The Elements and Principles of Design

February 14th, 2016

Designing is similar to building a house. The deeper the foundations the stronger the fortress. Before we can start design great products we have to understand what great design means and what is it made of.

The Elements of Design

Think of these elements as the building blocks that are used to design anything. A combination of these elements makes design complete.


Line is the most basic element. Lines are fundamentally two points that are connected to each other. We can think of the line as the track of the point in motion.

Line Design Element

In design we use lines to separate content or different sections. We can also use the line to bring some structure to the emptiness.


All lines have direction — either horizontal, vertical or oblique. This can set the different states such as calmness, stability, balance and more.

We use direction in design to drive the eye to a particular location.


A shape is a self-contained defined area of either geometric (squares, circles) or organic (free formed, natural) form. Shapes are defined by boundaries such as a lines or color.

Shape Design Element

Shapes are the root of design. They make up everything from typefaces to logos and illustrations.


Texture is how a surface feels or is perceived to feel. It can be rough, smooth, soft and so on.

We add texture to add three-dimensional appearance on two-dimensional surface.


Size is the relationship of the area that is occupied by one shape to another.

Size Design Element


Color is how light is reflected off the objects. Color has three main values: hue (the name of the color), value (lightness or darkness of a color) and intensity (how bright or dull it is).

We use colors to create moods in our designs and evoke different emotions.

The Principles of Design

Principles are different methods that are applied to the elements. Success of our design is determined by how well we apply these methods.


Balance provides stability and structure to a design which makes it aesthetically pleasing. It’s the weight distributed by the placement of the elements in the design. Balance involves arranging both positive elements and negative space in such a way that no area overpowers the other.

Balance Design Principle


Proximity creates relationship between elements by providing a sense of the distance between elements.


Alignment creates order and organization among elements. Aligning elements allows them to create a visual connection with each other.

Alignment Design Principle


Contrast is an absolute difference between two opposing elements. Similarly as direction contrast plays an important role of leading the attention to the intended parts of design.


Repetition creates association and consistency in a design. By pairing together different elements repetition can strengthen the design.

Repetition Design Principle


Space is a distance or area between, around, or within elements. Space can establish contrast, emphasis and hierarchy or generate drama and tension.


I hope you now have a better understanding about how design works and what it consists of. To test what you’ve just read, grab a magazine, go to your favorite website or search for a pleasing photograph and try to write down the different elements and principles that were used to create the final result.


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