The Principles of Design

The Principles of Design

Maggie Toth

What causes you to stop and linger on a webpage, ad, or logo? And what catches your eye when you’re quickly scrolling your social feeds?

When browsing online, it’s the graphics that grab attention. If you want people to get your message, it’s vital to use well-designed visuals. But what makes a design good?

Like many other disciplines, graphic design follows some rules: the principles of design. These rules work behind-the-scenes of the image to make it appealing. Understanding the principles of design will help you create the impact you want. Even amateurs can use these principles to create engaging and professional pieces. Here are a few basic design principles for creating graphics or visuals.



One of the most basic ways to make your designs better is by using alignment to create a sharp and organized look. Aligning the different elements of your design (type, images, colors, etc.) helps it to look clean and gets rid of the messiness that randomly placed items can bring. Creating a visual connection between the elements helps peoples’ eyes flow effortlessly through the graphic message. It also simplifies the layout and ensures the viewer can find the information you want them to.


  • Balance 

All of the elements you include in your work have a visual weight: typography, colors, shapes, size, texture, and more. The way these elements are placed in a design should create balance.

The two basic types of balance are symmetrical and asymmetrical. Symmetrical designs achieve balance through equally weighted elements that are aligned on either side of an imaginary center line. Asymmetrical balance uses elements of different weights to create an alignment that is uneven. For example, a large amount of dark color can be contrasted with a smaller area of bright color. These designs are bolder and can create visual excitement.


Contrast lets you pull out the central elements of a design and add emphasis to what you want your viewers to focus on. It can spice up your designs. You can achieve contrast when two elements in a design are in opposition to each other. For instance, different color between the text and background (like black and white) or a headline set in a big, bold font with other smaller, thin type. It can help make your text readable (and accessible).


  • Repetition

Repetition unites and strengthens a design by tying together otherwise separate parts. This creates associations: by repeating elements in a design, you produce a familiarity or identity. Repetition is also essential when you have more than one page (like a website). You want to have elements that tie everything together—it’s crucial for branding. It should be obvious that the different pages—from “About Us” to “Services”—are part of the same company webpage. It helps people identify that separate things belong together. It is often seen in packaging design, where different products all align under the same brand. Repetition can also be used to create patterns.


  • White Space

You don’t need any design tools for this principle. But you do need to understand how white space (also called negative space) works. It’s what you leave out of your designs rather than what you add into them—the area of your design that doesn’t include any design elements. White space creates hierarchy and organization in your work. Sometimes new designers feel they need to pack the design with color, text, or images. But white space gives the elements of your composition breathing room, allowing designs to stand-out.

Design should have a purpose. Graphic designers—whether they are beginners or experts—should understand some basic principles. But keep in mind, a design doesn’t need to strictly follow the rules to be great. Some incredible designs break one or more of them, and sometimes breaking the rules on purpose can be inventive and create striking designs.