Lecture 02.01: Design Basics


To facil­i­tate the flu­ency of knowl­edge and use of the Ele­ments and Prin­ci­ples of design that are key to cre­at­ing suc­cess­ful design solu­tions in all media.


Sum­ma­rize key infor­ma­tion for ease of accessibility.

Background Reading

Koenig, Chap­ter 7 and 8. Dab­ner, Mod­ule 1

Elements of Design:

Ele­ments are the basic build­ing blocks of visual media.

  • Point: a dot, or other loca­tion in space.
  • Line: Con­nec­tion between two points (math) or a move­ment through space.
  • Plane: a shape with height and width, but no breadth or depth, two-dimensional.
  • Space: The height and width, and depth  of an object.
  • Form: a shape cre­ated in three dimensions.
  • Value: the grad­ual steps of light to dark in color or lighting.

More Spe­cific:

  • Pic­ture plane, the for­mal unit that con­tains the composition.
  • Line can have posi­tion direc­tion. Lin­ear lines are gen­er­ally straight, curvi­lin­ear are not. Lines can have vary­ing tex­ture or thick­ness. Ver­ti­cal lines sug­gest up and down, or North and South. Hor­i­zon­tal lines sug­gest flat­ness, east west and the ground (hori­zon). Diag­o­nal lines are mul­ti­di­rec­tional and form strong, dynamic com­po­si­tional motion sug­ges­tion speed, rota­tion, move­ment or convergence.
  • Shapes are formed when a line com­pletes a path back onto itself. Shapes can be geo­met­ric (reg­u­lar) or non-geo­met­ric. Within these cat­e­gories we can cre­ate other cat­e­gories that over­lap. For exam­ple stan­dard geo­met­ric shapes are cir­cle, square, tri­an­gle, rec­tan­gle, oval, dia­mond, and trape­zoid. These shapes can also be rec­ti­lin­ear, curvi­lin­ear, organic, man­made, or symbolic.
  • Com­bin­ing sim­ple shapes is use­ful for cre­at­ing com­plex shapes. Addi­tion, sub­trac­tion, and over­lap­ping are use­ful meth­ods for cre­at­ing shapes. A shape forms an area in the pic­ture plane that is called the fig­ure, or pos­i­tive space. The area that sur­rounds the space is called the ground, or neg­a­tive space. Often it becomes dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish between the shape and the ground. This is often called fig­ure ground reversal.
  • Actual space is occu­pied by real objects. Vir­tual space is an illu­sion, requir­ing var­i­ous tech­niques to repro­duce real­ity. Forms are this tech­nique. Flat, rec­tan­gu­lar shapes are rep­re­sented with the addi­tion of depth, in the third dimen­sion. Curvi­lin­ear sur­faces use mod­el­ing, or a sub­tle shift in color and light. Gen­er­ally, com­po­si­tional space is divided into three lev­els: Fore­ground, Mid­dle Ground, and Background.
  • Value is often used to sup­port the illu­sion of space, though it pos­si­ble to use it inde­pen­dent of rec­og­niz­able sit­u­a­tions. Tex­ture is the char­ac­ter­is­tic qual­ity that defines the sur­face of an object. Tex­ture can be real or simulated.

Principles of Design:

Design Prin­ci­ples are the the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts that guide the posi­tion­ing of indi­vid­ual design ele­ments. The design process involves two dis­tinct steps: the selec­tion of ele­ment, and 2) the place­ment or orga­ni­za­tion of the cho­sen ele­ments. The design prin­ci­ples cor­re­late with par­tic­u­lar aspects of con­struct­ing visual space.

Unity: the man­ner in which com­po­si­tional parts are held together.

  • Rep­e­ti­tion: rep­e­ti­tion of a visual element
  • Vari­ety: devi­a­tion of an ele­ment from a repet­i­tive pattern
  • Sim­i­lar­ity: cor­re­sponds with rep­e­ti­tion, the asso­ci­a­tion of forms based on appearance
  • Con­ti­nu­ity: a visual path­way through a composition
  • Prox­im­ity: the orga­ni­za­tion of ele­ments based on rel­a­tive location
  • Scale: the rel­a­tive size of a por­tion of a com­po­si­tion, pro­por­tion is similar.

Bal­ance: The equal dis­tri­b­u­tion of visual weight, or rel­a­tive mag­ni­tude of ele­ment in a composition

  • Sym­me­try; For­mal bal­ance around a cen­tral axis, or line of symmetry
  • Asym­met­ri­cal bal­ance: Infor­mal bal­ance, com­posed of unequal visual weight
  • Crys­tal­lo­graphic: pat­tern or subdivision
  • Radial: ema­nat­ing or radi­at­ing forms from a cen­tral area.

Empha­sis: The mech­a­nism that forms a par­tic­u­lar place of emphasis.

  • Con­trast: Visual oppo­si­tion to another element
  • Iso­la­tion: Phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of an area or item
  • Direc­tion: Use of direc­tional forces (ele­ments) to focus on a location

Rhythm: the visual qual­ity, or describ­ing the man­ner, of visual movement

  • Legato: Unbro­ken, smooth or connected
  • Stac­cato: Bro­ken, “on and off”
  • Alter­nat­ing: alter­nat­ing two or more types
  • Pro­gres­sive: grad­u­at­ing progression

Move­ment: lit­eral and/or sug­gested motion

  • Gra­da­tion: grad­ual visual change to sug­gest motion, depth
  • Diag­o­nals: sug­gest direc­tional force

Gestalt: The per­cep­tion of a con­fig­u­ra­tion, pat­tern, struc­ture, or wholeness.

  • Roughly trans­lated from Ger­man as configuration.

Econ­omy: use of min­i­mal amount of visual information

These guide­lines are cru­cial to the selec­tion, place­ment, scale and posi­tion­ing of visual (or audi­ble, tac­tile, olfac­tory) experiences.

From Koenig, Color Workbook.


Vis­i­ble color, ROY G. BIV

Vis­i­ble, ver­sus RGB color ver­sus CMYK ver­sus spot color ver­sus web safe

Hue: a wave­length in the vis­i­ble spec­trum, its pure state, pri­mary, sec­ondary, tertiary

Value: the per­cep­ti­ble lev­els of light and dark, from black to white

Tint: a hue (color) plus white, as pig­ment or illu­sion, cre­ates lighter values

Shade a hue (color) plus black, cre­ates darker value

Sat­u­ra­tion: color prop­erty refers to purity or inten­sity of a color, Highly sat­u­rated col­ors are bright, low sat­u­ra­tion are dull and muted.

Sim­i­lar to value (above); the per­cep­ti­ble lev­els of light and dark, from black to white

Pri­mary: Yel­low, Red, Blue: pure foun­da­tion colors

Sec­ondary: Orange, Vio­let, Green, made from com­bin­ing pri­mary colors

Ter­tiary: YO, RO, RV, BV, BG, YG

Com­pli­men­tary: color oppo­sites, across the wheel from the other