We often think of art as the result of divine inspiration — a consequence of our fleeting fancies. But in actuality, the study of art is highly principled. And branches of it which are functional and used to achieve a desired result, like graphic design, especially benefit from adhering to (or deviating from) certain conventions. 

As creators, we are often working towards a goal (and even when we’re not, being principled about our work only makes it better!). Sometimes that goal is to just create something beautiful for ourselves or a loved one. Other times, it’s more functional, like designing a poster for a concert or a new logo for an up and coming brand. But in both scenarios, while creativity and artistic inspiration is certainly an important part of creating good designs, understanding the deeper underlying principles is key. 

That’s why, in this post, we’re going to discuss some of the main principles of design that will help your artwork become more effective, whether for your own personal entertainment or for a professional purpose!

What Are the Principles of Design?

Contrast refers to the differences between the elements of a design’s composition, particularly when they are next to each other. In a photograph, contrast usually refers to the visual tones in a composition, which apps, like PicsArt, make it easy to bump up or down. In fact, that’s likely the most common application of the term. But designers can incorporate contrast in other ways, like for example, placing opposite elements and effects adjacent to one another, like smooth and rough textures or large and small shapes. Doing so helps bring variety and visual interest to a piece. These differences can make certain parts of your design “pop,” while muting others. 

Photo edit with galaxy and planetsSource

Movement is defined as the control of elements in a composition, which move the eye from one item to the next, ensuring accurate communication to the viewer or audience. Movement helps designers create a narrative in their work. It’s strange to think of design as having a narrative (something we typically associate with written storytelling), but it does, especially when artworks are functional. For a poster advertising an art exhibit, for example, the goal is to communicate what the exhibit is about, where it’s located, when it’s taking place, and at what time. Movement helps ensure the eye moves in a logical way about the artwork. For example, a solid or dotted line might do the trick. Or creating subtler paths, like a progression of elements moving from large to small, or dark to light elements, from color to non-color. 

Dispersion edit made with PicsArtSource

Repetition and rhythm are two additional design elements within the broader principle that help to achieve this. Repeating visual components creates movement, as does the arrangement of the repeated elements, in a rhythmic fashion. 

Where movement is the ability to control the eye’s journey across a page, the emphasis is the ability to keep an eye in one spot. It’s a particular part of the work that catches a viewer’s attention. Emphasis is all about context. In order to make something stand out, you need to be aware of what is surrounding it and what elements will make it different. Bolding one word in a sentence, for example, will emphasize that word. But if every word in your sentence is bold, it will just be uniform. When designing artwork, placing an item in a central point on the page can help to emphasize it, as well as using other design principles, like contrast, or movement. 

I Am a Voter Stickers EditSource

Balance, according to the Getty Museum, is the “distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space.” Designers must be cognizant that every piece of the composition comes with visual weight. Balancing those weights ensures the end result doesn’t feel too overwhelming or, alternately, too frail. There are two main kinds of balance in a composition. The first and simplest is symmetrical balance. Imagine your composition has a central line. A symmetrically balanced work would place objects of equal visual weight on either side of it. The term symmetry is not to be taken literally; these elements don’t have to be identical, but each object should equal in weight the one on the other side. 

Asymmetrical balance, on the other hand, uses elements with opposite weights to create a composition that achieves equilibrium through an uneven distribution balance. It also implies positioning elements around an imaginary line, but in this instance, the weights of those elements should be unequal. It sounds counterintuitive but think of an angled picture of a building, in which one side occupies most of the frame. That would be a great example of asymmetrical balancing. 

Leaning Tower of Pisa editSource

White space, or negative space, refers to the areas of your composition that do not contain any content. We’ve all heard the truism “Less is more,” and this is the design principle that really takes that concept literally. While it is common for beginner designers to overcompensate for their lack of skill by pulling out every trick in the book on the page, real expertise comes with restraint. Sometimes, it’s about knowing what not to add to your work, or what to take away. Giving your designs a bit of breathing room is the key to making them pop. Also, you can use white space to create a sense of hierarchy in your work.

Cactus against a white wallSource

When and How to Use Principles of Design

Now that we’ve gone over the basic principles, we should talk about how they combine to form great imagery. Not all of your work needs to use every element, but almost all your work should utilize at least one, and you can use them based on what type of design you are going for. 

The principles can be categorized based on the kind of effect they have in your work. If you are looking to create images that stand out and are eye-catching, you will likely want to lean more heavily on elements like contrast, emphasis, motion, repetition, and rhythm. Take this picture for example. 

Ripped paper effect on girl

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Immediately we see the principle of contrast at play. The designer achieves this by playing with the color palette, which for most of the picture is monochrome, except for the eyes, which are eerily colored. The ripped paper effect also draws the viewer’s attention to this part of the image. 

Photo editing with trees and clouds

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Alternatively, if harmony and structure are more what you’re going for, you’ll want to focus on things like balance and white space. This picture, for example, does a great job balancing asymmetrical visual weights, and then using the element of color to create a more dreamy, harmonious landscape. 

Create Beautiful Designs at Any Stage

You can use the principles of design we discussed to make beautiful images, even if you are a beginner. Just follow these easy steps to start! 

  1. Open the PicsArt app and click the + button to upload your first image. 
  2. Once you’re in the Photo Editor, click on  Brushes tool in the bottom menu. Brushes will allow you to apply new elements, like shapes and colors, to your image at the touch of a button. 
  3. Next, scroll through the brush options at the bottom of the screen. Depending on your imagery, you may want to use one that will provide some contrast. For example, if you’re using a photo from nature, you can apply colors that may not appear in that setting. Use your finger to paint the image accordingly.
  4. Once you’re happy with your edit, click Apply. And voila! 

Make Awesome

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