Elements and Principles of Design

It is important to have a good understanding of the Elements and Principles of Design if you want to create work that is visually appealing and effective at getting your message or information across to the viewer. Below are some examples.

The Elements of Design

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On the left:  The converging lines and implied lines used in this illustration help to illustrate a first person perspective, as if the viewer were actually immersed in the setting as opposed to viewing it from afar. This creates a more dynamic visual appeal and helps to enforce the idea of the buildings towering above you. We also recognize the smaller squares and rectangles to be windows which help to provide some contrast to the solid lines, while still reinforcing the idea of converging lines. Illustration by Swoboda.

On the right: Combining two shapes into one helps to keep this design simple and minimalistic. We can easily recognize the shape of the glasses which reflects the word wisdom from the text, and because it is turned on its side, we also recognize the hourglass shape which reflects the word patience. Illustration by Tang Yau Hung.


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On the left:  Here the artist uses mass to illustrate the sheer size of the whale in proportion to man. The whale itself fills almost the whole illustration, whereas the man is minuscule in comparison, used in place of the whales eye. Even without knowing what the story is about, the viewer has a clear understanding of the scale between the two elements. Illustration by Umberto Scalabrini.

On the right:  Texture is used here to instantly give us an idea of what is being advertised. We can instantly “taste” the strawberry flavor and “feel” the sticky texture of gum which helps to effectively send the message while using very few elements. Design by Goodstien.


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On the left:  The color used in this design is reflective of the colors of the sky at dusk. This helps to create in your mind an idea of a relaxed and inviting atmosphere which would be appealing to many people and drive traffic to this venue. Image via Designspiration.

On the right:  Type can be used in design to help imply a certain attitude or feeling. Here it is used in a playful way to reiterate the idea that information can be both professional and fun. Image via Magazinewall.

The Principles of Design

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On the left:  Because this is a visually rich design and it incorporates two designs into one, the artist used balance to create harmony and keep it from being overwhelming. Although not completely symmetrical, if you drew a line down the center of the design, the elements are arranged and represented equally on both sides. Our eye is initially drawn to the more prominent colors and shapes on the lower half of the design, and then gradually our eye moves upward to the more receding colors in the top half. We also see the type that is reflected in the top and bottom halves, allowing us to understand that there are two images in one. Illustration by Jamie Toh.

On the right:  This illustration uses proximity/unity to help bring many elements together as one. We recognize each individual character, but having them grouped together inside of the peach helps to unify them as a group, and also helps to convey their relationship to the peach, and the role it plays as well. Illustration by Livy Long.


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On the left:  Alignment is used here to create a sense of excitement and adventure. Both the text and the image are set at an angle which helps to give a more dynamic feel to the design, and instantly creates a feeling of mystery, which is appropriate to the design. Illustration by Francesco Francavilla.

On the right:  This is an example of repetition being used to send a message to the viewer about the overall feeling of the book. The only element needed to convey a feeling of unease or of being “watched” is the eye, and used repetitively helps to reinforce that idea, while keeping the design very simple. Image via Flavorwire.


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On the left:  Contrast is used effectively here to create a distinct separation between two interlocking ideas. We can easily separate the two swans in the design, even though there is no space between them, and we are also able to clearly read the type because of the use of contrasting colors- the white and yellow on black, and the black and yellow on white. Illustration by Sinem Erkas.

On the right:  Negative space is used in a clever way in this illustration to help illustrate the characters in the story, and to help draw a connection between them. Although the wolf and the duck are the only characters drawn in this illustration, the use of negative space around the wolf clearly illustrates the silhouette of a young boy, and based on the title of the piece, we can assume that he is Peter, and come to the conclusion that there is a connection between him and the wolf. This helps to include elements of the story without taking up more visual space. Illustration by Phoebe Morris.

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