An in-depth explanation of the 17 design principles
Design principles are a set of guidelines that guide the visual and interactive design of visual work. These help unify the different visual aspects and guide the designer in their decision-making.
The design principles aren't just a list of things you should or shouldn't do when designing. They are an overview of the core concepts that make up a great user experience. Design principles are a set of guidelines that guide the visual and interactive design of visual work. All these helps unify the different visual aspects and guide the designer in their decision-making process.
To a designer, the design principles are a set of guidelines that contribute to creating a design that is not only functional and aesthetically pleasing but appropriate for its intended purpose. When a designer is starting out, there are so many little things to keep track of that it can be hard to know where to start. Where do you look for inspiration? How do you decide when something's good enough? How do you even begin to think about what your design will look like?
The principles provide designers with answers to these questions and help them develop their skills over time. When you're working on a project, each of the principles can help inform your decisions in order to make the design more effective.
In order to integrate this into your next project, here is a deeper look into the 17 design principles:
Contrast is all about the relationship between two or more elements within a single visual plane. Contrast is giving focus to an element more than the rest of the canvas. In this case, an effective way to help yourself remember and apply this principle is to think about how your work would look if there was no contrast at all—for example if everything in your illustration was a uniform gray tone. You'd have no visual cues to tell you where one object stops, and another begins; nothing would really stand out from anything else. Your eyes wouldn't know where to rest and you'd struggle to process what was happening in the image.
Now think about what happens when you apply contrast: you get visual separation between various elements on the page, your eyes are guided through the image more easily, and the overall impact of the work is heightened. The image becomes more dynamic, exciting, and memorable.
Originally, balance referred to a physical equilibrium between two or more objects, but today in design we focus on visual equilibrium instead. We use symmetry and proportion to achieve balance in all aspects of design from photography to architecture. We can achieve the feeling of balance by using shapes, colors, and textures in equal amounts. For example, if one side of a poster design looks emptier than the other, a balance should bring equal visual weight to both sides until the poster becomes one single design.
Aesthetically, balance means that all the elements are working together aesthetically as a unit. All the parts are considered as a whole, putting forward a unified message—and also considering how they relate to one another and to everything else in the space.
The rule of movement is simple: if you put an element in a design somewhere, it needs to have some kind of movement that carries it off the page or into the next one by carrying it off beyond the frame.
If your design has two elements side-by-side, there needs to be some kind of motion that carries both elements forward in some way. If your design has several elements aligned on top of each other, there needs to be some kind of motion that carries them all forward. If your design has one element placed at the bottom of one page and another element placed at the top of the next page, there needs to be some kind of movement that connects them together.
There are lots of different kinds of movement you can use in a design—movement by color, movement by shape, movement by size, and more.
Proportion is defined as the relationship between two or more things based on their size and shape (i.e.: height/width). Those two things can be anything at all—the size of your living room compared to your dining room or the difference in the size between two similar objects in your design. What you're striving for is balance: If one piece is taller or wider than another, you want to ensure that you prioritize the most important element first and leave the secondary elements in smaller proportions. They don't look like they're vying for dominance or fighting over space. Rather, you want them to work together toward a common goal.
Rhythm is the repetition of visual elements. It's usually a pattern, but it can also be a color, a shape, or a texture. Rhythm helps create visual unity in an environment; if everything is different, it creates chaos. Visual order can be calming and pleasant, creating focus and definition for each area in the space.
There are several ways to achieve rhythm: repeating shapes (like the rectangles of a wallpapered wall), repeating colors, repeating textures (like all-over grout lines), repeating patterns (like the stripes on a zebra blanket), and more. Each has its own feeling—solid colors can be calming while patterns can be dynamic and exciting. Texture can give depth to an area by adding dimension and drawing attention to that area of the room. Repeating rows of tiles or grout lines create visual order while keeping things one flat color can be boring and distracting without good lighting.
Alignment is one of the most important principles of design, especially on the web because it's what helps users understand and read your content better. Alignment helps guide the viewer's eye around the page or screen and creates a sense of order, which in turn helps the viewer feel comfortable with what they're looking at. There are various kinds of alignment, such as vertical alignment, horizontal alignment, diagonal alignment, concentric alignment, radial alignment, and angular alignment. Each is important in its own way and can be used to help guide the viewer's eye around the design in a particular way.
Proximity is one of the most fundamental principles in design. The idea is that related objects should be grouped together and placed close to each other while unrelated objects should be separated. This principle is important because it creates a visual order that makes things easier to find, and it often makes things more legible and easier to understand at a glance. When arranged properly, it creates unity and consistency in a design.
Pattern is one of the most basic forms of design—it's a repeatable visual element that creates unity in space. It can be found in architecture and interior design, clothing, art, music, and many other mediums. A pattern is basically an element or image that you can use to create an attractive composition or one that you can use as a baseline for creating something new. The term "pattern" comes from the fact that repeating geometric elements and shapes look like they're arranged in a pattern when you repeat them a number of times and then form a distinct visual element in itself.
