HW 1: Notes on Elements and Principles of Design

The following are notes taken from http://char.txa.cornell.edu/.

Elements of Design:


  • brain has a compulsion to connect parts – grouping or gestalt. Even a single point is seen as a reference or having some meaning
  • Gestalt is fundamental tool artists/designers use to build composition
  • Gestalt describes number of concepts eye/mind use to group:
  • Closure – mind supplies missing piece, continuity – tendency to “connect the dots,” similarity – tendency to see and group objects of similar shape or color, proximity – tendency to group points or objects that are close to one another


  • mark made by moving a point and having a psychological impact according to its direction, weight and variations
  • functions in both visual and verbal way
  • exists in nature
  • can function independently or combined with other lines
  • can exist explicitly or by implication
  • horizontal – feeling of rest, vertical – loftiness and spirituality, diagonal – movement, direction (unstable in relation to gravity), depth
  • horizontal and vertical lines in combination – stability and solidity: permanence, reliability, safety.
  • deep, acute curves – confusion, turbulence, frenzy
  • soft, shallow curves = comfort, safety, familiarity and relaxation + curves of human body (sensuality)


  • areas or masses which define objects in space
  • 2d (width and height) or 3d (width, height and depth)
  • organic (natural, usually asymmetrical) or geometric (constructed or made, regular shapes)
  • realistic/naturalistic (every day objects and environments) or abstract (difficult or impossible to identify in terms of “normal”)
  • abstract – derived from realistic images, potentially distorted, objective image
  • abstract – based on pure study of form, line, color and not any real-world object – non-objective
  • charicature ¬†– abstraction where realistic images are distorted to make a statement
  • perception – viewpoint, space around the object, character and source of light


  • design element that operates in the 4th dimension
  • process of relocation of objects in space over time
  • literal (physical fact of movement) or compositional
  • static – repetition of closed, isolated shapes and contrast of color and/or value – shifting
  • dynamic – movement of the eye that flows smoothly from one area of composition to the other – guided by continuations of line or form and by gradations of color and form – open shapes or shapes that relate closely to adjacent shapes

Color/Color Psychology

  • most powerful of elements
  • color – general term, hue – pure spectrum colors
  • value – relative lightness or darkness of color …defines form and creates spatial illusions
  • contrast of values separates objects in space
  • gradation of value suggests mass and contour of contiguous surface
  • hue has value – similar in value=spatial effects are flattened out
  • hue is the term for pure spectrum colors referred to by “color names”
  • All hues can be mixed from three basic hues (primaries)
  • Painters primaries: red, blue, yellow
  • Printers Primaries: magenta, cyan (turquoise), yellow
  • hues can be desaturated in 3 ways – mix with white to lighten value, mix with black to darken or mix with gray or complement to lighten or darken value
  • Light primaries: red, blue, green – colored light is mixed
  • Complements: colors that are opposite one another on the hue circle
  • Afterimage – complements consisting of stimulus color and its physical opposite

Color Illusions

  • Some effects of color occur only in the eye and brain of viewer
  • Color proportion: impact of relative quantity of given hue or value used in color compositions
  • Simultaneous contrast: occurs when a color appears to change when seen against a different background
  • Optical mixture: when small particles of different colors are mixed in the eye (based on light primaries) (averaging of hues and values)
  • Red – blood, energetic, exciting, passionate, erotic, aggressive feelings (anger or violence)
  • Orange – flesh, friendly warmth of hearth fire, approachability, informality, lack of discrimination or quality
  • Yellow- sunshine, optimistic, upbeat, modern
  • Green – nature, life, stability, restfulness, naturalness, decay, artificiality
  • Blue – coolness, distance, spirituality, elegance, sad, passive, alienation, depression
  • Violet – fantasy, playfulness, impulsiveness, dream state, nightmare or madness


  • organizes surfaces or structures in a consistent, regular manner
  • exist in nature and design objects
  • Peter Stevens says there is a finite number of pattern in nature- starts with a grid
  • Flow – all things flow, follow path of least resistance
  • Branching – in plants and geological formations
  • Spiral – galaxies, plants, microscopic animals…
  • Packing and cracking – way in which compacted cells define each others shape – surfaces that shrink may crack


  • quality of an objet which we sense through touch – exists as a literal surface but also as one we can see and imagine sensation
  • Bristly, rough, hard, smooth, soft, warm, wet, dry, etc.
  • illusion of texture in paintings, drawings, design…

Principles of Design:


  • concept of visual equilibrium
  • relates to physical sense of balance
  • visual stability
  • symmetrical and asymmetrical
  • symmetrical balance – equal “weight” on equal sides of a centrally placed fulcrum, also referred to as formal balance
  • bilateral symmetry – elements arranged equally on either side of a central axis
  • radial symmetry – elements arranged around a central point
  • approximate symmetry – equivalent but not identical forms are arranged are arranged around the fulcrum line
  • Asymmetrical balance, also called informal balance – placement of objects in a way that will allow objects of varying visual weight to balance one another around a fulcrum point. – imaginary scale


  • relative size and scale of the various elements in design
  • relationship between objects or parts, of a whole
  • appropriate scale
  • proportions can vary (ie human body in paintings)


  • timed movement through space
  • an easy, connected path along which the eye follows a regular arrangement of motifs
  • presence of rhythm creates predictability and order in composition
  • Visual rhythm can be related to audio rhythm
  • depends largely upon the elements of pattern and movement to achieve its effects
  • visual rhythm is created in several ways – linear rhythm – characteristic flow of the individual line, Repetition – use of patterning to achieve timed movement and visual “beat.”– may be clear in repetition of elements in a composition or subtle, Alternation – specific instance of patterning in which a sequence of repeating motifs are presented in turn, Gradation – series of motifs patterned to relate to one another through a regular progression of steps – may be gradation of shape or color


  • also referred to as a point of focus, or interruption
  • marks the locations in a composition which most strongly draw the viewers attention
  • There is usually a primary, or main, point of emphasis
  • emphasis is usually an interruption in the fundamental pattern or movement of the viewers eye through the composition, or a break in the rhythm
  • artist/designer uses emphasis to call attention to something or to vary composition
  • holds viewers interest – visual “surprises”
  • Emphasis achieved in a few different way:
  • Repetition – emphasis apart from the rest of the background
  • Use of a neutral background isolates the point of emphasis
  • Contrast of color, texture, or shape
  • Contrast of size or scale
  • Placement in a strategic position will call attention to a particular element of design
  • Prolonged visual involvement through intricacy (contrast of detail) – unusual form of emphasis, not as commonly used in Euro-American design, common in many other cultures – many points of emphasis are created that are to be discovered through close attention to the intricacies of the design


  • underlying principle that summarizes all of the principles and elements of design
  • refers to coherence of the whole, the sense that all of the parts are working together to achieve a common result; a harmony of all the part
  • Can be achieved through the effective and consistent use of any of the elements, but pattern (underlying structure)= most fundamental element for strong sense of unity
  • Form and color pull composition together
  • Unity also exists in variety
  • Unity can be a matter of concept

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