The Lost Principles of Design

In the instant age that design has evolved into recently many of us often stray away from the basics. If you had a professor in college who taught you the fundamentals of design these may be engrained into your head. For the self-taught, you may have a book on your desk with these very principles. However, the more and more people that flood the internet for design content need to learn the basics before trying to make a stellar gradient in Photoshop. While this is cool and amazing right now, there will come a point where this style is strayed away from and a new style is made. In history, this lesson has repeated itself with movements like the Bauhaus and Swiss Modernism and will soon come label our current trends as part of history.

The fundamentals of design will however, never change. They are the glue that holds the industry together and we need to learn & take them to heart.


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.

This article was written by Chad Engle and in my opinion, worthy of review.

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