Design Elements and Principles

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Design elements and principles describe fundamental ideas about the practice of good visual design that are assumed to be the basis of all intentional visual design strategies. The elements form the 'vocabulary' of the design, while the principles constitute the broader structural aspects of its composition. Awareness of the elements and principles in design is the first step in creating successful visual compositions. These principles, which may overlap, are used in all visual design fields, including graphic design, industrial design, architecture and fine art.

Design is the organized arrangement of one or more elements and principles (e.g. line color or texture) for a purpose.

The principles of design are as varied as attitudes regarding modern design. They differ both between the schools of thought that influence design, and between individual practicing designers.

Elements of design

Design elements are the basic units of a visual image. These elements include:


Space is the area provided for a particular purpose. It may have two dimensions (length and width), such as a floor, or it may have three dimensions (length, width, and height). Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground. Space refers to the distances or areas around, between or within components of a piece. There are two type of space: positive and negative space. Positive space refers to the space of a shape representing the subject matter. Negative space refers to the space around and between the subject matter.


Line is the basic element that refers to the continuous movement of a point along a surface, such as by a pencil or brush. The edges of shapes and forms also create lines. It is the basic component of a shape drawn on paper. Lines and curves are the basic building blocks of two dimensional shapes like a house's plan. Every line has length, thickness, and direction. There are curve, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, zigzag, wavy, parallel, dash, and dotted lines.


Balance can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Balance also refers to a sense that dominant focal points don't give a feeling of being pulled too much to any specific part of the artwork. Balance can be achieved by the location of objects, volume or sizes of objects, and by color. It can also be achieved by balancing lighter colors with darker colors, or bold colors with light neutral colors.


Color is seen either by the way light reflects off a surface, or in colored light sources. Color and particularly contrasting color is also used to draw the attention to a particular part of the image. There are primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. Complementary colors are colors that are opposite to each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors are used to create contrast. Analogous colors are colors that are found side by side on the color wheel. These can be used to create color harmony. Monochromatic colors are tints and shades of one color. Warm colors are a group of colors that consist of reds, yellows, and oranges. Cool colors are group of colors that consist of purples, greens, and blues.


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, or because of differences of value, color, or texture.[1] Shapes can also show perspective by overlapping. They can be geometric or organic. Shapes in house decor and interior design can be used to add interest, style, theme to a design like a door. Shape in interior design depends on the function of the object like a kitchen cabinet door. Natural shapes forming patterns on wood or stone may help increase visual appeal in interior design. In a landscape, natural shapes, such as trees contrast with geometric such as houses.


Texture is perceived surface quality. In art, there are two types of texture: tactile and implied. Tactile texture (real texture) is the way the surface of an object actual feels. Examples of this include sandpaper, cotton balls, tree bark, puppy fur, etc. Implied texture is the way the surface on an object looks like it feels. The texture may look rough, fizzy, gritty, but cannot actually be felt. This type of texture is used by artist when drawing or painting.


Form is any three dimensional object. Form can be measured, from top to bottom (height), side to side (width), and from back to front (depth). Form is also defined by light and dark. There are two types of form, geometric (man-made) and natural (organic form). Form may be created by the combining of two or more shapes. It may be enhanced by tone, texture and color. It can be illustrated or constructed.


Value is an element of art that refers to the relationship between light and dark on a surface or object and also helps with Form. It gives objects depth and perception. Value is also referred to as tone.

Principles of design

The principles of design govern the relationships of the elements used and organize the composition as a whole. Successful design incorporates the use of the principles and elements to serve the designer's purpose and visual goals. There are no rules for their use. The designer's purpose and intent drives the decisions made to achieve harmony between the elements.

The principles of design consist of:


Unity refers to a sense that everything in a piece of work belongs there, and makes a whole piece. It is achieved by the use of balance, repetition and/or design harmony.


Harmony is achieved through the sensitive balance of variety and unity. Color harmony may be achieved using complementary or analogous colors. Harmony in design is similarity of components or objects looking like these belong together. Harmony may be visually pleasing and harmony is when some of the objects like drapes and couches share a common trait. A common trait between objects could be: color(s), shape(s), texture, pattern(s), material, theme, style, size, or functionality.


Contrast is the occurrence of differing elements, such as color, value, size, etc. It creates interest and pulls the attention toward the focal point.

