Tutorial: Principles of Design


Designers craft visual messages. These messages need to be clear, distinctive and easily assimulated by the viewer.

There are many techniques to achieve the above criteria, but the fundamental technique is to employ the principles of design, which give the designer dynamic ways to compose multiple elements within a given format.

These principles are emphasis, unity, balance and rhythm.


Designers use emphasis to help readers identify the relative importance of each element in a composition.

To identify emphasis, look at a design and see if you can easily answer these questions:

  • What is the first thing I see?
  • What is the second thing I see?
  • What is the third thing I see?

These questions lead you to recognize the visual hierarchy within a design. Visual hierarchy consists of:

  • a clear focal point, the most emphasized element, and
  • accents, elements of lesser importance than the focal point:

Use emphasis effectively in a design by:

  • Making only one focal point
  • Clearly emphasizing the focal point
  • Emphasizing accents in ways that make the visual hierarchy clear.


Not only is there a strong focal point, but the visual hierarchy could not be more clear.



Color can be used to establish a focal point.


Effective use of emphasis cam make a composition contain a lot of separate elements without seemin cluttered.



A strong focal point attracts the viewers' attention.


A strong focal point can deliver a lot of visual information quickly and easily.



Designers use unity to make elements in a composition appear to belong together. When each elements has a clear visual relationship to one or more other elements, the composition is unified. When unity is achieved:

  • a composition does not become cluttered or confusing.
  • a concept can be communicated more clearly.
  • a design evokes a sense of quality and organization.

Some of the ways to achieve unity include:


Repeating colors, shapes, values, textures, or lines creates a visual relationship between elements, called correspondence.

Treating different elements in the same manner also ties them together. This is called continuity.



Unity in multiple compositions is acheive by repeating the placement of design elements.



Applying unity to ad campaignes enhances recognition and attention.



Unity in packaging identifies different product variations while maintaining a strong, consistent brand image.



Unity in technique can deliver a lot of visual information without becoming cluttered.



When and element is placed in a composition, it creates an implied horizontal and vertical axis at its top, bottom, center and sides. Aligning other elements to these axes creates a visual relationship which unifies them.

align01  align02  align03

Using implied axes to unify the placement of multuple design elements.




Balance is a relationshipt among elements which provides an equal distribution of weight.

The two main type of balance are symmetrical and asymmetrical:


Symmetry is a formal type of balance in which all elements in a comostion align to the format's center vertical axis. the left and right halves of the comosition are mirror image of one another.

Use symmetrical balance to communicate the idea of formality, tradition, and comfort.


This poster primarily symmetrical balance even thou one element is not centered.



Symmetry can make type more readable.



Symmetry creates a pleasing, calm attitude.


When and element is placed in a composition, it creates an implied horizontal and vertical axis at its top, bottom, center and sides. Aligning other elements to these axes creates a visual relationship which unifies them.

Use asymmetry to communicate the feelings of modern, dynamic, and informal.


Asymmetry can be visually dynamic.



Asymmetry can help esablish a focal point.



Asymmetry creates visual interest.



Designers use rhythm to create movement in a composition by positioning elements so that the eye is led to move from one to another.

Rhythm keep the viewer acively engaged in a visual composition.


Sise variatio, angles and placement promote rhythym.



Using rhythm can make a design more active and dynamic.



Rhythm can force the eye to move in a pre-determined direction.



The constant eye movement that rhythm promotes make a more exciting visual experience.



Rhythm can be smooth, gentle and calm.

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