Design Fundamentals

Principles of Design


Principles of Design

  • Emphasis
  • Unity
  • Balance
  • Rhythm

Designers use the principles of design to help deliver a message to a target audience in a clear, efficient and precise manner. The principles help designers control which parts of the message are seen first, second, third, etc. Use them to your advantage—they are powerful.

The principles of design are your ultimate goal. Use them as guidelines to help you improve your design work.


Make the most important thing the largest. It's that simple.

Emphasis directs the viewer to what you want them to see first.

The designer's objective is to deliver a message, so… emphasis helps designers control which part of the message is delivered first, second, third, etc.

It also helps to organize the layout. As the eye looks for organization, we tend to look at the things that are most different first (emphasis is all about contrast between things). This may be the largest element, smallest, lightest, brightest, most colorful, etc. There are many ways we can emphasize our starting point…


Emphasis through color, size, value contrast, and isolation.



Emphasis through isolation and contrasting textures and colors.

  • Notice the cool colors recede, and the warm yellow advances



Emphasis of the whole

  • We see the "whole" first—the tree and apple core
  • Shows where in nature these fruit chips came from - a tree/apple
  • We are intrigued by the drawings made from them



Emphasis through placement, design style and motion

  • Contrast a busy, moving, and "alive" background with a stationary, calm person standing in front. (Selling styrofoam)
  • Making light of themselves as "movie star" sales people




Chunking of Information

  • Things that are close together, look like they go together and are unified. Do you find 4 chunks of information?
  • Chunking helps to emphasize areas too
  • Look how these samples group information together, into smaller chunks. The viewer can visually organize them, then read through the different chunks of information.
  • All the type is white. It matches the white foam, and helps to unify the design.





  • These three bottle designs use a similar layout.
  • They use three chunks to deliver the message. Top chunk is the brand identity. Middle chunk feature the product description/photo. The third chunk in the legal area.
  • Simple

visual perception 1


Unity through repetition

  • Unified by repeating a design motif/pattern throughout the layout
  • This repeated pattern unifies each individual wrapper
  • It also unifies the the product line with continuity. Each candy bar uses a different repeated geometric pattern on this company's candy bars. So they look like they go together and are part of the same brand.



Unity through continuation

  • Elements are placed or chosen so the viewer's eye moves from one element to the next and "continues" through the design or layout.
  • Continuation through sequential repetition of similar elements (the men and perspective). Notice how the men fall, and end, at here feet—since they are selling shoes.



Unity through continuity

  • Continuity means less work for the viewer!
  • Continuity helps unify packaging, pages in a magazine, textbooks, or a multiple-page web site by putting design elements in the same place on each page.
  • Imaging how frustrating it would be if the page number was in a different place on every page of a magazine. Or if a logo changed placement on every web page. The reader would have to work harder than needed to get the information.
  • Continuity also helps reinforce a brand identity by keeping the brand look consistent. This helps build visual brand loyalty. Look how Tazo tea uses consistency and continuity in their packaging.




Balance in design refers to the visual weight of each element, and how each element's visual weight is distributed in the layout.


Symmetrical Balance

  • Things are centered vertically and/or horizontally. Many cans and bottles use this approach—but they don't have to.



Asymmetrical balance -

  • Elements are not perfectly centered
  • They utilize white space and the visual weight of other elements to balance the layout.
  • This can take more time, thought and skill, but it usually looks more developed and professional




Radial Balance

  • Notice that the tent falls on the page using the rule of thirds.
  • This ad also emphasizes the tent and bottle with color and isolation




Rhythm helps move the viewer's eye through a layout, directly or subtly.

  • Rhythm is usually created by repeating an element and possibly changing it slightly.
  • Rhythm helps deliver the message by controlling the viewer's eye movement.
  • It can also add "life" and interaction to an otherwise inanimate page layout.


Rhythm and movement through repetition, sequential placement, and perspective (Selling Zu shoes)



Rhythm and movement through shape, repetition, and sequential placement
(Anti-drug campaign)