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The Principles of Design

The Principles of Design refer to the organization of a work of art, and constitute the structural aspects of any kind of design: graphic, industrial, architecture, etc. These principles guide the graphic designer in the process of arranging the objects within a composition. A design that is efficient is one that incorporates the use of Principles and Elements to serve the designer's goals. The basic Principles of Design are: balance, movement, emphasis, unity and proportion.

The principle of balance refers to the arrangement of objects in a design according to their visual weight. In order to please the audience, the objects that make up a composition need to be balanced. There needs to be a feeling of visual equality in size, shape, color, etc, among the parts that compose an image, since a composition that is unbalanced looks odd and is difficult to understand.

There are different types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical. An image that is said to be in symmetrical balance is that in which elements on each side of a central axis are identical. It may also be refered to as mirror balance, since the elements on one side of the design are mirrored o the other side. In asymmetrically balanced compositions, on the other hand, the two sides of an axis are not mirror images, but its total weight is in balance. For instance, if there is a large item on one side of a picture, it may be asymmetrically balanced by the presence of several smaller items on the other side. The same with color: one darker item on the left half of an image may be balanced by lighter items on the right half and the other way around.


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Movement is the principle designers use to create a sense of motion in their design.. For this purpose artists make use of the Elements of design and combine them to create a certain rhythm in the image by including figures that seem to be in motion. Lines and shapes that are overlapped and figures that look unsteady, for instance, heighten the feeling of motion. Another technique that can be used to suggest movement is the use of diagonal lines. Gradation of size and direction can also add movement to a shape. A gradation of color, for instance, causes the eye to move along an image and therefore produce a sense of movement in a design.

Emphasis is a principle that is used to direct the audienceĀ“s attention to a certain focal point in the design. It allows the designer to emphasize one object that becomes of prior importance in a composition and to draw the eye to that particular point. Emphasis lays on the most important piece of information, which is often the object placed in the center. Some of the elements artists use and combine to create emphasis are size, color and shape.

The principle of unity is closely related to the way the eye perceives objects. According to the Gestalt, a German school of psichology, we tend to organize the objects that compose an image in groups according to their similarities, and we tend to perceive the whole of a figure rather than individual parts. Unity means that the different elements that constitute a design need to be tied so that they are perceived as a whole, therefore facilitating the understanding of the message conveyed. The repetition of colors and shapes is an easy way of reaching unity among the different parts of a design.

The last principle we will look at in this website is proportion. Proportion refers to one object in relation to another, or to one part of that object in relation to the rest of it. People have a sense of proportion concerning the things that surround them, and concerning themselves in comparison to other individuals. Artists use proportion in order to express a particular feeling in their designs, and they may distort or exaggerate proportion depending on the effect they want to cause on the audience.


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