Principles of Design (POD)

The PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN are how we organize or use the tools. The principles of design are balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, proportion, repetition, rhythm, variety, and unity.


Picture1To understand balance, think of a balance beam. When objects are of equal weight, they are in balance. When they are not of equal weight they are out of balance.  If you have several small items on one side, they can be balanced by a large object on the other side.

Visual balance is when the artist creates an illusion of balance.


When components are balanced left and right of a central axis they are balanced horizontally.

When components are balanced above and below they are balanced vertically.

When components are distributed around the center point, this radial balance. It is very easy to maintain  a focal point in radial balance, since all the elements lead your eye toward the center.

Picture7Symmetrical balance is a mirror image balance. If you draw a line down the center of the picture, all the objects on one side of the screen will be mirrored on the other side.Using symmetry in a design produces a sense of stability and a lack of tension that requires little work on the part of the viewer.

Formal Balance is a specific form of symmetrical balance commonly used during Gothic and Picture10Renaissance Art.  It contains a central focal point, elements that are distributed equally on each side in a descending triangular pattern, and then a row of symmetrical balance below.


Asymmetrical balance occurs when several smaller items on one side are balanced by a large item on the other side, or smaller items are placed further away from the center of the screen than larger items. One darker item may need to be balanced by several lighter items.





Unity is when all of the parts are working together to achieve a common result; a harmony of all the parts.

When unity is achieved the individual elements with in a composition will not be competing for attention, the key theme will be communicated more clearly and the design will evoke a sense of completeness and organization.

However, in your efforts to achieve unity you need to keep in mind that too much unity without variety is boring.

Similarity: Try repeating colors, shapes, values, textures, or lines to create a visual relationship between the elements. Repetition works to unify all parts of a design because it creates a sense of consistency and completeness

Alignment: ArrPicture13anging shapes so that the line or edge of one shape leads into another helps creates unity in your design. When an element is placed in a composition, it creates an implied horizontal and vertical axis at its top, bottom, center and sides. Aligning other elements to these axes creates a visual relationship which unifies them.

Proximity: Group related items together so that these related items
are seen as one cohesive group rather than a bunch of unrelated elements. A “third element” such as a road to connect near-by elements with distant ones also helps to create a sense of relationship between the groups.



Rhythm can be described as timed movement through space; an easy, connected path along which the eye follows a regular arrangement of motifs. The presence of rhythm creates predictability and order in a composition.

Visual rhythm may be best understood by relating it to rhythm in sound.

Linear rhythm refers to the characteristic flow of the individual line. It is not as dependent on pattern, but is more dependent on timed movement of the viewer’s eye.



The artist or designer uses emphasis to call attention to something, or to vary the composition in order to hold the viewers interest by providing visual “surprises.”Picture15

One method used to attract attention in the design of a page or work of art is the use of a focal pointA focal point draws your attention to the most important element on the page. It marks the locations in a composition which most strongly draw the viewer’s attention.

Repetition creates emphasis by calling attention to the repeated element through sheer force of numbers. If a color is repeated across a map, the places where certain colors cluster will attract your attention.

Picture17Contrast achieves emphasis by setting the point of emphasis apart from the rest of its background. Contrast of color, texture, or shape will call attention to a specific point. Contrast of size or scale will as well.

You can also achieve 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.


Movement is the path our eyes follow when we look at a work of art.

Repetition can create movement when elements which have something in common are repeated regularly or irregularly sometimes creating a visual rhythm. Repetition doesn’t always mean exact duplication either, but it does mean similarity or near-likeness.

Picture21Movement can also be created by action. In two-dimensional works of art, action must be implied. Implied action in a painting creates life and activity within the composition. This is best illustrated by the direction the eye takes along an invisible path created by an arrow, a gaze, or a pointing finger.

Action can also be indicated by the “freeze frame” effect of an object in motion, such as bouncing ball suspended in mid air, a jogger about to take the next step, or a swimmer taking a dive, etc.




Contrast occurs when two related elements are different. The greater the difference the greater the contrast.

The major contrast in a painting should be located at the center of interest. Too much contrast scattered throughout a painting can destroy unity and make a work difficult to look at.

The key to working with contrast is to make sure the differences are obvious. The most common ways of creating contrast are by creating differences in:

• size
• value
• color
• type
• texture
• shape
• alignment
• direction
• movement