Consistency is when you have an idea about the way something should look or work. Then, you apply that idea repeatedly to different instances of that thing throughout your design. For example, if you decide that all of your buttons should be green and have rounded corners, then every button in your design should follow those rules. Consistency provides users or those who see your work a sense of being grounded when they know what to expect.
Space is a very broad term that encompasses many different aspects of graphic design. Among these various aspects are positive space, negative space, and white space. All three of these terms are defined by their relationship with each other, and all three have different roles in graphic design.
In order for something to have positive space, it must have negative space surrounding it. If you look at an object and draw a line around it, that is its positive space. Anything that is not included in this line is considered negative space (or white space). Negative space has no rules or limitations as to how it should be used; it is up to the artist who creates the piece to decide how they want to use their negative space. A designer's choice of positive or negative space can have a huge impact on how their piece will look when completed.
The principle of visual hierarchy is the concept that one element in a design should be prioritized over others, thus helping to guide the viewer's eye through the overall piece. This can be achieved through size, color, placement, or any number of other factors. It should always be clear which elements are most important, and which are supplementary. Visual hierarchy organizes a design into sections and layers so that the most important information will be noticed first by readers. It also makes it easy for readers to scan your content and determine what should be read first and what can be skipped over.
Visually, we process information by first identifying the most important object in any given scene, then moving on to the next most important object, and so on until we take in all the details. By organizing objects according to importance, designers create a visual hierarchy that serves as a guide for readers or viewers of a design. A good hierarchy will encourage viewers to read through the content in an intuitive fashion, rather than grasping at irrelevant details or jumping from one part of the design to another.
Symmetry is more than just mirroring an object or repeating an element across a flat surface, though that's where the concept got its name. Asymmetrical design will often have a wider set of characteristics than just that; it might also have equal amounts of color or contrast, elements that are equally weighted on both sides, or forms that are mirrored in a complementary way.
In essence, symmetry comes down to balance. If you take away one side, the remaining side should still look like it's complete. This quality expresses itself in many different ways—a symmetrical design might be balanced top-to-bottom or right-to-left, the positive and negative space may be equal, or both positive and negative space may be divided equally into two halves. No matter how you slice it, though, symmetry means that there's no single part of the design that stands out above the rest, and everything is given an equal amount of attention.
Composition is used to describe how the individual elements of a piece of design work together to create a whole. This can be a single-page ad or an entire identity system. Composition is the arrangement of visual elements in a manner intended to create a specific response or feeling in the viewer. Without an understanding of composition, the graphic designer may be able to create an image but will have no way to control how it is received.
A composition can be considered good when there is an intentional and purposeful arrangement of elements, the design is able to tell a story, it is able to visually communicate the message, and it creates an impact and attracts viewers’ attention.
Instead of relying on symmetry (which can be monotonous), this method uses opposing elements on either side of the page to create a sense of visual tension and center around which the rest of the object can then be organized. The opposing elements could be images or colors that contrast each other—in fact, bold contrasts between elements are a common way to achieve asymmetrical balance. The eye then rests comfortably at whatever point there is no dominant element in the composition.
Negative space is the almost-invisible background that helps make the design of an image or piece of art effective. In design, negative space is used to make the positive elements pop. The most common analogy for understanding negative space is that it's like how a hole in the wall is empty space but adds to the room rather than takes away from it. If you were to cover up all negative space in a piece of artwork or on a web page, you would notice that something felt off—the colors or shapes wouldn't appear to go together as well as they currently do.
The principle of negative space can be applied to many things—colors, sizes, shapes, and textures can all be used to create positive and negative spaces within a design. For example, if you have a rectangular box with some text inside of it, the box might be considered positive space and the blank area around it could be considered negative space. Without using negative space, designs can become too busy or cluttered and hard to read or interpret.
When it comes to design, simplicity can often be the ultimate sophistication. The principle of simplicity is a dominant driving force behind many successful designs. The idea is to simplify the overall form of a design so that it's easy for people to understand. In this way, it's possible to create eye-catching designs without using excessive colors or complicated fonts.
Nowadays there are plenty of examples of simple designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional. For example, consider the logo for Apple Computers: it's basically just one continuous line with an apple on top of it—a very simple design that conveys the Apple brand while being easily recognizable by millions of customers around the world.
Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is one of the most widely known and used principles of graphic design. It's a simple guideline that suggests placing the most important elements of an image within the left or right third of a grid created by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. In one sense, it's as simple as cutting up your canvas three ways and putting significant elements in the resulting pieces. Those lines would serve as points of reference for designing or composing work. Doing this will give greater visual interest than if they were centered or placed off-center.
These are principles and not hard rules. Still, while these are not hard rules, they are not just random do's and don'ts. These have been existing way before most of us have even learned design and are there for a reason—they serve as guides in doing effective and functional design. Still, designing in different fields such as UX and UI encompasses many more aspects than just the visual part of it. However, if you keep the design principles in mind during your process everything should fall into place during the creative part of your project.
Now, with these principles in mind, try looking at examples of visual design around you or inspirations that you have when researching. Try to see them deeper by recognizing the principles that they use, looking between the lines, and seeing between spaces. You may find more of these applications in even the most mundane and common visual products we see every day.
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