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Design Elements and Principles

Encyclopedy Index

Design elements and principles are the basic visual toolbox of design tactics in every visual design discipline. The elements form the basic vocabulary of visual design, while the principles constitute the broader structural aspects of the composition.

Most compositions are created by using combinations of elements and principles.

Elements of design
The elements of design may vary by source but often include (space, shape, form, mass, line, texture, pattern, time, light, and color). They are the most basic visual components of any composition. The elements are the materials upon which the principles of design act. Artists and designers discover, incorporate, and balance these elements to create a strong solution to a given problem situation.

Principles of design
The number and names of the principles of design can be variable. Most lists include (scale, proportion, balance (symmetry), rhythm (pattern) (movement), emphasis (focal point), variety, contrast and unity). The principles are used in all visual design fields such as graphic design, industrial design, architecture and fine art. The principles govern the relationships of the elements used and organize the composition as a whole. Successful design incorporates the use of the principles and elements to serve the designer's purpose and visual goals. There is no hard and fast rule for their use - it is directed by intent. The designer's purpose drives the decisions made to achieve appropriate scale and good proportion, as well as the degree of harmony between all the elements achieved through the sensitive balance of variety and unity.

These concepts and elements drive all intentional design strategies. Awareness of the elements and principles is the first step in creating successful visual compositions.


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