26 November 2007

Fundamental Principles of Design

FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES (by Thomas Rubick, Graphic Design I, Lane Community College 2001) The fundamental principles of design are important for two reasons. One, they can help us create aesthetically pleasing compositions and two, they can help us create designs that enhance the messages we are communicating. Below are definitions of key terms. The illustrations are intended to demonstrate the principle but they represent only a few of the possible solutions
  • DESIGN PRINCIPLES BALANCE: An optical equilibrium between all parts of a design.
  • COMPOSITION: A putting together of parts to make a whole. Just as there are rules to language, there are rules to composition. Here are some of them:
1. Avoid placing elements dead center on the page.
2. Symmetry tends to promote stability.
3. Diagonals are more active than horizontals.
4. Proximity creates tension.
5. Sameness is frequently boring.
6. Regularity creates rhythm.
7. Contrast exaggerates effect.
8. Placement in corners creates awkward tension.
9. Equal amounts of figure and ground confuse the eye.
  • CONTRAST: The use of polarities of size, shape, tone, color, texture or direction to create interest and meaning. Contrast clarifies and heightens the existing effect. It is used to draw attention to an area and to provide stability and clarity.
  • DIRECTION: In Western cultures, left-to-right movement is considered progressive, easy and natural. Right-to-left movement is considered difficult and backwards. Similarly, the right is often considered *good* and the left, *bad.*
  • ECONOMY: The principle of using no more than necessary in a composition. As Einstein wrote, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
  • EMPHASIS: The creation of a dominant focal point in the composition. Such elements attract attention and establish the beginning of a visual hierarchy.
  • FIGURE/GROUND: The relationship between a mark on a page (the figure or positive area) and its background (the ground or negative area). It is important to understand that the negative areas in a composition are very important, sometimes even more so than the positive ones.
  • FORMAL BALANCE: (Also known as symmetrical balance) The use of elements of equal visual weight on both sides of a central vertical axis.
  • HARMONY: A pleasant and compatible relationship between the parts of a composition. Harmony is established by using design elements with common attributes (color, shape, texture, etc.)
  • HIERARCHY: The presentation of various elements in such a way that it is clear which is the most important, the next most important, and so on. Hierarchy can be established through position, form, contrast, color etc.
  • INFORMAL BALANCE: (Also known as asymmetrical balance.) Balance achieved by careful consideration of visual weights and space in a composition. Principles for achieving formal balance include:
1. A large shape in one corner is balanced by a smaller one in the opposite corner.
2. *White space* itself has visual weight and can affect the balance.
  • MOVEMENT: The sequence or path the eye takes through the composition. In Western cultures, a left-to-right, top-to-bottom movement is the most natural. Movement also follows the visual hierarchy established on the page. Confused movement can scare a viewer away from the design. Other advice concerning movement:
1. Good movement starts with a strong focal point.
2. Good movement keeps the eye within the frame of the design.
3. Avoid movement that crisscrosses back and forth.
  • ORIENTATION: In design, different orientations convey different messages. A horizontal shape or frame signals stability. A vertical orientation can be inspiring, elegant or uplifting. Diagonals seem more dynamic and energetic.
  • PROPORTION: (Or ratio.) The relationship, sometimes conveyed in mathematical terms, between the elements in a design or between the height and width of the page itself. 1. Certain proportions (such as 1:1) are considered uninteresting. 2. Proportions in the 1:1.5 to 2 range have traditionally been considered most pleasing. 3. Pushing the proportions further, however, can create interesting contrasts.
  • TENSION: Visual tension is dynamic opposition of formal elements. The opposite of harmony, it often involves the compression of space and/or the use of diagonals.
  • UNITY: The arrangement of the parts of a composition into a whole. It often includes careful attention to hierarchy, rhythm and balance. Methods of establishing unity include:
1. Overlapping
2. Use of an underlying grid stucture
3. An odd, rather than even, number of shapes in the design (3 and 5 especially)
  • VECTOR: An element in the composition that serves as a directional signal for the viewer, telling him or her where to look. Often this is an arrow-like shape. Other times it can be the direction a person is looking or facing.
VISUAL WEIGHT: Elements on a page will differ in how much they attract the eye depending on their (1) tone, (2) shape, (3) texture, (4) color, and (5) position.

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