What Are Design Principles?

If you want to become a graphic designer, then there is one thing you definitely need to know off by heart so you can work effectively and produce some amazing work. 

What Are Design Principles?

What is it that you need to know?  

The principles of design. 

Design principles are a vital component when it comes to graphic design so it’s important that you understand what they are and how you can apply them to your work.

Once you do, you are sure to see a great improvement to what you produce and this will help improve your business and generate more profit. 

But what are the design principles and what do they mean? 

We are going to go through each of the design principles and explain how they affect your graphic design work.

Once you have a better understanding of what they are, you can begin to apply them to your own work and see the results immediately. 

So, let’s start! 

What Are The Design Principles?

There are several design principles that you should keep in mind when working as a graphic designer. There are twelve altogether and they are: 

  • Contrast
  • Balance
  • Emphasis
  • Proportion
  • Hierarchy 
  • Repetition
  • Rhythm
  • Pattern 
  • White Space
  • Movement
  • Variety
  • Unity

You may see some graphic designers argue over other potential design principles but these twelve are the core ones that pretty much everyone in the design community agree are definitely the principles of design.

Now, we are going to take a closer look at each principle in detail so you can understand them clearly. 

Contrast

Contrast is all about making your graphics and pages ‘pop’ out from one another.

It focuses on how each element, image and text works and stands out when compared to the other elements that surround it. 

This doesn’t mean that you need to use contrasting colors like red and green, black and white through the whole design – it just means that you need to be aware of what aspects of your design fades into the background and what stands out. 

Contrast is also an important element when it comes to accessibility.

For example, using a light gray color for your text against  a white background will only make the text difficult to read.

This can make your design look unappealing and difficult when it comes to function – so contrast is definitely an important factor you should consider when designing your products and pages. 

Balance

Balance is one element that a lot of graphic designers struggle to wrap their heads around but it’s way easier to think of it in this way:

Imagine every piece and detail of your design carries a certain amount of weight and your page acts like a scale. You want the scales (or your page) to be balanced.

So, you can’t put all the heavy aspects of your design on one side, otherwise the scales will be out of balance. 

For example, you shouldn’t put a large image and a large block of text on the left side of your page and then leave the right side blank – it just looks unbalanced. 

So, symmetry and balance plays an important part in how professional and clean your design looks.

Consider balance when placing images, text, headings, logos, menus – everything that goes onto your design needs to be equal and balanced. 

Emphasis

When designing your page or product, there are probably some things you want to stand out more than others – this is what the principle of emphasis covers. 

Think about what aspects of your page you want to make clear to your audience or customer.

It could be a message, a core value or a certain piece of information – and now your job is to make it more noticeable for your audience. 

You can emphasize this by making it bigger,  a color that contrasts more clearly against the background, or placing it in the center of the page.

The whole point of this is to ensure that your audience does not miss something important. 

Proportion

Proportion is pretty to understand – it’s just a fancy way of saying size! 

Usually, the general rule is that the larger something is, the more important it is so you need to carefully consider the size of each of the elements in your design. 

Hierarchy 

Hierarchy revolves all around audience consumption and which parts of your design are first noticed by your viewers, then what they notice second, then third, and so on.

It gets you thinking about in what order are the elements of your design taken in and which ones seem like they are the most important. 

This principle makes you pay attention to how noticeable your titles, logos and headings of the design are because they are (traditionally) the parts of your design you want your audience to recognize first.

This makes reading pieces of text a lot easier and also helps your audience navigate websites and pages a lot easier, overall improving their experience of interacting with your product. 

Repetition

When we think of repetition, your mind may instantly jump to things like repeating certain keywords and phrases related to your product’s business – but the principle of repetition goes beyond that. 

Repetition can also cover the repetition of format, colors, fonts and images. It’s all about creating consistency throughout your webpage’s design.

For example, sticking to one type of typeface for your fonts throughout the entire website helps build up an image for your audience.

It also contributes to your brand, so consistency and repetition is key to building up a brand and business.  

Rhythm

Rhythm

Although rhythm is usually associated with audio media, it is also applicable to visual media too.

This principle leans heavily into patterns and repetition, but being random and irregular is also a type of rhythm that can influence the feel of your design. 

