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Articles - Design

The Elements and Principles of Design

Sonal Panse,

Is it essential to know the elements and principles of design? Well, you can get by without them, I suppose. Some people have an innate sense of balance and they instinctively know if a particular design is working or not. On the other hand, it can't hurt to know. It is likely that you may develop a better understanding of the design process, and you will also open the door to more creative ideas and design possibilities.

Just like you can write a whole lot of different words once you know the alphabet or create different kinds of music after learning the scales, similarly you can create quite limitless design permutations and combinations with the design elements and principles.

The elements are the basic building blocks, and the principles make use of these blocks to create the design. So let's take a look at them now.

The Elements of Design are:

Line – A line starts from a point and moves in any given direction. The length and width are variable. A line may be straight, wavy, zigzag, curved, dotted, dashed and so on. It can be of any color. It may be a simple, straightforward two-dimensional mark, or it may give a three dimensional impression.

Shape – A shape is created when lines join together to enclose a space. A shape may be geometric or organic; geometric shapes include circle, square, rectangle, triangle, pentagon, hexagon, octagon and so on, and organic shapes are the ones that have irregular outlines. Like the line, a shape can be flat and two-dimensional, or it can be three-dimensional. A shape may have a flat color or color gradations. The color gradation affects the way the shape is perceived.

Size – The different lines and shapes may have similar or differing sizes. The variation in the proportions may be actual or may be just imagined by the way the lines and shapes are placed or their distance from each other or according to the angle from which they are being viewed.

Space – The area enclosed within the shape by the bounding lines and the area outside the lines is known as space. A shape wouldn't be a shape if it didn't have internal and external spaces. The internal space, which forms the shape, is known as positive space, and the external space surrounding it is known as negative space. The space can be two-dimensional or three-dimensional.

Color – The colors we see are due to light waves of different wavelengths, and the wavelengths reflected from a surface give it a particular color. The name of a color is its hue. The value of a color depends on the amount of light or dark it has. A bright color has a high intensity, and a dull color has a low intensity. Colors can give different effects depending on how they are placed in relation to each other. Colors create moods.

Texture – Texture may be how the surface of a form actually feels or the way it looks. There are varying kinds of textures, and they add to the form's overall character. A texture may be soft, hard, scaly, bark-like, cellular, rocky, and so on.

Value – As mentioned, the lightness or darkness of a color defines its value. The color value is manipulated by adding white or black to the color. By contrasting the color values, it is possible to get a more interesting composition.