Principles of Design
Principles of Design The Principles are concepts used to
The Principles are concepts used to organize or arrange the structural elements of design. Again, the way in which these principles are applied affects the expressive
content, or the message of the work.
The principles are:
Balance is the concept of visual equilibrium, and relates to our
physical sense of balance. It is a reconciliation of opposing forces in a
composition that results in visual stability. Most successful compositions
achieve balance in one of two ways: symmetrically or
asymmetrically. Balance in a three dimensional object is easy to understand; if balance isn’t achieved, the object tips over. To understand
balance in a two dimensional composition, we must use our imaginations to carry
this three dimensional analogy forward to the flat surface.
Symmetrical balance can be described as having equal “weight” on equal sides of a centrally placed fulcrum. It may also be referred to as formal
balance. When the elements are arranged equally on either side of a
central axis, the result is Bilateral symmetry. This axis may be
horizontal or vertical. It is also possible to build formal balance by
arranging elements equally around a central point , resulting in
There is a variant of symmetrical balance called approximate symmetry in which equivalent but not identical forms are arranged around the fulcrum line.
Asymmetrical balance, also called informal balance,
is more complex and difficult to envisage. It involves placement of objects
in a way that will allow objects of varying visual weight to balance one another
around a fulcrum point. This can be best imagined by envisioning a literal balance
scale that can represent the visual “weights” that can be imagined in a two
dimensional composition. For example, it is possible to balance a heavy weight
with a cluster of lighter weights on equal sides of a fulcrum; in a picture,
this might be a cluster of small objects balanced by a large object. It is also
possible to imagine objects of equal weight but different mass (such as a large
mass of feathers versus a small mass of stones) on equal sides of a fulcrum.
Unequal weights can even be balanced by shifting the fulcrum point on our imaginary
Whether the solution is simple or complex, some form of balance can be
identified in most successful compositions.
For a further discussion of balance in design see these sites:
Proportion refers to the relative size and scale of the various elements
in a design. The issue is the relationship between objects, or parts, of
a whole. This means that it is necessary to discuss proportion in terms of the
context or standard used to determine proportions.
Our most universal standard of measurement is the human body; that is, our experience
of living in our own bodies. We judge the appropriateness of size of objects
by that measure. For example, a sofa in the form of a hand is startling because
of the distortion of expected proportion, and becomes the center of attention
in the room. Architectural spaces intended to impress are usually scaled to
a size that dwarfs the human viewer. This is a device often used in public spaces,
such as churches or centers of government. The same principle is often applied
to corporate spaces through which the enterprise wishes to impress customers
with its power and invincibility.
In contrast, the proportions of a private home are usually more in scale with
human measure, and as a result it appears more friendly, comfortable, less
Use of appropriate scale in surface design is also important. For example, an
overly large textile design can overwhelm the form of a garment or a piece of
A surprising aspect of proportion is the way ideal proportions can vary for
the human body itself. Styles change in bodies as they do in clothing. Prior
to the 16th century, for example, the female body ideally had large hips and
belly. Only later was a small waistline stressed.
In the 17th century and many other
periods, the ideal body was much heavier than we would accept today.
in the last 35 years the ideal personified by the fashion model has fostered a standard which idealizes
exceptionally slender body proportions for women. In this century, sports have
provided models for ideal male body proportions. Beginning with the rise of
televised football in the 1960’s, and the subsequent fitness boom, an increasingly
exaggerated muscular silhouette, corresponding to that of the uniformed and padded football player,
was presented as the ultimate male form. Only in this period could Arnold Schwartzenegger have represented
the heroic ideal body image. This trend reached its most
extreme form in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since that time the emergence of
basketball as the predominant American sport has led to a more naturally
proportioned fit body ideal for men.
In addition, artists frequently take liberties with the natural proportions of
the human body to achieve their expressive goals. A well known classic example
is Michaelangelo’s David,
in which distortions of proportion are used by
the artist to depict both the youthfulness of the boy David, together with the
power of the hero about to conquer the giant Goliath. The surrealist painter
Magritte often used distortions of proportions to create striking effects.