What are "design principles" and why should I use them?

Design principles (also known as "Gestalt principles") are the underlying visual grammar used by all visual artists including graphic designers. These principles include unity, emphasis, balance, rhythm, depth and color. Most designers choose to utilize unity, emphasis and balance in most of their designs. Rhythm, depth and color are used when they help communicate the message.

Designers should pay close attention to these design principles because, when practiced, they provide visual organization to a design which makes the design more appealing to the eye. This is important especially for graphic designers because our work must appeal to a mass audience. Not applying design principles often results in visual chaos causing people not ignore the design.

Keep in mind that design principles are guidelines and not mandates. Practicing and applying these principles will help you communicate better visually, but don't be afraid to "break the rules" if the situation calls for it!

Summary of various design principles

  • Unity: proximity, repetition, continuation, color/shade, intellectual
  • Emphasis: isolation, position/direction, contrast in size, shape, placement, color/shade
  • Balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, random, mathematical (grid)
  • Rhythm: legato, staccato, alternating, progressive
  • Depth: size/scale, overlap, value/shadow, perspective, atmospheric