Principles of Design

While these are fairly standard in art theory, I like the presentation and examples given and wanted to record it for my own information.  This is from an article by Natalie O’Shea in Simply Cards & Papercraft, UK Edition, Issue 9 (published in 2005 I think).

The five principles of Design:

  1. Balance
  2. Proportion
  3. Rhythm
  4. Emphasis / Dominance
  5. Unity

For more detail, read on.

1.  Balance

This is visual equilibrium.  It can be achieved in one of two ways, symmetrical of asymmetrical balance.

Symmetrical balance is when the weight of a composition is evenly distributed around a central vertical or horizontal axis.  Both sides of the axis are assumed to be identical under normal circumstances.  It is also possible to have symmetry around a central point, known as radial symmetry.  Symmetrical balance is known as formal symmetry.

Asymmetrical balance is when the weight of a composition is not distributed evenly around a central axis.  Different sized objects are arranged so that their respective visual weights balance one another.  There may be one dominate item offset by many smaller items.  This is known as informal symmetry.


2.  Proportion

This relates to the relative size and scale of various elements in a design.  It is the relationship in scale between a whole object and one of its parts, or one element and another.  Large pieces appear to visually come to the front, while smaller items seem to recede into the background.


3.  Rhythm

The repetition or alternation of elements, often with defined intervals between them.  This can create a sense of movement, and establish pattern and texture.  There are many types of rhythm.

Regular rhythm is when the intervals between the elements and the actual elements are similar in size or length

Flowing rhythm gives a sense of movement, drawing the eyes from one element to the next.


4.  Emphasis / Dominance

This refers to the main point of focus, that draws the attention of the viewer most strongly.  There is usually a primary point of focus, and often a secondary and even tertiary emphasis in other parts of the composition.

Emphasis can be achieved in an number of ways.  Repetition calls attention to the repeated elements through force of numbers.  A contrast of colour, texture of shape will emphasise a specific point.  So too will contract of size or scale.  Placement in a strategic position will also call attention to a specific element.


5.  Unity

Unity is the underlying principle that summarises all the elements and principles of design, tying them all together.  It gives a sense of wholeness, or by contrast a sense of variety if elements are broken apart.


In the next post I will look at the Elements of Design, which was a companion piece to this article.  The sample artwork for each of the principles was excellent but I am not going to reproduce it here for copyright reasons.

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