ArtsAlive.ca – Persuading Presence

Elements and Principles of Design

The Principles of Design

The Principles of Design are concepts that refer to the relationships of the elements of design to each other and to the total composition. They guide how we arrange those visible elements to make effective compositions: They include:

Balance

The state of equal relationship; the sense of stability when weight is distributed equally on either side of a vertical axis; a pleasing arrangement of parts in a whole.

There are different kinds of balance:

  • symmetrical balance wherein each side is the mirror-image of the other
  • asymmetrical balance wherein there is a sense of balance achieved through careful planning of elements; ex: three small objects on one side of a page may be arranged to balance one large object on the other
  • radial balance wherein the design elements swirl out from a central axis (star, explosion)

o Refer to the poster Onegin for an example of assymetrical balance.

o Refer to the poster Momix for an example of symmetrical balance.


Unity

The sense of “oneness” in a work of art; the sense that the design components or objects belong together

About unity

  • Unity is achieved by placing components close together (proximity), by repetition, or by creating a sense of flow whereby the eye is led from one aspect of the work to another using line, direction or colour.

Refer to the poster The Amourous Flea for an example of unity.


Variety

The use of different colours, sizes, shapes, etc. to create interest and avoid monotony.

About variety

  • Variety may be achieved by varying aspects of the same theme (see below).

Refer to the poster Ballet Revue for an example of variety.


Harmony

The sense of order or agreement-among the parts of a whole; aesthetically pleasing relationships among parts of a whole.

For example:

  • The harmony of colour in a painting

Refer to the poster The Tempest for an example of harmony.


Movement

The sense that static elements on a page or plane can seem to be in motion, possibly because our brain understands that movement is about to happen or is actually happening.

For example

  • A dancer is balanced so delicately that he must move or fall over; or, running figures are so blurry that our brain attributes speed to them.

Refer to the poster Dance/Danse 95/96 for an example of movement.


Rhythm

The sense that our eyes are being carried from one part of the design or painting to another; this may happen abruptly through the use of jagged lines, abrupt shifts of colour or shape, or in a flowing circular way.

About rhythm

  • Repetition of line or other elements create rhythm, and also mood (calm, restful versus unsettled or dangerous.)

Refer to the poster Ballet Revue for an example of movement.


Emphasis

The center of attention, achieved by:

  • size: a larger object dominates smaller objects
  • colour: one bright colour against subdued colours catches the eye
  • contrast: the juxtaposition of black and white, dark and light highlights differences
  • position: an object placed in the foreground or the center of a work dominates, as does one in isolation from other objects

Refer to the poster Othello for various examples of emphasis.

Other Principles of Design include: tension, proportion, pattern