8 Basic Principles of Design: A Comprehensive Guide

Design is an essential part of any creative project, and understanding the basic principles of design is key to creating a successful outcome. Repetition, consistency, balance, contrast, variety, movement, harmony, and proportion are all important elements that can help you create a visually appealing and effective design. Repetition is an important design staple because it helps to strengthen the overall look of the design. It also ties together different elements to help them stay organized and be more consistent.

Consistency and repetition are especially important in branding because you want your particular look to be instantly recognizable. Balance refers to the arrangement of the work of art in a way that does not allow one element to dominate another. Large areas are not left blank without an equally complete area to balance the part. Work can be asymmetrical and still be balanced.

The unit refers to how well an element works with the remaining elements. A painting of a freshwater fish tank would appear divided if it included elements seen in a saltwater fish tank. Contrast refers to the use of conflicting elements or colors while remaining harmonious and unified when the work of art is seen as a whole. Variety refers to the different types of elements used in a piece, for example, small and large elements, as well as black and white elements.

Movement is the path that the eye follows when it sees a work of art or the elements of a work that create movement. An obvious example would be the lines that appear around Charlie Brown when he kicks the ball just to get Lucy to push him away. Harmony in a design refers to the use of similar or consistent elements, for example, the white font that is used in conjunction with a photo of a humpback whale, which has white splashes on its tail. Rhythm is most easily noticed when it incorporates patterns, but the general definition is the repetition of elements or the use of lines to give the impression of energy or activity.

For example, every time you look at something, your mind goes to the point of greatest contrast. It goes to what stands out most. Then your eye wanders around trying to find the unity within the composition. This is pleasing to the eye of our mind; he wants to feel that everything is united, that nothing is out of place or missing.

If something is missing, we start trying to figure out what it is. The way we see things and the way we think about things are intertwined. When we learn this visual language, the interrelation between what we see and what we do, we unlock the potential of the artist within our brain. We can observe our life, our canvas and identify where we need more or less contrast, identify elements that are in or out of proportion, highlight parts of our week that create harmony or daily patterns that fight against that harmony. Our ability to see our life in this light resides in our right brain; our creative voice, our inner artist, our muse, our intuition live there. If you don't learn to harness your artistic potential, you're simply not living to the fullest. What is painting trying to communicate? If that answer is clear, there is a good emphasis.

An artist can use details to draw our attention to the subject of his painting; from this attention to detail, we can tell what is important. If most of the faces lacked detail but one was realistically painted with bright eyes and pink cheeks, you would understand that this figure was most important for the artist. What is most important to you? What are you trying to communicate? Do the people in your life know what's important to you? Do you make those things a priority or are you likely to postpone them? Is it hard for you to say no to things that take you away from your emphasis? Perhaps being aware of where you are placing your emphasis will help you reveal where you need more or less. Equilibrium doesn't always mean symmetry; a painting can show balance when an area of great detail is balanced with a more open and simple area, or an area containing many colors is balanced with an area with a single main color. It is yin balancing yang; it is answering questions without leaving anything hanging or wondering if something is missing. In life, good balance means being balanced; a workaholic wouldn't be balanced. If you have a tendency to obsess over one area of your life while neglecting other areas, balance can serve you well.

You might need to take a break and try something new; go outdoors, take a class or prepare dinner for friends instead of having dinner alone. Elements can be in proportion or out of proportion; an artist can paint subjects out of proportion in order to emphasize or deemphasize an element. An object can be painted larger than real life or smaller in order for viewers to realize its importance. Objects can also be represented in perfect proportion in order to create a pleasant composition; think Mona Lisa or The Last Supper - their proportions have made these works legendary. Do you have elements in your life that are in or out of proportion? Perhaps there's part of your life that needs more time or energy than it's currently receiving; if you have big dreams but spend little time on them maybe increasing this ratio will help realize them sooner. We may also have habits that are out of proportion; open yourself up to new consciousness and keep proportion in mind. Harmony is like when crocuses emerge from earth in spring; it's when you feel like you can run forever at end of five-mile run; it's when you get call that big customer is now yours; when you receive promotion; when publisher wants your book; when child has leading role; when you win day at spa. It's when all these things come together - it's harmony! Think about what harmony looks like in your life - what are some moments where everything comes together?


The 8 basic principles of design - repetition, consistency, balance, contrast, variety, movement, harmony and proportion - are all essential components for creating effective designs. Understanding how these principles work together will help you create visually appealing designs that communicate effectively with viewers.

Dorothy Bauer
Dorothy Bauer

Extreme creator. Award-winning music geek. Award-winning twitter buff. Extreme coffee enthusiast. Subtly charming tv maven.

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