Design Principles for Non-Designers

A brief list of need-to-know terms to make your life a little easier


Balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space. If the design was a scale, these elements should be balanced to make a design feel stable. In symmetrical balance, the elements used on one side of the design are similar to those on the other side; in asymmetrical balance, the sides are different but still look balanced, In radial balance, the elements are arranged around a central point and may be similar.


Emphasis is the part of the design that catches the viewer’s attention. Usually the artist will make on are stand out by contrasting it with other areas. The area could be different in size, color, texture, shape, etc.


Movement is the path the viewer’s eye takes through the work, often to focal areas. Such movement can be directed along lines, edges, shape, and color within the visual design.


Pattern is the repeating of an object or symbol across and throughout the design.


Repetition works with pattern to make the design appear active. The repetition of elements of design creates unity within the work.


Proportion is the feeling of unity created when all parts (sizes, amounts, or number) relate well with each other. For instance, when looking at the human figure, proportion can refer to the size of the head compared to the rest of the body.


Rhythm is created when one or more elements of design are used repeatedly to create a feeling of organized movement. Rhythm creates a mood like music or dancing. To keep rhythm exciting and active, variety is essential.


Space is the area between and around objects. The space around objects is often called negative space


Variety is the use of several elements of design to hold the viewer’s attention and to guide the viewer’s eye through and around the work of art.


Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts of the design, which creates a sense of completeness.