of a visual in an aesthetically pleasing arrangement.
  • In visual images, balance is formal when both sides are symmetrical in terms of arrangement.
  • Balance is informal when sides are not exactly symmetrical, but the resulting image is still balanced.
  • Informal balance is more dynamic than formal balance and normally keeps the learner’s attention focused on the visual message.
  • There are three types of balance: horizontal balance, vertical balance and radial balance.


Taj_Mahal balance
symmetrical balance


Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world is symmetric in terms of balance as the pillars trees and the water body all fall into perfect symmetry , hence the overall result is balanced.






asymmetrical balance

Asymmetrical or formal balance is perceptual.In this image, the hut and the fishing pole are further apart which means there is no symmetry, however the source of light and use of shadows balances the tone of the image.








radial balance
radial balance



Since radial balance is when objects are distributed from the center at equal radius around it, this image is balanced. The pencils all lined up in the center, and are gravitating outwards.




  • Contrast is the juxtaposition of opposing qualities next to each other.
  • Contrast can be created using textures , structures and colors.
  • Contrast is the art of creating difference. it creates agitation.



color contrast



The color contrast is pretty evident in this image as lights and shadows have been used to create contrast between twin objects.






tonal contrast



Contrast can be seen in this image as the red apple causes agitation in the image amongst the green apples, thus creating a difference.







  • The art of purposely creating attention in a composition is dominance.
  • There is dominance by nature and there is man made dominance.
  • Ways to create dominance are size, contrast, anomaly, color, convergence, framing, depth of field and placement.




dominance with color


In this image, a viewer’s attention will be drawn to the red heart in the middle of the composition. Amongst the black spades, the heart stands out creating emphasis using color and framing as a medium. Also, the absence of numeral on the heart card generates attention.






dominance with depth of field



Here, in this image we use perspective and depth of field to focus on the road in the mirror. It is the mirror which is dominating the whole composition , and the rest is blurred.






  • Various types of elements put in a composition together.
  • Variety consists of the differences in objects that add interest to a visual image.
  • Variety can be achieved by using opposites or strong contrasts.
  • Changing the size, point of view, and angle of a single object can add variety and interest to a visual image.
  • Breaking a repeating pattern can enliven a visual image.




variety of colors



Although same spiral objects, different colors give an interesting touch to this composition.





variety of textures



This image has a variety of textures, colors and attributes that add to the image and make it visually pleasing to glance at.








  • Motion or 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.
  • Diagonal lines tend to create the illusion of movement or motion.
  • .Changes in direction, or change in the darkness or lightness of an image can also create a sense of motion.



motion blur




Use of motion blur in this image of wires going in spirals depicts movement. The wires in the distance have been blurred as an effect of motion. This gives an illusion of the object moving.








motion design.jpg
illusion of movement


The tilt in lines causing a diagonal shift gives this hanging lamp an illusion of movement. Also, the play on light and dark colors enhances the depiction o motion.







  • Harmony in visual design means all parts of the visual image relate to and complement each other.
  • Harmony pulls the pieces of a visual image together.
  • Harmony can be achieved through repetition and rhythm.



harmony in advertising


Both these images have a common thing. The harmony that exists in both of them is pulls the images together. Be it the alignment  of the players and their shadows or the flamingos brought together by color. Harmony is how elements talk to each other.


harmony in nature



  • Repetition refers to one object or shape repeated over and over to generate interest.
  • Repetition states that repeating lines, shapes, colors, textures and other visual elements within a composition helps establish a unified, cohesive design.



repetition pattern


In both these images, repetition is used to create a cohesive unit. The corn on the cob as found in later has little corn elements that is consumed as a whole. The chairs are all singular units which come together and create a sitting area for a stadium, thus completing the composition for a greater purpose.


repetition (1)
progressive repetition





  • Rhythm is progression.
  • When elements move in a certain fashion and all elements are in harmony, it creates rhythm.
  • Rhythm can be created when elements progress in size and also when elements progress in flow.
  • Rhythm can’t exist without harmony but harmony can exist without rhythm.



irregularity in rhythm



The flow of rhythm here is not quite organic in nature. The boats here are parked in a rhythmic structure. The shapes, irregularity and clashing colors somehow create harmony in the image.



shadows in rhythm


The shadow play in this image plays a huge role in balancing it in the form of the interest it is generating. The clashing shadows against the lockers create harmony and rhythm in this image.






  • Pattern  is a combination of elements or shapes repeated in a recurring and regular arrangement.
  • Pattern can be found in the areas where there are repeated figures that are different in size but follow a regular, ordered arrangement in their recurrence.
  • In pattern, elements are repeated in the same way throughout the whole composition.
  • Patterns can be natural as well as man made.



man made pattern



As an example of man made pattern, here is an interesting pattern on a fabric. It has repetitive shapes put in a deliberate and figures creating a complete composition.






natural pattern
natural pattern


This image of a wooden block showcases natural pattern found in our environment. The circular markings on the wood are repetitive in nature and create an illusion of roughness as well. The various shades of brown also emphasize the pattern as the outline of each circle is darker than the middle.



  • Unity is the relationship among the elements of a visual that helps all the elements function together. Unity gives a sense of oneness to a visual image. In other words, the words and the images work together to create meaning.
  • Unity helps organize a visual image, facilitating interpretation and understanding.
  • Unity can be achieved through the use of a common background, use of space, use of common pattern and use of similar shapes.




unity 2
unity by space



This image is an example of unity as the use of space is done very carefully. The negative spaces create triangles on each side unifying the image.




Author: jasleenarora01

daydreamer. oniomaniac. sapiosexual.

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