The Principles of Design

Balance is an equilibrium that results from looking at images and judging them against our ideas of physical structure (such as mass, gravity or the sides of a page). It is the arrangement of the objects in a given design as it relates to their visual weight within a composition. Balance usually comes in two forms: symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Rhythm is the repetition or alternation of elements, often with defined intervals between them. Rhythm can create a sense of movement, and can establish pattern and texture. There are many different kinds of rhythm, often defined by the feeling it evokes when looking at it.

Proportion is the comparison of dimensions or distribution of forms. It is the relationship in scale between one element and another, or between a whole object and one of its parts. Differing proportions within a composition can relate to different kinds of balance or symmetry, and can help establish visual weight and depth. In the below examples, notice how the smaller elements seem to recede into the background while the larger elements come to the front. EXAMPLE

Dominance relates to varying degrees of emphasis in design. It determines the visual weight of a composition, establishes space and perspective, and often resolves where the eye goes first when looking at a design. There are three stages of dominance, each relating to the weight of a particular object within a composition. EXAMPLE 1 - EXAMPLE 2

In the below example, the trees act as the dominant element, the house and hills as the secondary element, and the mountains as the tertiary element.

The concept of unity describes the relationship between the individual parts and the whole of a composition.

Contrast or Opposition
Contrast addresses the notion of dynamic tension - the degree of conflict that exists within a given design between the visual elements in the composition. EXAMPLE

Positive and Negative Space
Positive and negative space refers to the juxtaposition of figure and ground in a composition. The objects in the environment represent the positive space, and the environment itself is the negative space. EXAMPLE

Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a compositional tool that makes use of the notion that the most interesting compositions are those in which the primary element is off center. Basically, take any frame of reference and divide it into thirds placing the elements of the composition on the lines in between. EXAMPLE

Visual Center
The visual center of any page is just slightly above and to the right of the actual (mathematical) center. This tends to be the natural placement of visual focus, and is also sometimes referred to as museum height. EXAMPLE 1 - EXAMPLE 2 - By Joshua David McClurg-Genevese - Published on June 13, 2005