Elements and Principles of Design

Video Source: The Fundamental Elements of Design from Erica Gorochow on Vimeo.

After exploring “What is design?“, naturally the next stop was to learn about the fundamentals of design. By fundamentals, I mean the Elements and Principles of Design. By all means, this was the most confusing topic I have ever researched upon. Oh, the information available is plentiful. In fact, When I turned to Google for help, it gave me no less than 40, 100, 000 search results. But, the obstacle was to go through them and come up with my own conclusions.

So, this is merely my research notes after those long hours spent trying to make sense of what, why and how – about the elements and principles of design. You can find most of the links I found useful in the Reference section, towards the bottom of this post.


Elements of Design

The elements of design are the basic building blocks which are used to create the design.


A line is the continuous movement of a point along a surface. A line is a mark between 2 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 like stressing a word, connecting content to one another, creating patterns and much more. Line is the element of art that is used to define shape contours and outlines. Line may be a continuous mark or may be implied by the edges of shapes and forms. Line has many different characteristics and may be thick or thin, long or short, and curved or straight.


The distance or area around, between or within components of the design is called space. Space falls into two categories: positive space and negative space. Positive space refers to the area that a shape or form occupies. Negative space is the space around the object. Both negative and positive spaces play an important role in design.


It is the surface quality or feel and can be tactile or implied. Texture is the surface quality of an object. There are two categories of texture: real texture and implied texture. Real texture refers to how the object would feel if it was touched. Implied texture refers to something that has been made to look as if it has texture through drawing or painting techniques (ie: a drawing of a tree with rough looking bark).


Shape/Form gives definition to the objects. Shape is the element of design that occurs when a line intersects itself or another line to enclose a space. Three-dimensional shapes are called forms. Both shape and form can be either geometric or organic.

Colour/ Value

It is used to draw attention and can invoke mood or emotion. Colour is described with the words hue, value and intensity. Hue refers to the name of the colour, value is the lightness/darkness of the colour and intensity is the amount of saturation in the hue.


Principles of Design

Principles of design are the laws used to create the design using some or all of the relevant elements.


Unity is the organization of the elements and principles into a cohesive and pleasing whole design or composition.


Balance is the weighted relationship between the visual elements. Balance can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance refers to an item that looks the same on both sides of a line drawn through the center. Asymmetrical balance is when an item creates a feeling of equal weight on both sides even though they do not look the same.


Rhythm is the repetition of an element to achieve movement in a composition. It allows the eye to move from one part of a design to another part.


Proportion refers to the relationship between one part of a design to another. It is a comparison of sizes, shapes and quantities.


Emphasis refers to the focus of attention in the composition. It is the quality that draws the viewer’s attention to a certain part of the design.

Similarity and Contrast

An effective use of contrast enables you to add interest to your design by highlighting specific graphic elements. This will result in a more visually striking composition. To achieve this ‘contrast’ is employed as a means of creating a visual hierarchy among different graphic elements. It can be applied to graphic elements, as light, dark, warm, cool, large, small; etc.

Contrast is most effective when it is strong; the focal point of a design is usually a result of contrast where the eyes will naturally be drawn. Here contrast can be used to direct the focus of a composition. When used as a device to emphasize or highlight design elements it is important to remember that an ineffective use of contrast may result in confusion.


The principle of proximity calls for related items to be grouped visually, creating less clutter and making for a more organized layout. Items unrelated to each other should be placed further apart, to emphasize their lack of relationship.


Hierarchy arranges elements to create focal points by positioning their priority within a concept as a whole.




So, What do you think?

The elements and principles of design that I have listed here are basically what I have ended up with by comparing numerous sources. This is not an accurate list but it gives you the idea.

Have I missed or mixed-up anything?

Let me know in the comments section below. You can also e-mail me or follow me on twitter.