Design Elements & Principles For Beginner Designer
The design is an intricate, complicated, fun and exciting business.
There’s always a lot to learn, a lot to do, and a lot to consider when you’re a beginner – not to mention the fact that technology is constantly evolving, new software is being released, and new trends are coming at you rapid-fire. Truth be told, it can get a little overwhelming.
So, let’s slow things down a little bit. This article will take you through 20 principles of design to hopefully give you a headstart in this creative environment. So, stay tuned, get comfy, and let’s discuss some principles.
I’m sure we’re all aware of what lines are, but just to be sure, lines can be defined as any linear marks. So, when you think about it, lines make up just about everything. Even these words and letters you’re reading now are made up of thousands of curved, angled and straight lines.
Lines can channel certain ideas too. Straight ones can evoke order and neatness, wavy lines can create movement, and zig-zagged lines can imply tension or excitement.
A technique applied a lot in photography is the use of ‘leading lines’ which do just what they claim – they lead the eye. Finding and emphasizing strong leading lines in your piece can allow you to direct the eye through the entire piece or to certain focal points.
Let’s look at an example of leading lines in web design. This webpage has a cool diagonal grid with very strong leading lines that take you down the page, from section to section, in a swift zigzag shape.
A strong use of line is a great way to stylish your illustrations. Check out these wire frame illustrations by Ksenia Stavrøva for apparel brand SNDCT. By using simple white lines to execute each illustration, the design as a whole is given cohesive and a recognizable style. Consider emphasizing your use of line in illustrations to create an intriguing effect.
Lines are versatile, simple and effective graphic elements that you certainly should not take for granted! Experiment with them today, and see what cool things they can add to your design!
Scale is a large part of design, sometimes literally. In a very basic definition, scale is the deliberate sizing of individual elements.
Scale can help us make sense of designs and images. Think about if you were to draw a mouse next to an elephant, you’d probably draw the mouse much smaller than the elephant, which would help viewers instantly understand your drawing.
In this way, scale helps us make sense of things. But, scale doesn’t always have to be based on realism. You can size your elements dramatically large or small to create stunning effects and to signal which parts of your design are more important and which are less.
For example, check out this poster by Gabz Grzegorz Domaradzki for the movie Drive. In this poster, the lead character has been scaled up dramatically, drawing attention to him first, and the other faces second.
While this scale is not technically based on realism as people’s faces are generally the same size in real life (and Ryan Gosling is not a giant to my knowledge), the dramatic scaling up and down of faces helps viewers to get a quick grasp on each character’s level of importance in the film, as well as making for an effective design.
This scaling of elements to signal importance is often called ‘hierarchy’ which we’ll discuss more in depth later on, fear not! But, for the mean time, let’s look at an example that uses scale to signify importance.
This publication design by The Consult scales up certain statistics, information and numbers a lot to draw attention to those pieces of data over others.
I know I don’t really need to preach about how important colour is to designs, but I’m going to anyway. Colour is paramount. Colour creates specific moods, atmospheres, channels emotions and each shade has certain specific connotations associated with it. In short, colour can make or break your design.
Lets look at two branding examples. First up, we have a design by Smack Bang Designs for women’s skin rejuvenation service ‘Lite Luxe’. This design has opted for light, soft and pastel colours. Whites, light greys, soft blush tones and a copper/gold foiling, these chosen colours complement each other gently to create a calm, elegant and feminine design.
On the other hand, we have this branding for juice brand Frooti by Sagmeister & Walsh. Unlike the previous example which chose a palette that gently complemented itself, this branding has chosen a colour palette that sharply contrasts, creating a much more vibrant, energetic and playful design.
Colour isn’t a principle simply limited to branding elements though, colour expands into everything, even photographs. Filters and image adjustors have given us the unlimited ability to adjust our photographs’ colouring and tones.
Are you designing a sleek and sophisticated poster? Why not run a sharp, noir-inspired monochromatic filter over your image, like Canva’s ‘Street’ filter. Or perhaps you’re going for a whimsical look? Consider dropping the contrast on your image a little to mute your images’ colours a bit and make it softer and calmer.
