Chapter 5: Mini Art School

The Elements, Principles & Theories of Design

Ch. 5 Mini Art School | White Space is Not Your Enemy

Chapter Outline

  • Element no. 1: space
  • Element no. 2: line
  • Element no. 3: shape/form
  • Element no. 4: size/scale
  • Element no. 5: color
  • Element no. 6: texture
  • Element no. 7: value
  • Principle no. 1: focal point/emphasis
  • About the golden proportion and the rule of thirds
  • Principle no. 2: contrast
  • Principle no. 3: balance
  • Principle no. 4: movement
  • Principle no. 5: rhythm/pattern
  • Principle no. 6: unity
  • Gestalt theory: proximity, similarity, continuity, and closure
  • Try this

Keywords | Vocabulary

  • Balance
  • Continuity
  • Closure
  • Contrast
  • Focal point/emphasis
  • Gestalt theory
  • Goldern proportion
  • Grayscale
  • Horizon line
  • Line
  • Movement
  • Proximity
  • Rhythm/pattern
  • Rule of thirds
  • Shape/from
  • Similarity
  • Size/scale
  • Space
  • Texture
  • Value
  • Unity

Related Unit Assignment

Since most graphic designers have some background in art and most communications folks do not, this chapter covers what we call “mini art school.” Knowing a little something about art helps develop that “good eye” for effective design, thus communication.

Key Student Takeaways

  1. The elements, principles and theories of design provide a vocabulary to talk about what we see in visual culture. And using them helps us create more effective visual messages.
  2. As the word “element” implies, the 7 elements of design are the basic units of visual communication:
  • Space: Positive and negative space are critical for effective design.
  • Line: To delineate space or create eye flow, the line is our most primal tool.
  • Shape/form: Shape or form refers to the contour or profile, including irregular organic shapes such as a pear and inorganic geometric shapes such as a perfect circle.
  • Size/scale: Referring to how big or small and relative to what, size may be measured (as in 11-point type), relative (as in large headers versus mousetype tags), or proportional/proportionate (as in no warped photos).
  • Color: As an element, color draws attention, organizes and evokes emotion.
  • Texture: Texture in graphic design refers to creating the illusion of three dimensions in two dimensions.
  • Value: This refers to tones of light to dark, as in grayscale or the color wheel.
  1. The Golden Proportion and the Rule of Thirds become compositional tools for effective placement on layouts. The Golden Proportion (the ratio 1:1.618) when applied to a rectangle has universal appeal. The rule of thirds divides any layout into an invisible 3 x 3 grid; key visual information sits at the intersections of the horizontal and vertical gridlines.
  2. The 6 principles of design refer to general rules for creating designs that communicate effectively:
  • Focal point/emphasis: Every effective design has one focal point, literally meaning the visual point that focuses or draws the eye’s attention on the layout.
  • Contrast: This is required to keep designs from being monotonous, thus dull.
  • Balance: In design, balance refers to visual weight, as in radial and symmetrical balance where a bisecting line reveals two halves visually mirroring one another or asymmetrical balance where a bisecting line reveals two unequal but still visually pleasing halves.
  • Movement: In order to achieve eye flow through a layout, the design must create movement with sightlines that guide the eye from one thing to the next.
  • Rhythm/pattern: Movement that has a sense of pattern or repetition produces a kind of visual rhythm.
  • Unity: This refers to the sense that everything in the design or layout belongs together and works together as a single unit, like teamwork.
  1. Gestalt theory: The brain automatically simplifies, arranges and orders visual information for sensemaking. We can tap into these brain processes:
  • Proximity: We perceive objects that are close together as belonging together in the same group.
  • Similarity: We perceived objects that look alike as belonging together in the samp group.
  • Continuity: The eye follows the direction of a line much the same way as following an arrow; indeed, the eye will automatically fill in the rest of a line beyond its ending point.
  • Closure: The brain mentally fills in gaps to complete perceived visual pictures.

Quiz Questions

The 5-minute Motivation to Read Quiz

Share three things you learned from the reading. Be specific.

Short Answer Quiz Questions

Why should communications professionals bother to learn about fine art’s elements, principles and theories of design?

Name and define 3 of the 7 elements of design. Give concrete examples of each.

Name and define 3 of the 6 principles of design. Give concrete examples of each.

Draw a diagram demonstrating the rule of thirds.

Name one of the four Gestalt laws, and sketch a concrete example demonstrating it.

(Provide students with a design or photograph. Ask students to) Circle, name and explain the elements and principles of design in this design.

Multiple Choice Quiz Questions

The elements of design:

  1. Are rules for how to be an illustrator
  2. Are derived from mathematical principles
  3. Are ancient ways of thinking about art
  4. Are the basic units of visual communication

The elements of design include:

  1. Atmospheric, linear, horizon line, vanishing point, relative scale
  2. Focal point/emphasis, contrast, balance, movement, rhythm/patter, unity
  3. Space, line, shape/form, size/scale, color, texture, value
  4. Vertical, horizontal, diagonal, radial, organic, inorganic

The elements and principles of design:

  1. Emerge from 20th-century U.S. communication theory
  2. Provide a vocabulary for talking about and creating visual culture
  3. Match up and overlap with the principles of public relations
  4. Are the foundations of the elementary school fine art curriculum

The principles of design include:

  1. Focal point/emphasis, contrast, balance, movement, rhythm/pattern, unity
  2. Space, line, shape/form, size/scale, color, texture, value
  3. Atmospheric, linear, horizon line, vanishing point, relative scale
  4. Vertical, horizontal, diagonal, radial, organic, inorganic

As a design tool, the rule of thirds:

  1. Suggests the best three fonts for any given layout
  2. Recommends the use of a 3-column design
  3. Refers to the ratio of 3:3.33
  4. Divides the layout into a 3 x 3 grid for pleasing asymmetry

The Gestalt Laws refer to how the brain processes visual information:

  1. In terms of proximity, similarity, continuity and closure
  2. Between very dark tones and very light ones in grayscale
  3. As golden proportions or ratios of 1:1.618 applied to shapes
  4. When lines move in curves, diagonals, s-shapes and z-shapes