Mastering the Basics: 7 Design Principles


Riya Narang

5 min read

Welcome aboard the design journey! Whether you're setting sail in graphic design, navigating UI/UX waters, or exploring any creative harbor, a solid grasp of design principles is your compass. These principles act as a universal language, guiding you towards crafting visually captivating and impactful designs. Let's dive into the seven core principles that will equip you to level up your design skills!

seven design principles illustration to help understand the basics of design
seven design principles illustration to help understand the basics of design

The 7 Design Principles Every New Designer Should Know

Ever wondered what makes a design truly captivating? It's not magic, it's science (well, kind of)! In this action-packed guide, I decode the 7 essential design principles- Emphasis, Balance, Contrast, Repetition, Proportion, Movement, and White Space. Get ready to craft showstopping visuals that captivate and convert.

Principle 1: The Art of Emphasis

Emphasis directs the viewer to the most important elements of your design stage like a spotlight. This could be a website's call-to-action button, a product image in an ad, or a captivating headline in a brochure. Think of a cluttered website homepage. Where does your eye wander? Without emphasis, viewers struggle to understand what's important or miss the call to action altogether.

How to Achieve Emphasis: Shine a Pixel Spotlight

  • Size & Scale: Make the key element the heavyweight champion by giving it more prominence.

  • Colours: Use contrasting colours to make the elements stand out from the crowd.

  • Contrast: Play with light and dark values (think black text on white background) or contrasting colors to create visual interest.

  • Position: Elements placed strategically, like something isolated in the center of the screen, naturally attract the eye.

Principle 2: Duet of Balance & Alignment

Imagine a seesaw, Balance and Alignment in design work similarly. It's about the arrangement of elements and their visual weight on your canvas. A heavy object on one side throws the whole thing off, your text, images, buttons – everything should feel visually connected. Iteration is Key, don't be afraid to experiment and play with element placements to see what feels most balanced and aligned for your design.

How to Achieve Balance & Alignment: Pixilated Order from Chaos

  • Hierarchy: Place important elements with more weight in prominent positions.

  • Mirrored Magic: For a classic look, mirror elements on either side of the centre.

  • Grid System: Utilise a grid system for consistent element alignment. Invisible grids help align elements across your design, ensuring a cohesive look.

  • Text: Left, Right, Center: Text can be left-aligned for a clean read, right-aligned for a touch of informality, or centred for emphasis.

Principle 3: Power of Contrast

Contrast breathes life into your designs by juxtaposing different visual elements. It's like turning up the volume on specific sections to grab the viewer's attention and guide them through your message. Is your design for a formal presentation or a funky flyer? Tailor your contrast choices to suit the purpose and target audience.

How to Achieve Contrast: Make Your Pixels Pop!

  • Colour: The classic crowd-pleaser. Play with bright versus muted tones, or complementary colors (opposites on the colour wheel) for a vibrant pop.

  • Size & Scale: Make elements stand out by varying their sizes and dimensions.

  • Balance is Key: Too much contrast can be jarring. Ensure all elements work together harmoniously, even when contrasting.

  • Start Subtle: Don't overwhelm viewers with chaotic contrasts. Begin with moderate differences and build from there.

Principle 4: Rhythm of Repetition

Rhythm in design is the strategic repetition of visual elements to create a sense of movement, guiding the viewer's eye across your composition. This creates unity and coherence, making your design look like a unified. Repeating elements like logos, colours, fonts, or patterns reinforces brand identity and establishes a cohesive visual language.

How to Achieve Repetition: Teach Your Pixels to Dance

  • Hierarchy: Use repetition strategically to highlight important elements. Make them stand out through size, color, or placement.

  • Choose Your Stars Wisely: Select a few key elements to repeat. Too much repetition can become monotonous, so find the sweet spot.

  • White Space: Don't overcrowd your design. White space (empty areas) allows repeated elements to shine and creates a sense of balance.

Principle 5: Sizing Up Proportion

Proportion refers to the size relationship between elements in your design. Properly scaled elements create a sense of visual equilibrium, preventing your design from feeling chaotic or cluttered. Understanding how elements relate to each other creates a visually pleasing and harmonious composition.

How to Achieve Proportion: Enhance Your Pixels

  • Grid Systems: Divide your workspace into equal sections to help you arrange elements in a balanced and organised manner.

  • The Rule of Thirds: Imagine dividing your design into a 3x3 grid. The key points where the lines intersect are considered "power points" that naturally draw the eye. Placing elements on these points can create a more dynamic composition.

  • Golden Ratio: Explore mathematical formulas like the Golden Ratio for achieving aesthetically pleasing proportions.

Principle 6: The Flow of Movement

Movement creates a sense of dynamism and flow in your design. Movement isn't about literal animation; it's about creating a visual flow that directs the audience's attention. By strategically arranging elements, you can subconsciously lead your viewers on a predetermined path, highlighting key information and ultimately guiding them towards your desired CTA (call to action).

How to Achieve Movement: Guiding the Eye

  • Leading Lines: Use lines that act like arrows, drawing the viewer's eye towards a specific element or area of the design.

  • The Diagonal Difference: Diagonal lines create a sense of dynamism compared to horizontal and vertical lines. Think action and excitement!

  • Colour: Colours also influence movement. Warm colors tend to advance towards the viewer, while cool colours recede. Use this to create depth towards specific areas.

Principle 7: Navigating White Space

True design mastery comes from understanding white space, also known as negative space. This seemingly empty area between your design elements. Imagine a magazine spread. The text, images, headlines - all these are design elements. White space is the breathing room between them. It can be the margin around the text, the space between columns, or the emptiness surrounding a central image.

How to Achieve White Space: Don't Fear the Air

  • Margins: Don't be afraid of generous margins around your content. It might seem like wasted space, but it creates airiness and makes your design more inviting.

  • Line Breaks: Use strategic line breaks and spacing to make content easy to read.

  • Let Images Breathe: Don't crowd images together. Give them sufficient white space to stand out and make an impact.


By mastering these seven design principles, you'll be wielding a design lightsaber that cuts through visual clutter and ignites user engagement. Remember, design principles are your launchpad, not a set of training wheels. So, unleash your inner design maverick, break the mold occasionally, and don't be afraid to get a little weird. The design galaxy awaits your creative spark!

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