Published Wed Feb 15 2023

Design 101: Unlocking the Elements and Principles of Design

Everything we interact with in the outside world is designed. And we, as "users," have a whole designed experience.

“Design” written on a colorful piece of paper with designing tools

Making, creating, being inventive, and imaginative – design combines these all and shapes the world we perceive. We live in a designed environment. Everything we interact with in the outside world is designed. And we, as "users," have a whole designed experience.

Design aims to solve a problem, be visually appealing, and make the objective environment functional and practical. Design ranges in types, but the elements and principles of design stay the same in this range. We distinguish interior, industrial, engineering, software, fashion, landscape, architecture, UI/UX, information, etc., design. It encompasses different art forms and acts as the language objects speak.

There is no universal definition for "design," as it can refer to the creation, process, result, or all together. According to statistics about design, it directly affects our life quality, experience, and decisions. Many stop using the product, returning to the shop, or recommending the service to anyone.

Say, you have bought a bag from a famous store. The bag seems big, but you cannot fit much in it. The size doesn't justify a purpose. You feel uncomfortable and develop a dislike for the store. Chances are you will never make another purchase from there, nor would you recommend it to anyone. Poor design affects your future actions. So does great design.

Elements and Principles of Design

Whichever field design belongs to, there are elements and principles of design that all experts follow. Elements are the tools a designer uses and principles define how the designer creates the outcome. Thus, it is the tools and the process of creation we are going to talk through this article.


Elements of design

The visual compositions we see are based on the elements of design. They include line, shape, texture, form, value, color, and space. Like the correct grammar that beautifies your speech, the right proportion of these elements' joint use results in a design that communicates ideas and emotions. Let's explore the ingredients of a great design.


What connects A to B is the starting point of any artistic creation. Lines come in different shapes, thicknesses, and lengths. Lines create a sense of movement, direction, or emphasis. They are used to express meaning, evoke an emotional appeal, or arrange information. Horizontal lines communicate stability, point to the horizon, or suggest a division. It is used as a directing line throughout the composition.

Vertical lines show upward movement, indicating an increase or connote division.

Diagonal lines create a dynamic sense of movement; they range in horizontal and vertical, and can mean both increase and decrease.

Depending on their positioning, Arcs express calmness and pacifying effects when horizontally placed. When it is placed on the curve, it can indicate instability and provocative thoughts.

Curves and waves can indicate the movements of air, sound, or water. They can create a calming effect and soothe the perceiver.

Different lines can indicate different emotions and associations. The human brain tends to draw analogies in objective reality. A simple line connecting two dots with its thickness and coloring affects the observer and directs them in the desired direction.


The shape is an area that is defined by a boundary, such as the edges of a form or the silhouette of an object. Form refers to the 3-dimensional quality of an object and can be used to create a sense of depth and volume.

We distinguish between positive and negative shapes. Positive shapes are those of actual objects. Negative shapes are the areas between these objects. Human perception differs depending on which shape they see first, positive or negative.

Another distinction is geometric, such as circles, squares, or triangles, and organic shapes, such as flowers, animals, or trees.

Geometric shapes that are even and formed in distinct shapes, like squares and rectangles, indicate stability and can be used to get trust since they are balanced and mathematical. Triangles, in turn, may represent action, tension, aggression or create a sense of strength. From here, they represent masculinity.

Cultural perceptions of design also matter. To some, a triangle can symbolize justice or religion. Square in Buddhism they are associated with being earthbound. And when put inside a circle, they indicate a human-divine connection. The circle itself represents the eternal whole.

We usually see circles and rounds in logos; they show unity, commitment, and community. Analogies can be made with a circle ring, a symbol of marriage, a wheel, a ball, free movement, and bound ties as a community.


The texture is the surface quality, such as rough or smooth. It can be used to create visual interest and depth and convey a certain mood or atmosphere.

Smooth textures, such as a polished marble floor, can convey a sense of luxury and refinement․

Soft textures, such as a plush velvet couch, can create a sense of comfort and warmth․

Hard textures, such as a metal sculpture, can convey a sense of strength and durability․

Texture can add depth and interest to a flat image. For example, a designer might use a textured background to make a simple logo stand out. In web design, texture can be used to add visual interest to a page without overwhelming the content.

In architecture and interior design, texture can be used to create a sense of warmth and comfort in a space. For example, a designer might use textured wall coverings, such as a grasscloth, to add interest to a room or use textured flooring, such as a berber carpet, to create a cozy atmosphere.

In fashion design, texture can be used to add visual interest and depth to a garment. For example, a designer might use textured fabrics, such as boucle or corduroy, to create a unique look or use textured embellishments, such as beading or embroidery, to add a touch of luxury.