Think about any big name brand, Coca-Cola, Google, Apple, Nike, I’m sure you can all think of their logo, their general tone of voice and their general colour schemes used. Why are these things so memorable at the drop of a hat? Yep, you guessed it – repetition.
Repetition is a crucial element when it comes to branding design, both in terms of keeping your branding consistent and in terms of tying your items together.
Lets have a look at a branding example by Michelle Wang. As you can see, this identity uses a consistent colour palette and consistent logo application, right down to consistent margin spacing.
Repetition is a key element when it comes to branding, but it can also make for beautiful one-off designs. For example, repetition is a key ingredient when it comes to creating patterns and textures.
Check out this packaging design by Nastya Chamkina that uses repetition to create a beautiful pattern. Patterns don’t have to be dull and floral like dusty old curtains, they can be fun and effective. So, why not implement repetitive patterns into your next design?
To put it bluntly, negative space is the ‘space inbetween’, the area between or around other elements that form its own shape
The widely regarded king and path-forger of negative space was artist M.C. Escher whose work I’m sure you’ve seen and been baffled by before. Escher did a number of tessellations that focussed on one shape leading into the next via negative and positive space, like this woodcut print “Sky & Water I”.
See how Escher has used the space in between the birds to create the shape of fish? This is negative space at work – considering everything around and in between your physical design, and manipulating that space to form something new.
Negative space when used strategically and cleverly can help create truly stunning and clever designs. Have a look at these simple animal icons by designer George Bokhua that use simple, clean shapes to render clear depictions of each animal.
As species, human beings are scientifically proven to be drawn to symmetry. We find symmetrical faces, patterns and designs generally more attractive, effective and beautiful.
Symmetry is used a lot in logos in order to create a harmonious and balanced design. Some examples of large brands with symmetrical logos are Target, McDonald’s, Chanel, Starbucks, etc.
Of course, symmetry is not always an option for every design, and nor should it be. There’s a fine line between a design looking balanced and symmetrical, and looking like one side was copied, flipped and pasted to the left. So instead of trying to achieve perfect symmetry, instead try to introduce subtle elements of symmetry into your design.
For example, this wedding invitation uses a high degree of symmetry, but it it’s not perfectly mirrored. Instead, the designer has chosen to adjust the illustrations to fit the type and the message in subtle ways that keep the design symmetrically balanced and ordered, but not too blatantly mirrored, creating a delicate, romantic and balanced design.
Symmetry isn’t always as obvious either, sometimes it is subtle, sometimes you may not even notice it. A prime example of invisible symmetry can be found in editorial design, and more specifically text boxes. Open up any magazine you have laying around and chances are in a longer articles you’ll notice that the body copy has been split up into columns of text, and these columns are often symmetrically sized to keep things legible, neat, as well as visually appealing.
Check out this annual report spread design by Brighten the Corners and Anish Kapoor that draws attention to the symmetricality of the text columns by mirroring them on either side of the spread.
By using a bit of symmetry in your layout, you can create a sense of balance and order. So, next time you’re designing a publication design, or a design with a lot of type, pay attention to how much (or how little) symmetry you’re using. If your design doesn’t look quite right, have a go at toying with your symmetry, whether this be increasing it or decreasing it.
Also occasionally known as ‘opacity’, transparency refers to how ‘see-through’ an element is. The lower your opacity, the lighter and less noticeable your element is, and the higher it is, the more solid the element is.
Let’s look at an example that uses transparency. This stunning example by Jack Crossing layers various shapes of different colours, sizes, and opacities to create a truly beautiful graphic. In this way, adjusting and toying with transparency and transparency effects can allow you to emphasise your layers and shapes in a unique and striking way.
Transparency is also a great technique for generating a sense of movement in static images. For example, check out this poster by Filippo Baraccani, Mikko Gärtner, and Lorenz Potthast that layers various images with different levels of transparency to create an engrossing effect and sense of movement.