Repetition (rhythm, pattern)

The recurrence of elements within a piece: colors, lines, shapes, values, etc. Any element that occurs is generally echoed, often with some variation to maintain interest. Rhythm in interior design also may be used to reduce randomness.

Variety (alternation)

The use of dissimilar elements, which creates interest and uniqueness. Variety like a painting or some reflective wood panels added on a plain wall may be used to reduce monotony. Helps infuse color to a house decor to attempt to increase design beauty.

Emphasis (dominance or focal point)

Emphasis refers to areas of interest that guides the eye into and out of the image through the use of sequence of various levels of focal points, primary focal point, secondary, tertiary, etc. Emphasis hierarchy may give direction and organization to a design, and avoid subconscious confusion to sometimes improve the design's visual appeal and style. Emphasis hierarchy or focus is not giving each object in a project equal dominance within a piece of work. Emphasis or dominance of an object can be increased by making the object larger, more sophisticated, more ornate, by placing it in the foreground, or standout visually more than other objects in a project. The primary focus point or area receives the largest emphasis in a room.

Proportion (scale)

Proportion involves the relationship of size between objects. Proportion is also relative sizes of surface areas of different colors. Proportion also depends on functionality of object. Art painting can be given the correct size in relation to room to make it an effective decorating component or source of color.


A design must have good functionality. Proper functionality is simply the best possible design and best possible location of this design that the occupant(s) requires. Such designs are clean, nearly sterile, tidy, brightly lit, warm, visually appealing, is relatively dry, has relatively clean and healthy breathing air, and exceeds high level health and safety standards. Great functionality and best possible materials for the function usually also increases visual appeal.


Proximity is the placing of similar objects closer together physically, and unlike objects further apart. This aids in creating unity. For example, different furniture styles with different colors compressed in a small bedroom does not look as nice as the same furniture placed further apart in a very large living room.

Decluttering, organization and harmonization of accessories

Neatness or tidyness, clean rooms, construction precision and organization in architecture and home appliances is important. When there is too much storage in rooms, work space must be made by decluttering, organizing and general cleaning. Collected clutter may hide the initial showcase visual appeal of a room. Clutter also makes a room more laborious to clean.

Lighting coloration

Light coloration is important to setting the mood in a photograph or work of visual art. Using various types of lights can denote specific mood changes. For example, a red-light may be used to denote an alert of some sort in the form of a beacon. Differences in lighting can affect the mood as well. Halogen lamps and fluorescents can give a cooler feel to visual design works. These can be replicated through psychological studies.[citation needed] In digital mediums, lighting can be applied through a variety of filters. For example, filtering out noise and changing hues in a subtle manner can give a simple but tolerable logo feel to a red-alert beacon.

Design methods

Despite the design rules and guidelines, the designer still has to make an attractive design, and perhaps using some of these methods. Design by experimentation: experimenting with different shapes, materials, sizes of shapes to optimize functionality and aesthetics of design. Design by modification: modifying an existing design to improve the aesthetics and functionality of a design. Design by chance: for example scribbling some lines and curves randomly with a pencil on a piece of paper then choose a shape outline seen in it that may be used as a wood table top. Design by sketching: sketches and drawings can be easily modified. Design using a mood board: photographs of lamps and couches, paint swatches, wood samples, textile samples, and room sketches can be placed on the mood board to help visualize a room design. Design in the mind: visualize pleasing designs of rooms and houses in the mind. Design with "direct" method: direct is abbreviation for describe, investigate, record, evaluate, construct, and try. This involves describing design requirements, investigating design requirements and feasibility, recording design progress and plans, evaluating the design to see if design requirements were met, constructing the design, and then trying or testing the home design and problem solving. Making a new great design is not automatic, it is created and then it might become a trend or fad for a few years. This is the dream of a designer/engineer: to create a fad and get paid for it. Trade secrets: to design and engineer well like no one else can; trying to make a top of the line in class product. Contemporary home updates and upgrades, and contemporary home lifestyle development may be the best; if not so there would be no point in designing. You can help in home maintenance, updates and upgrades. What is home updating? Is usually using not so much past designs, add a new design like sconces, tidying (making it look like new), perhaps add more decor. What is upgrading or home improvement? Upgrading includes replacing past materials with better quality and more expensive finishing materials like granite countertops and real wood, getting better quality components like real wood furniture and embroided thick drapes, replacing phoney gold in chandelier with real gold plating.