• Denise Foy


What makes a successful design? First off, there are so many definitions of design, but understanding the principles of design is the first step to creating cohesive and harmonious visuals. This article will take you through the 7 basic principles of design that will make your next project stand out.


In order to understand the 7 principles of design, you may want to have an understanding of two key concepts: visual language and design. These both carry the same weight in executing an effective piece of work.

Visual language is the idea that we communicate through visual symbols. For example, take a look at the clothes you are wearing. Do you see a logo? If you do, you’re participating in visual language! Visual language is the way that designers communicate messages and meaning through their work. They use elements like colors, lines, and shapes to make you feel or think a certain way. 

The second key concept is the design itself. Design is selecting and organizing elements in order to fulfill a certain purpose. This purpose may be functional and/or aesthetically pleasing.

When we talk about design, we are specifically talking about design elements and how they are used to support the artists’ ultimate goal - whether that be to tell a story, market a product, or to visually communicate a message to you.

Now that you are familiar with the ideas behind the principles of design, let's get started!


Principle #1: Contrast

Visual contrast happens when different elements of a piece are noticeably different from another. It’s often used to emphasize key elements in design. When contrasting colors are placed next to another (often opposite sides of the color wheel) it draws the viewer’s attention. Contrast is what people mean when they say a design “pops.”

Principle #2: Emphasis

Emphasis is important for helping viewers see the most important part of a design. You could ask yourself, “What is the first piece of information I want my audience to know?” The most essential information should be the biggest element in your design. For example, think about billboards you see while driving down the highway. Well done billboards will put the most important information in big bold letters to capture your attention.

Principle #3: Pattern

Patterns happen when an object, symbol, or image is uniformly repeated throughout a composition. It can set a tone, and set the stage for other elements. This approach to design becomes especially important when thinking about designs that have a significant amount of color, texture, and depth. The use of patterns can enhance the user experience, as well as the design.

Principle #4: Repetition

In most cases, repetition would be overwhelming and turn the viewer away, but not in design! Instead, repetition is a visually appealing way to put emphasis on a particular element. Repetition unifies and strengthens the design and puts emphasis on particular elements like color, shape, or font.

Principle #5: Movement

Movement is controlling the elements in a composition that leads the eye across the work. Movement creates a story or a narrative of your work. For example, on a concert poster, the location and time are established with balance, alignment, and contrast, but without proper movement, the viewer's eye will get stuck.

Principle #6: Space

In design, space refers to the areas around different visual elements. There are two types of space: positive and negative. White space (negative space) is the only one that deals with what you don’t add. White space is the empty page around the elements. This helps create hierarchy and organization. It tells our eyes that objects in one region are grounded separately from objects elsewhere. In contrast, positive space is the area that the object occupies. As a designer, you use positive space to display the most important elements in your design.

Principle #7: Balance

Last, but perhaps the most important principle of design is balance. Don’t forget every element you place on a page carries weight. Rather it be color, size, or texture, the designer's goal is to balance the weight of each object on the canvas in order to create a feeling of balance for the viewer. Symmetrical design creates balance through equal elements aligned on the page. On the other hand, asymmetrical balance uses opposite weights, like contrasting large elements with several small elements to create a composition that is not evenly balanced, but still has equilibrium.

How can you use the principles of design in your own work? While these points seem interesting, you might not be convinced that pleasing design will affect your bottom line. Thoughtfully approaching the design of products, documents, and websites can yield big dividends. Design-centric firms have a higher growth rate than average. As consumers are exposed to more and better layouts, they have higher expectations. You can meet and exceed those expectations by implementing these design principles to optimize design results. 

If you want help in designing your next project, contact us for an initial consultation. We’d love to work together with you to provide you a design that will take your business to the next level! We are a results-oriented design firm specializing in web + graphic design for small businesses throughout the world with a mission to create, inspire, share.

~ Written by: Abigail Rouch











© 2021 by de la foye design studio, llc.

chicago + asheville

4045 N Rockwell Street, #204

Chicago, IL 60618

67 Broadway Street

Asheville, NC 28801

p: +1 312.796.8337

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