Elements and Principles of Design

Design is all around us, we interact with the design each day from your favorite music album’s cover to your shoe sole. Good design, much like anything, starts with a clear understanding of the basics.

The elements of design are the visual tools that the designer uses to create a composition whereas the principles of the design represent how the designer uses the elements of design to create an effect and to help convey the artist’s intent.


The first component to study is the seven elements of design. These are the basic building blocks of any design and can be thought of as the ingredients used in your visual presentation. Whether well done or not, all designs will contain most, if not all, of these elements of design.

  • Line – is a continuous mark made on a surface or the edge created when two shapes meet. May be actual, implied, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and/or contour. 
  • Shape / Form – is a self-contained defined area, either geometric or organic. Shape refers to a two-dimensional element with an area on a plane, while form refers to a three-dimensional element with volume in space.
  • Size – refers to the relationship of the area occupied by one shape to that of another.
  • Color – is the visible spectrum of radiation reflected from an object. Color is also sometimes referred to as hue. 
  • Value – refers to how light or dark an object, area, or element is, independent of its color. Value is also sometimes referred to as tone.  
  • Texture – is the surface quality of a shape, or how it appears to feel: rough, smooth, spiky, soft, hard, and glossy, etc. Texture can be real or implied.

When principles of design are used in conjunction with the basic elements of design—shape, line, value, color, texture, size, and direction—the principles of design can help produce more effective designs. There is no fixed number of principles of design. Different books and websites have their custom numbers because it’s about embracing the ideas than the numbers.


The next aspect to study is the principles of design. These can be thought of as what we do to the elements of design. If the elements are the ingredients, the principles are the recipe for a good design.

1. Balance

Balance is the distribution of interest or visual weight in a work. A balanced work will have all the elements arranged such that the work will have a sense of visual equilibrium or stability.

Every image carries a visual weight like object, color, texture, and space, these elements should be balanced to make stable vibes otherwise it can be discomforting to the eyes. It’s like putting two objects on a seesaw: If one side is too heavy, the viewer’s eye goes directly to the heavy part. If it’s weighted with all things equal, the seesaw is perfectly suspended without either side touching the ground.

It’s very obvious in photography, any composition can achieve balance through symmetrical balance (Balancing both sides of the imaginary middle line), unsymmetrical balance (Balancing the weight of the elements), and radical balance (the composition could be balanced around a central point).

2. Space

Space in art refers to the distance or area between, around, above, below, or within elements. Space is a prominent principle, it is divided into positive and negative space, positive and negative space work together to create emphasis and visual appeal. 

Negative space is also referred to as “white space” where there are no design elements and is a very critical design concept. Beginners tend to fill every inch of the given space but, white space can serve an important purpose, like giving the elements room to breathe or highlighting specific content. 

Positive space is occupied or filled space. If you go back to Da Vinci’s portrait Mona Lisa, you would find the portrait occupies a lot of positive space, you use the positive space for the important elements of the design. They both are closely related to and affect the balance of the image.

3. Hierarchy

It is one of the most important and underrated principles, the arrangement of the items in which they can be represented is the hierarchy.

A good design reaches every part of the design in priority order, it’s based on the representation rather than a design style. A good example is a website’s homepage, there’s is usually a navigation button or bar sort of thing to help the visitor to get around the site, the CTA is the biggest or boldest element of the page followed by logo and navigation, designed to help the user to complete an action or absorb information.

A good rule for the hierarchy is as your most important element should be the most prominent. 

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