Elements & Principles of Design: Notes

Elements of Design

1. Point

Points stick out to the mind, even if it is one point.

  • The mind connects points, which is called grouping or gestalt
  • Gestalt creates cohesion in a piece
  • When there are missing parts in a piece, however, the mind must fill in the missing parts to complete the image. This is called closure
  • There is also continuity, which is when the mind links the points and accepts separate/individual points as a part of the overall form
  • Similarity is the tendency to see and group objects that are of similar color and shape
  • Proximity relates to the tendency to group points or objects that physically close to each other
  • Alignment of points allows us to see points as a contour or line

2. Line

  • A line can be defined by a mark made by a moving point. The direction, weight, and varietions of the line combine to give the line a psychological impact
  • Lines are both visual and verbal, and can be found in nature
  • Visuals can be made entirely out of lines, either with one line or a combination of lines
  • When lines are combined, a form and value are created
  • Lines also convey emotion:
  • Horizontal lines: convey feelings of rest
  • Vertical lines: convey spirituality
  • Diagonal lines: convey movement/direction
  • Horizontal and vertical lines: convey stability and reliance
  • Deep curves: convey confusion and chaos OR they can convey softer meanings
  • The quality of the line is very important to the overall mood of the visual

3. Form, Shape, and Space

  • Form and shape define the objects in space
  • Can be defined as two dimensional form (having width and height) or three dimensional shape (having depth, width, and height)
  • Form and shape can also be either organic (irregular in outline) or geometric (very regular outlines), or a mixture of the two
  • We refer to objects as realistic or naturalistic if we can recognize them in everyday life, but if those objects are not recognizable in our everyday life then we call them abstract
  • Abstract art that is derived from an actual object is called an objective image
  • Abstract art that has no references to an actual object is called non-objective images
  • Charicature is a type of abstract art. Charicature displays distortions of realistic images to make a statement about those images
  • Our viewpoint of an object and its lighting greatly affect how we perceive that object

Two Dimensional Form

  • Foundation for the composition of many types of media
  • The lightness or darkness of color can also define form—it can create boundries or even volume
  • Form can also be defined by hue, change in texture, or a combination of the two
  • Forms/shapes can be thought of as positive (the objects) and negative (the background space)
  • Positive/negative can be used to create illusions

Two Dimensional Illusion

  • Two dimensional forms can create an illusion of three dimensional shapes by 1) overlapping forms, 2) changing the size and placement of forms, 3) utilizing the linear perspective (objects appear smaller and converge towards a ‘vanishing point’, 4) hue and value (cool colors farther than warm ones, farther objects have more neutral colors), and 5) atmospheric perspective (less detail on the upper half of the artwork, and more towards the bottom)

Three Dimensional Form

  • Important for architecture and designed objects
  • Convey meanings:
  • Rectilinear shapes: convey stability
  • Angular (diagonal) shapes: convey instability
  • Shapes with soft curving: convey quietness, comfort, and sensuality

4. Movement

  • “Movement is the process of relocation of objects in space over time”
  • Movement can be literal, which means that certain objects are taking part in the physical act of movement. (Paintings, photography, and sculptures can have movement)
  • Compositional movement, then, is how the viewer’s eye moves through the composition.
  • Compositional movement can be static (the movement of the eye jumps between separate components, such as shifting shapes and contrasts of color, of the composition) or it can be dynamic (the movement of the eye flows through the composition with the help of open shapes)

5. Color

  • Contrast of value (lightness/darkness of color or hue) can separate object in space and make objects less flat
  • Graduation of value creates mass and contour
  • Hue refers to all the pure spectrum colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, violet. (All hues are mixed from three primary colors)
  • Painters primaries: red, blue, yellow
  • Printers primaries: magenta, turquoise, yellow
  • Light primaries: red, blue, green
  • Complements: colors opposite one another on the hue circle. They have a warm-cool contrast
  • Afterimage: complements comprised of a stimulus color and its physical opposite created in the eye by the exposure of the stimulus color
  • Color illusions:
  • Color proportion—impact of quantity of a hue or value used in a color composition
  • Simultaneous contrast—when a color appears to change when it’s seen against a different background
  • Optical mixture—when minute particles of different colors are mixed by the eyes, and make a larger image
  • Emotional meanings of color:
  • Red—excitement, passion, energetic feelings, blood, anger, violence.
  • Orange—flesh, fire, very approachable
  • Yellow—sun, optimistic, happy, modern, but can be overwhelming
  • Green—nature, life, stability, or in a more negative tone, decay, toxicity, artificiality
  • Blue—distance, coolness, spirituality, elegance, sadness, depression
  • Violet—fantasy, playfulness, impulsiveness, madness, nightmares

6. Pattern

  • “An underlying structure that organizes surfaces or structures in a consistent, regular manner”
  • Flow: Meander patterning relates to the idea of flow, and is built on the repetition of a flowing line
  • Branching: Patterns formed with a reference to the branches in nature
  • Spiral patterns
  • Packing and cracking: compacted cells define the shape of other cells in the pattern

7. Texture

  • The quality of an object that we can sense and touch
  • Texture can be imaginary, because by looking at an image we can imagine how it feels
  • There are many kinds of textures: 1) bristly, rough, and hard, 2) smooth, cold, and hard, 3) smooth, soft, and warm, 5) wet or dry

Principles of Design

-Concepts used to organize/arrange elements of design

1. Balance

  • Symmetrical (or formal) balance: having equal weight on equal sides of a central fulcrum (the point on which a lever rests)
  • Bilateral symmetry: when the elements are arranged equally on either side of the central axis
  • Radial symmetry: when elements are arranged equally around a central point
  • Approximate symmetry: equivalent but not identical elements are formed around the fulcrum line
  • Asymmetrical (informal) balance: when objects of varying visual weight are placed so that they will balance one another around the fulcrum point

2. Proportion

  • Refers to size and scale of elements in a design; the relationship between objects

3. Rhythm

  • Timed movement through space
  • Rhythm depends on pattern and movement, and is sensed by the eyes in visual design
  • Linear rhythm: distinct flow of a single line
  • Repetition: using patterns to achieve a visual “rhythm”
  • Alternation: patterning in which a sequence of designs are repeated
  • Gradation: a series of designs in a pattern that relate to one another and give the visual meaning

4. Emphasis

  • Can also be called point of focus or interruption (the point of focus is a break in the visual’s rhythm)
  • Emphasis marks the locations in a visual which draw the viewer’s attention the most
  • Repetition: creates emphasis by calling attention to a repeated element
  • Contrast: creates emphasis by distinguishing the point of focus from the background
  • A neutral background makes the point of focus stand out
  • Contrast of color, texture, shape, size, or scale can draw attention to a certain point.
  • Placement of an object in a certain position can call attention
  • Prolonged visual involvement through intricacy: many points of emphasis are created, and can be seen by close examination

5. Unity

  • Coherence of the whole piece/design
  • Pattern is the most fundamental element for a strong sense of unity. Form and color consistency are very important as well
  • Unity can still exist in variety, however
  • Concept: the purpose of the objects in a design can unify the design

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