The Lost Principles of Design

Fast access, global demand, short deadlines and quick turnaround have made it all too easy to stray away from the basics of design. If you had a professor in college who taught you design fundamentals, the basics should be engrained in you. If you are self-taught, you may have a book on your desk that you refer to on a daily basis. For the masses, the internet is both a valuable resource, and possibly the source of a design epidemic.

People have flooded the internet looking for design content, and while you might not need to learn the basics before attempting a stellar gradient in Photoshop, there will come a point where this style is left behind and a new style reaches popularity. In history, this lesson has repeated itself with movements like ‘Bauhaus’ and ‘Swiss Modernism’ which will soon label our current trends as part of design history.

The fundamentals of design will never change. They are the glue for design & mastering the principles is imperative for success.


Arranging parts to achieve a state of equilibrium between forces of influences.

Examples: Symmetrical, Asymmetrical, Radial


Interaction of contradictory elements. Expresses the duality seen in opposites.

Examples: Large & Small, rough & smooth, thick & thin, light & dark, organic & geometric

Emphasis & Subordination

Establishing centers of interest which focus the viewer’s attention. If all the elements are given relatively equal weight, there will be no emphasis.

Directional Forces

Both implied and actual, they help guide the eye and mind movement of the viewer. They can also bind the work into a single entity.


The size relationship of parts to the entire work, and each to the other. Very often associated with figural art. (the image shows the Golden Ratio)


The real, apparent size of an object seen in relation to other objects, people, its environment, or the proportions of the picture plane.

Repetition & Rhythm

The recurrence of a design element coupled with a certain order to the repetition. Provides continuity, flow, direction forces etc.

Unity within Variety

The force operating within a work of art which can give it the appearance of oneness or resolution. The consistency of the concept.

When any variety of these principles are combined a design becomes very successful and hard to ignore. That design commands your attention, it guides your eye through and keeps you visually entertained. Combining these principles together is referred to as:

Gestalt — a configuration, pattern, or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts; a unified whole.

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