Good design begins with a clear understanding of the basics. The six principles of design are guidelines for putting together elements in a way to create effective communication, through graphic design. The way in which these principles are applied affects the expressive content and the message of the work. It’s quite rare to see only one principle being used at a time, however, you do not necessarily need to use all six principles on one page – even the use of one helps in creating good design.


Balance

Balance is the visual weight distribution of objects, colors and space in your design. Keep in mind that it isn't necessary for a design to be symmetrical in order to be considered balanced, an asymmetrical design can also be balanced. For example, with symmetrical balance you would have one element on one side and the same element on the other side. Instead, with asymmetrical balance you could have a large element on one side and several smaller elements on the other side. The balance of the design is achieved entirely by the placement of the elements within that design.

Principles of design example of balance

Contrast

Contrast in design is an accentuation of the differences between elements. Applying contrast to a design allows you to emphasize or highlight key elements. Although contrast is usually applied using opposite colors, contrast is in fact a juxtaposition of various elements of design, so even differences in textures (rough vs. smooth), shapes (large vs. small) and lines (thick vs. thin), just to name a few, also create contrast. The difference between the elements is what creates the visual interest.

Below are a few examples of how contrast can be applied to a design:

Principles of design examples of contrast

Proximity

Proximity is the relationship of how objects fit together in a composition. The main purpose of proximity is to group related elements together in order to organize your design. By placing two or more elements in close proximity to one another, you are grouping them together as one cohesive group, instead of scattered and unrelated objects. This also greatly helps in creating focal points for viewers.

As shown in the illustration below, on the left, we see how individual objects that are scattered and have no relation to one another tend to create confusing and chaotic designs with no focal points. On the other hand, on the right, we see how, when placed in close proximity to one another, these exact same objects create organized, clean designs that create very distinct shapes.

Principles of design example of proximity

Repetition

Repetition strengthens a design by repeating elements throughout the entire piece. It is a conscious effort to unify all parts of a design. This can be a particular format, a color, a shape, a bold font, even a texture - by repeating the element throughout the design you are creating consistency and continuity.

An example of where repetition should most certainly be used is the business package. By repeating certain elements throughout all the pieces that make up a business package (business cards, envelopes, letterheads, etc) you are solidifying your brand image and creating consistency.

Principles of design example of repetition

White Space

White space is the absence of text and graphics between elements. It is also referred to as “negative space”. Although it is called “white space”, it doesn’t necessarily need to be white, it can be any color (black, blue, red, yellow, etc) - whatever the background color is. White space is important because it provides visual breathing room for the eye by making a page feel less cramped.

As pictured below (left), we see a beautiful ad that's very clean and appealing, created by simply using the least amount of graphics and text as possible.

White space, or "negative space", is also a great way to be creative in the design of graphics and logos. You can give the illusion of an object being there by simply showing its contour, or part of its contour. This is shown in the illustration below (right). By cutting out a piece of each of the three circles in the design, the contour of a triangle becomes visible.

Principles of design example of white space and negative space

Alignment

Alignment is one of the most basic and important principles of design. It helps unify the elements on a page by creating a visual connection between them. Even if those elements aren’t in close proximity to one another, when aligned an invisible line is created (both in your eye and in your mind) which connects them. By establishing a visual connection with something else on the page, alignment tells readers that the two elements belong to the same piece; this, in turn, creates a sharper, more organized design.

Principles of design example of alignment