Principles of design

In order for something to look good and serve its purpose we have to respect principles of design. You could get confused by some saying there are 12 of them, or 7, or 5, or whatever. I will talk about the absolute ones, and then we can explore further.

Principles are there to guide us in how to make our raw creative ideas work. When you look at any piece of art even if it seems chaotic you can find that it is actually done with these “rules” in mind. One very important thing to mention is not to confuse design principles with design elements. Design elements are basically tools, visual components, parts and other things that we use to create composition. Principles are set of rules or guides defined to tell us how to use or arrange elements in a composition. Composition is arrangement of elements that in the end make a whole picture, scene, any art peace or visual component.

With all that explained let’s dive into basic principles of design:


There are two types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical. They are both about distribution of visual elements weight in a balanced manner.


If we have identical objects positioned on opposite sides that reflect one another, we have symmetry. So, we need elements to correspond in size, shape, and relative position on opposite sides of a dividing line or median plane or about a center or axis. You can have as many elements as you like as long they follow definition of symmetry to balance them.


This one is trickier. You really need to pay attention to the weight of the elements you are working with. What defines weight of the visual element? It’s size, the bigger the element the heavier it is. Shapes, more complex shapes have more weight, also color; black has more weight than pink or bright red against subdued green. Asymmetry means that you have elements that differ from each other and must be placed according to their weight to achieve balance.



Hierarchy means that you place elements in such a manner that it is clear what is more important, what you want to emphasize, to be seen first, or have less impact, be almost hidden, subliminal, less important. It is all about guiding the eye to look and notice in order that you want.


When you think about repetition words that come to mind are consistency, connectedness and unity.
Repetition can produce interesting patterns. Not just as decorative patterns but also elements repeated create sense of familiarity, ease and intuitive guidance. Example; you are able to skip or go back to the topics that interest you more easily because I used repetition in my placement of headings, their size, color and font. If you look at the article as a whole you will notice how repetition unites elements of text into composition. That is why we say that repetition brings consistency, connectedness and unity.



In visual context, think of rhythm as an illusion of movement of elements created by how they change and develop. Organize elements in a way that creates harmony, just like in music. There are five types of rhythm in design:

Random- there is no pattern.
Regular- We repeat elements in exactly the same manner or make the same change at the same point of repeat. It can suggest infinity, or create illusion of infinity, and keep an eye on point.
Alternating- It follows a pattern that repeats, but there are changes between the actual elements. It is something similar to counting steps in a dance class, where you go 1-2-3;1-2-3;1-2-3.
Flowing- We suggest that there is movement by repeating organic shapes in irregular manner. Take an example from nature; climbing roses, their branches look like what we call organic shape which grow by repetition, but it is irregular, and they create this beautiful flowing structure.
Progressive- As we repeat the elements we change them every time they are repeated, nature example; Nautilus shell.

Rhythm Progressive
Rhythm Flowing


Contrast is powerful when it comes to guiding an eye, balancing, creating dynamic visuals…etc. Contrast can be achieved by size, shape, form or color. What makes contrast are two opposites, but always keep in mind that you have to balance contrast, to much or to little of the opposite won’t do it. How much of the opposite element is needed to create a great contrast is usually up to your intuition and talent to decide, but you can always dive deep into the study of contrasts between shapes, sizes, colors…etc. to further your expertise in using contrast the best way.


Monotonous design is a bad idea, unless you want to bore people to death. Variety means life to your composition. Also it can help you make emphasis on something important or spice up your design. Don’t just put something interesting for the sake of it, it needs to have a meaning, esthetical or technical (like pointing out something, or some section, or raising interest). We achieve variety through color, typography, images, shapes, sizes and any other design element that comes to mind.


White space or negative space

Do not ever fill out every pixel out there with something. I cannot emphasize enough how much white space is important. Negative space (which I think is more accurate term) is usually that white space left on your paper or artboard, it means that it is empty, blank, no design elements on it. Now, why is that so important? It gives your design a space to breathe. It can focus you design. It is very important in typography, how letters are designed and their legibility is defined by white space between curves, edges, letter spacing, line spacing etc. You can make a point with your design just by creating one simple element on a big white space; create mystery, impact or excitement. Never underestimate the power of nothing.


As word itself says, unity is about connecting everything, functioning as a whole. When you are designing you always must have in mind the connection of all of the elements, and what they mean together. This is especially important when you are designing numerous pages (websites, apps, promotion material, books etc.), when it is completed it must function as one, it must have unity.

White space

These are the basic design principles that you should follow every time you want to create something good. Study them closely, explore others artwork, and see how they have used them. Inspire yourself and don’t be afraid to experiment!



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