Words Katya Tsygankova
10 minutes to read
Creative Industry
Creative Industry
Creative Industry

7 key principles of design

Have you ever wondered how the first impression is formed? It is believed that the first seven seconds when we look at something new are the most vital. Whether it is art, image or graphic design, how can we make sure we don’t waste that time?

For this purpose we will look at the seven principles of graphic design, and how to harness them in your art of composition.


What are the Principles of Design?

There is no real consensus in the design community about what the main principles actually are. That said, the following seven principles are those mentioned most often: Balance and Alignment, Emphasis, Contrast, Repetition, Proportion, Movement and White Space.

Take a moment to look at any image around you. What do you see? The art of composition, that simple, organic yet carefully thought about design with various elements and principles combined together to deliver the message.

Love baking? Lets take your favourite cake. You know what you want, but you have to mix ingredients (elements) and follow the instructions (principles) to design it. Some time and practice and voila!, your cake is ready.

Grand graphic design, just as haute cuisine, adheres to strict rules that work beneath the surface to make the work stable and balanced. If the work is missing that balance, it will be weak and ineffective.

Picked all the ingredients? Let’s move into the instructions part.


Balance & Alignment



Every element you place on a page has a weight, which comes from color, size, or texture. Just like you wouldn’t put all your toppings on one side of the pizza, you can’t crowd all your heavy elements in one area of the composition. There are two types of balance — symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Symmetrical design creates balance through equally weighted elements, while asymmetrical design uses opposite weights to create a composition that is not even, but still has equilibrium.
Symmetrical designs are always pleasing, safe but can be boring. If you love experimental cuisine and up for some bold statements, asymmetrical design can bring real visual interest and movement, if you use it correctly.

Let’s take a cheese and charcuterie board. Whether you chose to mix evenly cut ingredients on both sides of the center, or make it a la Composée, separating the dominant ingredient, say a nice block of baked brie cheese with lavender honey and serve it to the left of the center, creating asymmetry. It will undoubtedly be delicious, but which presentation would make a more memorable impression?





Emphasis (also known as dominance) may seem similar to proportion but is actually more to do with the visual weight of an element. The dominant part of a composition is what you want to stand out the most, yet not to overpower the rest of the design.

Say you are designing a restaurant poster, possibly the one that serves delicious charcuterie. What is the first piece of information your audience needs to know? Is it the name? Or type of cuisine, hours and location, chef’s awards? Make a mental outline and communicate each detail according to its importance. Play with colors or bold fonts to center the dominant element. Emphasize and have fun with it!




Contrast refers to the arrangement of opposite elements (color, shape, texture) to create visual interest and to make your design pop. For example, light and dark colors, smooth and rough textures, large and small shapes. This adds variety and drama into your artwork.



Contrast refers to the arrangement of opposite elements (color, shape, texture) to create visual interest and to make your design pop. For example, light and dark colors, smooth and rough textures, large and small shapes. This adds variety and drama into your artwork.

In case of color contrast, your background needs to be significantly different from the color of elements for a more balanced and readable look.

If you want to use type contrast, remember to balance the weight and size of your elements. Just like with the restaurant poster, how will your audience know what is most important if everything is in bold? It is better not to use more than two typefaces not to confuse the purpose of your design.


Proportion. Proximity



In a composition, proportion refers to the relationship between objects with reference to their size and visual weight. This creates a way to present objects as larger than in life, or bring a large object down to fit on a piece of paper.

Proximity can be achieved only if all elements of your design are well-sized and thoughtfully placed. Soon after you master such principles as alignment, balance, and contrast, proportion should evolve organically.

For size, making an element larger gives it much higher importance than those elements with a smaller size.

For visual weight, highlighting the part of text in bold, makes it look more important than the rest.


Repetition. Rhythm. Patterns



Repetition unifies and strengthens a design. It can create a sense of movement in a composition by repeating or alternating elements. However repeating things does not have to be boring! In fact, it can amplify a design. There are three repetition methods: repetition, patterns, and rhythm.

Repetition can be used in web, app design or restaurant menu, where items are often repeated in the same place on a page.

Rhythm comes in three categories, where progressive rhythm is used to create a sense of moving up or forward. Flowing is used to amplify a more natural sense of movement in a composition (fluid, wavy, uneven forms). Regular rhythm is where the elements used are of the same or similar size, length and weight and can be positioned in a pattern. Just like musicians create rhythm in the spacing between notes, designers insert spacing between elements to make a design sound great!

Patterns are simply a repetition of more than one design element working in symphony with each other. You see these examples everywhere: wallpaper, pizza toppings (of course!) and architecture. Geometric patterns can be used to create anything from zoning layout to building massing bringing to life trendy hexagonal and octagonal design, sacred geometry, mandalas or beehive compositions.

Whichever repetition principle you want to incorporate into your design try to make is simple and readable. At the end you want to maintain the user experience, keeping the reader on your page.





Movement means guiding the user’s eye to a predetermined path in a composition. Going back to our restaurant poster. If you decided the name and cuisine was the most important piece of information on the page and the location was the second, how would you communicate that with your audience?

It is movement that controls the elements in a composition so that the eye is led to move from one to the next. Here appears the narrative of your design: a new Italian restaurant is open, it’s at this location, open at this time, this is the name of the chef etc. You already took care of the elements above—balance, alignment, and contrast, but without proper movement, your design won’t win. But how about a promised dinner at the restaurant?

It’s good to ask for someone’s opinion. Does their eye get “stuck” anywhere on your work of art, is there an element that is too big, too bold, unaligned, not a complimentary color theory? Harmony here is your key to success.


White Space


Very simple yet very profound. Negative Space or empty space emphasizes an object in a composition by creating a focus. The empty space on the image above can be perceived as the sky and the placed objects as stars and planets.



Despite its name, white space does not need to be white. It can be any color, texture, pattern, or even a background image. It’s telling our eyes that objects in one area are grouped separately from objects elsewhere. Bringing up importance and hierarchy white space adds organization to your design. With a combination of visual weight and white space, you can create interesting visual illusions.

White space is a powerful design tool. Using this principle, you can improve comprehension, add focus and attention, increase interaction rate and set designer tone. The application of white space is both art and science.


Why are the Principles of Design so important?


Let’s get back to the seven seconds first impression rule. In the world of information overload or visual overstimulation, we as designers want our work of art to stand out while bringing excitement, joy and value to the consumer’s time.

The principles of design are based on psychological studies of people’s perceptions of visual elements, that give you a basic framework for applying the elements of design in order to achieve a desired effect and communicate the message clearly.

It helps us to learn the way people naturally organize images in their heads in order to emphasize particular aspects of a composition and make that long lasting impression.

These wizard tools will help to make your design visually appealing to people who are looking at your work, while bringing good publicity, and benefiting not just the consumer but the artist who made it.

At the end of the day baking a cake is just as much about ingredients, instructions and chemical reactions as it is about celebration.

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