There are five main types of rhythm pretty much all webpages fall into: random, alternating, flowing, progressive, and regular. 

Random rhythms are applicable to websites and pages that have no noticeable pattern which makes them exciting, while regular rhythms are notable because they have the same amount of space between each element of the design.

This can make them feel more uniform and professional than other types of websites.  

Alternating rhythms follow a pattern of repetition while progressive rhythms change and build on the previous element.

Finally, flowing rhythms apply to pages with a lot of bends and waves that are soft and easy to follow – these types of rhythms are best used to create a calming vibe. 

Each one works differently to create a unique feeling within your audience, so think carefully about how you want your audience to feel and how you can use rhythm in your design to influence that mood and atmosphere. 

Pattern

Pattern is a very easy principle to understand because we see patterns everywhere in our everyday lives.

From wallpapers to layouts of texts to fonts, pattern is all about repeating certain elements of your design again and again. 

The purpose of patterns is to help guide your audience and build up an expectation with them. This makes it clear what they can expect from your website. 

And it’s not just about making your own unique patterns for your design – you can also follow industry-wide patterns to help make your page more navigational for your viewer. 

For example, e-stores often have the basket or bag option available in the top right-hand corner of every page.

If you choose to deviate from this pattern by moving your basket button down to the bottom, then you could confuse customers and damage their viewing experience. 

White Space

This principle is also known by the alternative name of ‘negative space’ and refers to all the empty space in your design.

This includes the gap between each letter of each word, the space between images and text – every single inch of your design needs to be carefully considered, even the empty space. 

Too much emptiness can be damaging while not enough space can have the same effect. Also, you can get creative and find easy to use negative space creatively. 

For example, take the FedEx logo. Have you ever noticed that the negative space between the second ‘E’ and the final ‘x’ makes an arrow?

It’s a clever use of negative space that clearly represents the purpose of the FedEx business, plus it makes it more memorable to customers. 

So, try to do the same with your negative space! 

Movement

Movement is very similar to hierarchy as it is all about how your audience engages and views your design.

It’s important to think about what someone who is viewing your design will look at first and then where their eye will move. 

It’s all about your audience and how they travel and navigate your page.

So, it makes you really think about the positioning of your design, certain emphasis you put on certain elements, and the hierarchy when it comes to text. 

Variety 

Too much repetition and pattern can sometimes make your design feel very monotonous and boring so it’s important to also try and shake things up by bringing a bit of variety to your design. 

This can be through a range of things including color, fonts, and images.

However, this can be a double-edged sword as too much variety can make your design too unpredictable and lose its purpose and structure. 

So, balance is another important principle to keep in mind when working to shake up your design.

It’s all about making your design more interesting and appealing without alienating your audience and making them feel completely swallowed up in your design.

Too much variety can end up drowning out the important aspects of your design so try to keep pattern and variety balanced to create an interesting but sophisticated design. 

Unity

And finally, we have unity. This principle is all about how your website and design works together to create a singular product.

We often work on separate pages and aspects of our website without taking a step back and looking at how it all works together to become a single product. 

You don’t want two web pages to look like they come from completely different sources as this can cause confusion and also damage your brand – so it’s important each element of your design is united towards one design and concept.

This unified look should be clear to any viewer as it helps promote your design as organized and professional. 

Websites that have little or no unity can appear to be of a very low quality and give the impression that not a lot of thought or planning had gone into making that website.

So, make sure there is consistency and unity between every single aspect of your product so you can be happy with the result. 

Are There Any Other Main Principles Of Design?

The above twelve principles are widely considered to be the main principles of design.

These additional principles can include principles like color palettes, typography, framing and alignment.

However, many argue that these aspects often easily tie into the above principles.

For example, while typography refers to text and symbols, the other principles can easily cover typography too with patterns, emphasis, contrast, proportion, etc. 

Basically, potential additional principles like typography, framing and color palettes are too specific to count as a principle of design.

As a result, they are not often considered to be some main principles of design unlike the ones we have covered above.

Conclusion

And those are the main design principles that you should keep in mind whenever working as a graphic designer!

Each of these twelve principles are said to be the key to taking your work and design to a higher, professional level. 

So, take another look over each one and apply them one by one to your design to make it super high quality and professional! 

Katie Nash