The Principles of Design are guidelines (not rules) to organize the elements in a composition. Theyre how art is made. Design is the act of organizing to increase the effectiveness of communication.
The greatest Art is achieved by adding a little Science to the creative imagination. The greatest scientific discoveries occur by adding a little creative imagination to the Science. ~ James Elliot
The Principles of Design can be divided into three main groups: Unity, Variation or Interest, and Hierarchy.
Unity and Harmony
Unity is the relationship between elements in a composition. It is making sense of the big picture so it appears as a cohesive whole that works together. All elements must relate to each other in some way, otherwise the work will look like several compositions shoved together instead of one composition. People have a tendency to organize elements into a sensible pattern unconsciously by formulating relationships and connections. According to gestalt theory developed in Germany in the 1910s, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The downside of unity is it tends to promote sameness and repetition which can lead to boredom. Variation creates interest and battles the boredom of unity. Harmony is achieved with the variation retains an element of sameness such as color or shape. Too much variation is chaos and becomes just as uninteresting as perfect unity.
Several principles can be used to create unity.
- Balance is a division into parts of equal size and weight.
- Symmetrical balance divides a composition into two with a straight line. Each side of the line mirrors the other in size, weight, and shape. Both sides dont need to be an identical reflection, but the overall masses, colors, etc. should be similar. This is best illustrated by a teeter-totter with two individuals of equal size on each end and the fulcrum near the center. The fulcrum represents the line of symmetry dividing the composition in two halves of almost identical size.
- Assymetrical balance divides a composition in two with a straight line but both sides are radically different from each other. Balance is achieved here by by placing large objects near the center and smaller objects near the edge to balance a composition like a teeter-totter that has a small person on one end, a large person on the other, and the fulcrum near the large person. In this case, the fulcrum represents the line of symmetry.
- Radial balance uses a point of symmetry from which the composition radiates out from. Several lines of symmetry can be drawn thru this point with the composition creating a mirror reflection around.
- Repetition creates unity. Each repeating element should be similar but clearly different from the other sunless the concept is uniformity.
- Overlapping creates unity by showing the spatial relationship between elements.
- Focal Point or Hook is provides unity by focusing the audiences attention. A single focal point unites visual art; one hook repeated throughout a song unites audible art. A major theme or a main character can serve as the focal point in written art.
- A Tangent is a point where two or more elements touch at a point; it creates a very strong focus usually too much for good design
Just as a work needs to feel like it is one piece, every part of it should not be identical. Thats boring. No one will give it a second look. Thats where Variation or Interest comes into play.
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Elements of Art
Principles of Design
Essential Reading & Online Resources
Web Design & Development
Lettering & Typography