7 Design Principles Everyone Should Know

No need for a degree in design to elevate your creative superpowers! Just learn these 7 easy-to-use design principles!

Jay Perlman

Have you ever seen a design that doesn't look quite right? Maybe the spacing seems strange, or the elements are arranged in a funky way? The truth is, designers and creatives will often have a good idea that turns into a visual mess because they don't follow basic design principles.

So, whether you're a design pro or just getting started, it's essential to have the basics at the top of mind to make pleasing compositions.

These pillars help make creations look clean, crisp, and pleasing to the eye. What's better is there's no need for years of schooling or a fancy degree to understand these simple concepts and put them into practice.

So before you go out start your next design, take a moment to soak in these concepts.  Whether you're in marketing, graphic design, illustrations, product design, or anything that requires an attractive composition, this intro-level knowledge will help you make pro-level projects.

How to Start Elevating Your Designs

Basic design principles are more than just making a project look pretty. A quality composition draws the viewer in, keeps them engaged, and pushes them to explore the design's message even further.

Plus, in nearly every case, better design will deliver better results. Let's kick off the seven basic design principles that you can use to start unlocking even more of your creative superpowers!

1. Balance

Balanced illustration featuring doodles from Humaaans

Every time you add an element to a design, you change the weight of the composition. Just like a scale, if you add more elements to one side of the composition, it will feel "heavier" than the other side. While this sometimes is the designer's goal, it can often make the design feel confusing and uneven.

To create a well-balanced design, you need to understand what creates this feeling of weight. Here are some of the common factors that can determine the gravity of the elements within a design:

  • Color
  • Size
  • Texture

A well-balanced design will have features distributed in a way that creates equilibrium for viewers. This could mean that the design is symmetrical, where the elements are equally distributed across the canvas or mirroring each other.

Alternatively, there's asymmetrical distribution, where elements are distributed unevenly but still placed in a way that creates a sense of harmony. This harmony keeps viewers' attention locked on to the vital information of the design.

2. Contrast

Illustration example of contrast using doodles from Pebble people

There's a reason why newborns can't take their eyes off of high-contrast illustrations; contrast makes design standout from the canvas, and draws attention like magnets for the eyes. It's also one of the most crucial design principles because it helps viewers distinguish and determine the relevant information.

Here are some simple examples of how to create contrast:

  • Black vs. white or colors on the opposite sides of the color wheel
  • Small vs. large elements
  • Using two distinct fonts
  • Lines of different lengths and thickness

Contrast is another way to guide users' vision through a design clearly and effectively. In other words, contrast assists with the flow of the composition and acts as a visual aid that directs a viewer's eyeballs to key elements.

3. Hierarchy

Example of Hierarchy using doodles from Cityscapes

Hierarchy establishes order to elements within a composition and directs the viewer's attention through the design in a structured way. Without hierarchy, a design can feel chaotic and lacking a sense of direction, which in the end can be frustrating and tiresome.

Whether it is with text, illustrations, or other elements, here are several ways to establish hierarchy:

  • Size: larger text and elements gain more attention, so larger objects will have a stronger attraction than the other canvas elements.
  • Colors: bolder colors stand out more and catch the eye of users. If there is information that needs more attention, better to use colors that stand out.
  • Texture: adding texture to elements or typefaces can give them a more distinctive quality.

All these techniques are proven to make sure a composition conveys a message in an ordered way, letting viewers know that some elements are more fundamental than others.

4. White Space

An example of white space using doodles from Big Shoes

Design isn't all about packing a composition full of colorful elements and stylish fonts. On the contrary, leaving parts of the canvas strategically void of objects can be the key to creating a beautiful design. This white space – or negative space – eliminates distraction and urges the audience to focus on the crucial aspects of the design.

Clever use of white space can also create a pleasant sense of balance and hierarchy (two other fundamental design principles. But white or negative space doesn't have to be a blank canvas.  Instead, you can fill your design with texture or different colors.

The key to this design principle is that it conveys the significance of certain information and highlights what the viewer should be paying attention to.

5. Repetition

Example of repetition

A great way to establish a sense of order and clarity to designs is through repetition. Whether it's with colors, shapes, or words, repetition creates a pleasant sense of consistency to a design, and helps strengthen the message of the composition.

One way that repetition is specifically applicable is with branding. A repetitive image, typography, or color will help viewers associate the specific pattern with a particular brand, so if you're looking to stick in the minds of customers, this principle might be the solution you've been searching for.

6. Alignment

An example of alignment with Beep Beep doodles

Alignment is another essential design principle that is great for establishing a connection, order, and cleanliness. While having objects or elements misaligned can be eye-catching, alignment is another way of establishing a sense of order and continuity, creating a clean, professional look.

Additionally, alignment keeps viewers focused on the vital information of a design. Instead of bouncing from one element to another on a disorganized canvas, aligned objects create a visual path that delightfully leads the eyes.

7. Color

Examples of complementary, analogous, and triadic color combos with Allura doodles

Color theory can be extensive, but everyone can grasp some intro-level concepts to start harnessing the power of color and its combinations.

There are several types of color schemes that can work wonders for designs when done correctly:

  • Complementary color pairing: 2 colors on the opposite side of the color wheel
  • Analogous color pairing: 3 colors side-by-side on the color wheel
  • Triadic color pairing: color combos that are equally spaced around the color wheel

Depending on the design's theme, message, and tone, each of these schemes can produce distinct reactions and emotions for the viewers.

Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to color theory, so check out this blog if you're looking to dive even deeper!

Putting Principles into Practice

Every time you add a design principle into your creative repertoire, you unlock a new level to your creative superpowers. Combined with a massive library of customizable illustrations made by professional artists, there's truly no ceiling for what you can create!

Did we miss a principle that creators need to know about? Drop us a line and let us know!

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