Transparency isn’t just limited to digital graphics either. Check out how this invitation card for the New York Museum of Glass has aptly been printed onto transparent glass, giving the design a unique and engaging effect. Consider what mediums your design will be printed on, what opacity and finish they can/will have, and don’t be afraid to get creative with it.
Clean, sharp and sleek graphic designs can be wonderful, but sometimes, roughing it up a little with some texture can be even better. Texture can add tactility, depth and can add some pretty interesting effects to your design.
However, as with many things, be sure to use this technique in moderation, as too much texture can quickly overwhelm your design. Remember: there’s a fine line between shabby-chic and just plain old shabby.
See how too many textures can create a muddy effect? The more textures applied, the harder type and other elements are to see without a stroke effect around each letter.
Of course, if you’re going for the muddier look stylistically, then layering textures might bode well for you, but if you’re looking for a way to incorporate texture in a less imposing way, stay tuned.
Let’s have a look at an example that uses texture in a way that enhances the piece. This beautiful typographic design by Dan Cassaro creates a vintage-inspired effect by using texture. Notice that the use of the rough texture isn’t distracting but rather nicely enhances the piece as a whole, giving it a more handcrafted, authentically-vintage feel.
Check out this business card design by Inkdot for Foremost Wine Company that takes texturing to a whole new level by embossing the topography-inspired texture directly into the business card. By considering texture and how your design literally and tangibly feels, you can create a memorable piece for your design that is sure to stand out from the crowd.
Balance is a pretty important thing in most of life, and it’s equally as important in the world of design.
One way to master balance is to think of each of your elements as having a ‘weight’ behind it. From text boxes, to images, to blocks of colour, consider each of their sizes, shapes, and what ‘weight’ they have in relation to other elements on the page.
A good technique is to imagine if your design were to be printed out as a 3D model. Would it stand, or would it tip to one side?
Check out this cat logo by George Bokhua that is beautifully balanced. If it were to be printed, chances are it would sit upright.
One type of balance is ‘asymmetrical balance’, which is less about mirroring left and right/top and bottom, and more about distributing, sizing and aligning elements so that their ‘weights’ are event. Let’s look at an example.
This vibrant piece uses scale and a clever distribution of elements to make for a balanced design. Note how this piece achieves balance from left to right and top to bottom through the sizing of elements. By balancing the cluster of images out with the cluster of type.
Hierarchy in design is a lot like hierarchy in culture, as both are built on very similar ideas. At the top of a hierarchical scale, we have the most important things, the kings. These elements are to be ‘dressed’ the most extravagantly and command the most attention.
Check out these examples from A2 Magazine that showcase three different ways to signal your title/heading’s importance, from the more subtle examples right through to the big and bold examples. Whatever your choice of avenue, be sure that consumers can instantly point to the title without thinking.
The next tier of hierarchy we have the noblemen, the elements that are still important, but that don’t command quite as much attention as the kings. These are things like subheadings, pull quotes, additional information. Make sure to keep these eye-catching and noticeable, but not anywhere near as noticeable as your headings.
Check out this save the date card by Southern Fried Paper. Notice how the date (a very important part of a save the date card) is made larger, bolder and more noticeable than the type below it. And yet it doesn’t outshine the obvious “Audrey and Grant” title.
And on the final rung of the hierarchical scale are the peasants, the humble elements of your design that are given the least amount of visual pizazz, usually things like body copy, less important information, links, etc.
Have a look at this poster for The Night Market by Mary Galloway. You can easily point out the title, the subheading/date, and then down the bottom, the smallest type of additional information that isn’t as crucial to the communication.
Of course, hierarchy isn’t just limited to type. Images also have hierarchy, think back a little to when we talked about scale. The larger, more colourful, or more central elements of your image are going to have a higher hierarchy than those smaller, duller, less detailed elements.
Hi, This is Shohagh Hossen. I Have Many years experience in Creating a Professional Design. Love to work, like to use my creativity, want to make my clients happy. I am also Graphic Design Trainer at "Learn With Shohagh" Youtube Channel