Understanding Design Jargon: Design Principles

Design and rules are two things that seem like they shouldn't mix, but there are definite design principles you should try to follow anytime you're creating a graphic design. Design principles can help you create awesome layouts that are both effective and pleasing to the eye. They can also teach you to better communicate a message to your target audience in your projects. For example, unlike art, design needs a focal point to be successful. These principles can help you figure out the best way to design your focal points. Think of these principles as guidelines to help you understand what is visually appealing and why it's appealing in your designs. They can also help you understand why your design works -- or why it doesn't. If you do a quick Google search for "principles of design" you'll get a huge list with a bunch of different lists of design principles with different princples. All it means is that different designers word things different ways, but the core concepts are all the same.  


A design principle that seems to be included in every designer's list is balance. Balance means to place elements in a way that gives the impression of equal weight on the page. The weight is distributed in the design by the placement of different elements. There are three types of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. Example of formal balance Symmetrical design is completely balanced and aligned the same on both sides by evenly dividing the elements either horizontally, vertically or radially. Symmetrical design is also know as formal balance. Usually symmetrical balance is used to create stability in designs. Example of informal balance A design that's considered asymmetrical is often referred to as informal balance. The visual weight of the elements aren't evenly distributed in the central axis of the page. Asymmetrical balance can create movement and interest, but still tries to retain a sense of stability.  Scale, contrast and color are often used to help achieve a balance when the design is asymmetrical. The third type of balance is radial balance. With radial balance all the elements of the design brand or radiate out from a central point.


Movement forces your audience to follow your composition organically. So you can clearly lead the eye of the viewer where you want it to be when you want it to be there. Example of movement Other principles help to contribute to make a movement. You should also be conscious to not block the movement of the eye by adding an element that breaks the flow on the page.


Unity is creating a balance that produces a harmonious effect and is how the elements in the composition work together to keep it looking as a "whole." It relates to the sense of oneness or wholeness in a work of art. Keeping items that are similar together can create a sense of unity and harmony in your design. Sometimes this principle is referred to as "proximity". Unity doesn't mean that all elements have to be placed together, it just means they should be visually connected in some way. Consistency is important to creating unity.


A consistent and balanced look in your design can be achieved through different types of repetition. Some designers call this principle "rhythm", but the core concepts are the same between the two. Example of repetition Repeating design elements can show a viewer where to look next and can help them navigate your design. The viewer can also get a sense of what comes next in the design. Elements that are repeated help to establish continuity and can tie your entire design together. This principle is also related to movement since the repeating elements can also create a sense of movement in your composition. Reusing the same typefaces throughout your design is also a form of repetition that helps to achieve unity.


The relationship of how objects fit together in your composition is proximity. A main purpose of proximity is to organize your composition by grouping related elements together. If the information you're presenting is organized, it's much easier for the viewer to read and remember it.


Contrast creates conflict between elements to attract the eye to a specific place and is the most effective way to add visual interest to your page. It allows you to highlight key elements in your design with differences in things like values, colors, and textures. Contrast also can add visual interest by pairing something small with something big or with something black juxtaposed to something white. Making two or more elements visually different adds interest to your design. Contrast can also be achieved by using visually different typefaces, placing smooth lines against sharp lines, or simply by putting light colors next to much darker colors. Example of bad contrast It is important to note that it's also necessary to make sure the design is still legible through contrast. Light gray text on on medium gray background is difficult to read. Bright pink elements on a neon background are jarring and uncomfortable to look at.

White Space

White space means to let your design breathe with a little open space between elements. White space can also be referred to as negative space, since it's the absence of text and graphics. Remember to include things like generous margins, space between columns of text and other design elements in your designs. Also, without some white space, your design could be completely illegible or just taxing for your viewer to read.   The next time you're working on a graphic design and you're feeling a little stumped why your design just doesn't look right, try adjusting your design to fall inline with some of these principles. Do you have enough white space? Are you interrupting the movement of the pattern you've created? Asking yourself these questions can help make your designs even more awesome. You'll learn that all of these principles work together and you'll find yourself using them without even thinking about them.