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Elements and Principles of Graphic Design Part 2

By: Nathan Pope at Nathan Pope Designs

Submitted on Fri, Mar 6th, 2009 5:49 am

As a graphic designer I have to understand how graphic design can make or break a website. The elements and principles of design are the building blocks used to create every design. The principles of design are the parts that shape all the individual elements. Generally, every design will contain most of, if not all of, the elements and principles of design.

After a very long vacation in various parts of the world I am back and ready to cap off the rest of this article. In this second, and final, part I explain at length the principles of design: Balance, Proportion, Rhythm, Emphasis, and Unity. These principles of design are concepts used to organize or arrange the structural elements of design. The way in which these principles are applied affects the expressive content, or the message of the work.


This is the result of an arrangement of one or more elements in the design so that visually, they equal each other. Every object in nature has structural balance, from the symmetry of a flower petal to the chambers of a snails shell.

Symmetrical Balance

Symmetrical (or formal) balance has elements of equal weight as well as tone placed on both sides of an imaginary vertical line on the page and gives the feeling of permanence and stability. Any symmetrical layout is likely to produce a more static, restful design. However, because a centred layout is so static, it is very easy to make it pleasant but boring.

Horizontal Symmetry

Principles of design horizontal symmetry

Approximate Horizontal Symmetry

Principles of design approximate horizontal symmetry Nevertheless, the general tone of the centred design is restrained and formal. It can be used to advantage in advertisements emphasizing quality, and by businesses whose position in the community is one of trust. This method of balance is also acceptable if you are publishing a novel with which the reader is going to relax quietly in an armchair, but it is extremely difficult to make such a layout visually interesting.

Asymmetrical Balance
Principles of design asymmetry

One of the major advantages of an asymmetrical layout is that it allows for the more dynamic use of white space. This is particularly important if illustrations are included. Asymmetrical (or informal) balance may be unequal in position and intensity. To create asymmetrical balance, there must be an increase in intensity to compensate for the change in position. Intensity can be increased by changing size, shape, or tone. For a particular job, the designer might choose to position the elements to one side of the picture plane. The white space opposing must then act as a counter-balancing force.

A useful way to determine the balance of elements on a page is to compare one area with another; it is helpful to analyze the space with an imaginary grid. In this way, you can optically weigh the masses and determine their intensity and direction. How space is handled will depend on the number of imaginary grid units you have selected and how much space is available.

Principles of design proportion

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.


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 several different kinds of rhythm.

Regular Rhythm
Principles of design regular rhythm

A regular rhythm occurs when the intervals between the elements, and often the elements themselves, are similar in size or length.

Flowing Rhythm
Principles of design flowing rhythm

A flowing rhythm gives a sense of movement, and is often
more organic in nature.

Progressive Rhythm
Principles of design progressive rhythm

A progressive rhythm shows a sequence of forms through a progression of steps.


One method used to attract attention in the design of a page or work of art is the use of a focal point. A focal point draws your attention to the most important element on the page. There are several techniques used to emphasize the most important object on a page.

Emphasis by Contrast

In realistic art the focal point is usually quite easy to spot. Larger figures, usually found in the foreground, provide a focal point. Even in non-realistic art, it is usually easy to spot the focal point. If most of the figures are horizontal, a vertical element will stand out as a focal point. If the rest of the elements are irregular, a geometric shape will stand out. If most of the elements are dark, a splash of light color will catch the eye.

Emphasis by Isolation

If most of the elements in a work of art are grouped closely together, an object by itself stands out as a focal point.

Emphasis by Placement

An object placed in the center will often be perceived as a focal point. If all eyes in the painting look at one object, or if an object is placed at the center of the lines of perspective, that object will be perceived as the focus of the work.

Unity or Harmony

The concept of unity describes the relationship between the individual parts and the whole of a composition. It investigates the aspects of a given design that are necessary to tie the composition together, to give it a sense of wholeness, or to break it apart and give it a sense of
variety. Unity in design is a concept that stems from some of the Gestalt theories of visual perception and psychology, specifically those dealing with how the human brain organizes visual information into categories, or groups. Entire books are written about Gestalt theory and it would take way too long to get into here due to the large amount of abstractness.

That basically sums up the principles of design. This article was actually a lot more work than I thought it would be. The hardest part was actually limiting myself to something that wasnt too heavy for people to finish. Thanks for reading part two of my article. Please let me know what you think of my explanations. I am also interested to see if you have anything to add.

About the Author

Nathan Pope
Nathan Pope Designs
Experienced graphic designer with a passion for great design. I have an eye for great design and am always updating my knowledge about design trends.

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