Elements of Design
Do you want to know the basic elements of design? Did you always want to take an elective design course but ended up taking a poli-sci elective with that pretty Republican girl instead? Yeah? You never talked to her did you? Well that’s okay, because after this article you will have all the basic knowledge of the elements of design that you ever wanted. Heck, maybe you will even be able to design your very own “secret admirer” card to slip in her mailbox!
There is good design, bad design and “OMG my eyes are bleeding” design. What do all of these have in common? You called it! The elements of design. Whether they are used to be aesthetically pleasing and visually communicate a message or not, they are always there. Even if you can’t see them. Let’s jump right into it with the most basic of them all… the LINE.
If you’re reading this you are probably literate enough to know what a LINE is and although LINES can be the obvious physical markings made with a pen or brush, they can also be an interpreted LINE your eyes make when two shapes meet. LINES in design tell your eyes where to look first and guide you through the design. Multiple LINES together can create SHAPE.
SHAPE is simply defined as “the outline of an object.” While most of us think of SHAPES as simply 2-dimensional rectangles, ellipses and polygons, SHAPES can also make up any FORM, illustration or graphic used in a design. Certain aspects of SHAPES, whether it be rounded corners or soft edges help to give your overall work a style. LINE + LINE = SHAPE.
FORM can be any 3-dimensional object created by combining two or more SHAPES and may use TEXTURE, COLOR and VALUE to bring it to life. SHAPE + SHAPE = FORM
While some designers differentiate between SIZE and SPACE, I like to think of them as being directly related. SIZE is usually thought of as an exact measurement, but in design it tends to equate to the area of an object in relation to the objects around it, as well as the overall SIZE of the work.
It can help to attract one’s eye or even create balance to an otherwise asymmetrical design. SPACE is usually referred to as white SPACE in which there are no SHAPES or FORMS but a blank SPACE(yes, that just happened) of the canvas that allows the eye to rest. Think of it as the SPACE around your type and imagery that helps to create balance as well as lead one’s eye to the focal point without being a distraction. Here the focal point is clearly Taylor Swift, but please note that white or blank SPACE(…and again) is never intended for you to write the name of your ex.
TEXTURE is how one perceives the surface to feel. TEXTURE can be used to attract or detract attention from a certain area of the work. It can also help in creating contrast between different objects and create depth. Disclaimer: Please don’t touch your computer screen. Repetitive touching may result in a damaged screen and loss of friends.
Everyone’s favorite element, and for good reason, is COLOR.
This is probably a good time to bring up the FACT that the dress is black & blue. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
COLORS set the mood for the entire piece. Muted hues are more calming while saturated hues demand attention. We have primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors, complimentary colors… So many COLORS!
Color theory provides us with a guide/set of rules to follow. Ex: The complimentary color for blue is orange. This means that orange will give you the most contrast in comparison to blue. Just remember, as the cliché goes, rules are made to be broken and certain designs call for personal preference and artistic license.
VALUE is the lightness or darkness of an object. It can be associated with all of the other elements of design. A shape can be dark and saturated to demand the attention of the onlooker or light and muted to be seen almost as an afterthought. Type can be lightened by its color or by dramatically increasing the l e a d i n g to make it seem more airy. A lighter VALUE can be used to make objects look further away while still being on the same 2-dimensional plane.
Now go forth into the world and use your recently acquired knowledge. Take your time. You are not going to create your best work right off the bat so keep practicing. Don’t clutter your designs with imagery and be sure to use the edges of your canvas to your advantage. Follow the rules but break them as soon as you find something that works better and still communicates the message you are trying to convey.