Ranging in geometric and natural forms are three-dimensional objects with height, width, and depth. Forms usually give the design a heavy and serious look and guide the viewer's eye through a composition.

In design, geometric forms, such as cubes and squares, can mean stability and order, whereas abstract forms can create a sense of movement and energy.

Forms can convey a sense of naturalness and harmony. Light and shadow are responsible for the effects that forms create. Adding a shadow to the shape, forms are made in a 3D effect. They can give a sense of realness of the object. To succeed with the design creation, its form and function should be interconnected.


Light or dark value refers to the lightness or darkness of elements in the design. In visual design, value is used to create the illusion of depth and dimension on a flat surface. The use of value can make sense of movement, emphasis, and hierarchy within a design.

Employing value, designers emphasize the object, making it seem important and dynamic. Thanks to the hierarchy effect, the value can create some objects that can appear prominent and some less important. Value also gives moving and shifting effects creating an abstract imaginary scene.

For instance, the title or main headline on a poster may be in a lighter value than the body text. This creates a visual hierarchy, making the title stand out and first draw the viewer's eye to the most important information.

In website design, the main call-to-action button may be in a lighter value than the surrounding elements. This creates emphasis on the button, making it stand out and more likely to be clicked.


Probably the strongest emotional reactions can be made through the right use of colors in the design. From ancient times, certain colors have been associated with specific emotions. Color in graphic design is a whole branch to study. Color schemes help designers decide the tones to be combined and used for the particular message and action.

By understanding color theory, designers can successfully create great palettes. The three primary colors - blue, yellow, and red and their combinations create the colors we see in the design.

In design, to share a message, the creator should be familiar with people's associations with colors.

Red is often associated with energy, passion, and urgency. It conveys excitement or creates a sense of urgency. Blue is often associated with trust, dependability, and calm. Blue gives a sense of stability or creates a sense of trust in a brand or product. Green is often associated with growth, health, and nature, while yellow combines happiness, optimism, and warmth. Black is often on the same page with elegance, sophistication, and mystery. White is often used to indicate purity, simplicity, and cleanliness.


Space refers to the areas or volumes within a design, such as the negative or positive areas within a composition. We differentiate between negative and positive space. Positive space is the area of interest of the design, while negative space is the background left.

In interior design, space planning is crucial for functionality and flow. In graphic design, negative space can be just as important as positive space, and can add visual interest and balance to a composition. In architecture, space can be used to create a sense of grandeur or intimacy. Overall, the use of space is an essential tool for designers to create a desired visual and functional impact in their work.

Principles of Design

the process of creating a production using elements and principles of design

Only the right portion of the design elements will create an exceptional design. Here is the combination of elements and principles of design. The principles of design guide the designers to use the right portions. Principles are how the elements of design are arranged and organized to create a cohesive and effective composition. They include balance, proportion, emphasis, movement, contrast, and unity.


Balance is the distribution of visual weight within a composition. We differentiate two types of balance: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is when elements are evenly distributed on either side of a central axis, creating a sense of stability and order. Asymmetrical balance is when elements are unevenly distributed, creating a sense of movement and visual interest.


Proportion is the relationship between the size of different elements within a composition. It is the balance between the size of a component and the size of the overall composition. Proper proportion can create a sense of harmony and unity within a design.


Emphasis is the focal point or central element of a composition. The element immediately catches the viewer's eye and sets the tone for the entire piece. Emphasis can be achieved through color, contrast, or placement within a composition.


Movement refers to the visual flow of composition and the way the eye moves through the piece. It can be achieved using lines, shapes, and colors to guide the viewer's eye through the design.


Contrast is the use of different elements to create visual interest and hierarchy within a composition. It can be achieved through color, value, texture, or placement. High contrast can create a sense of drama, while low contrast can create a sense of calm.


Unity refers to the sense of oneness or cohesiveness within a composition. It is the feeling that all the elements in a design belong together and work together to create a unified whole. Unity can be achieved through repetition, contrast, and proximity.

Final Words

Design is everywhere, and everything we interact with is designed for use, beauty, functionality, etc. This article walked you through the elements and principles of design which are the flash and bones of a design outcome. Experts use these elements and principles of design as guidance.

Each element has its characteristics and can be used to evoke different emotions and associations. They are like the tools used to craft something, similarly, principles define how the elements are used to create a desired outcome.

The article provided examples of how each element and principle can be used in the design. The article also mentioned how design affects our life quality and decisions, how poor design can lead to negative experiences, and how great design can lead to positive experiences.

Knowing these rules will help you create a great outcome if you are a designer. If you are a perceiver, they will help you better perceive the visual world and the art around.

Mery Content Manger

Meri Minasyan

Content Manager

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