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The Elements Of Design

Design is made up of basic elements built into a structure that communicates a message. These elements are the building blocks you need to construct your design. These objects can be arranged in any way as part of your composition; we call this the principles of design. These principles are important concepts that can help you organise the basic structural elements on a page.

Think of the elements of design as the ingredients you need for a recipe. These basic components are essential in art and design and how you can visually construct pieces. Each element is a crucial part of a visual message, and the combination of these has an impact on how the design is perceived. You can use these elements alone or in combination with each other, depending on what you're looking to achieve.



The lightness or darkness of a color created by the addition of white or black to the color. The lightest value is white and the darkest value is black. Value refers to the degree of lightness and darkness of a specific hue. Yellow has a higher value than purple because it is closer to white. Value changes create contrast on a page. The reason you can read this text is that the black content contrasts with the white background.

In design, use different tonal values to create emphasis in your design. Create the illusion of movement by overlapping multiple elements with different values. Value is also important in photography. You’ll notice that high-value images have a light and airy feel to them, while dark value images feel heavy and dramatic.

Value also defines the spatial relationship between elements. If color values are close between the elements and space, then the design will look flat. If there is a strong contrast between the elements, then the form will be extremely noticeable.




The way a space fills or looks like it fills. Texture can be real or implied. Examples are smooth, rough, or slick. Texture adds a tactile appearance to a design layout. Imagine how a design piece would feel if you touched it. The goal of texture is to add depth to a 2D surface. Texture can be applied graphically through patterns, either digitally created or an image mimicking the desired pattern.


The area contained in a piece of art. The foreground, the middle ground, and background refer to the space or implied distance in an artwork. A shape is the result of enclosed lines to form a boundary. Shapes are two-dimensional and can be described as geometric, organic, and abstract.

Geometric shapes have structure and are often mathematical and precise (squares, circles, triangles). You’ll notice that the Swiss graphic design movement from the 1950s used mostly geometric shapes in their designs. Shapes can add emphasis to a layout.

Organic shapes lack well-defined edges and often feel natural and smooth. Shapes add emphasis to a layout. Abstract shapes are a minimalist representation of reality. For instance, a stick figure of a person is an abstract shape. Depending on the color, form, and size of shapes, we can determine particular moods and send messages. For instance, triangles direct the eyes to a specific point and can also represent stability.

Space is the area that surrounds a shape; it creates a form within the space. Think of it as music: space is the silence between the notes of a song. If all the notes were played together, that would turn into noise. If you look at a design piece, the negative space is the area that is not occupied by any elements. In essence, it is the background color that you are able to see. For instance, abundant negative space in a layout results in an open, airy, and light background. The lack of negative space can result in a cluttered design. Visually speaking, a layout needs space to achieve a level of clarity within the design. Negative space is a very important element to consider as you are designing a piece.


A two dimensional area with height and width.

There are two types of shapes - geometric and organic. Geometric shapes have straight edges and angles, such as a squares, rectangles, and triangles. Circles are also geometric shapes. Organic shapes have rounded edges, curvalinear edges. Organic shapes are found in nature, such as the shape of seashells, flower petals, or insects.


A path left by a moving point. And element used to define a shape and show the edge of an object. Lines are the most basic elements of design. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Once you start noticing them, you’ll see grids all around you. Lines have direction; they can be visible or invisible and can help direct the eye to a specific spot. The thickness of a line can also communicate certain cues. Bold and thick lines can draw attention, while thin lines are the opposite.

Most if not all layouts contain invisible lines. Grids are made of multiple lines and lend structure to a page. Lines can be used to create demarcation on a specific section of a design. Depending on the form of the line, you can convey different moods. A simple line can carry so much—for instance, a squiggly line is perceived as young and fun compared to a straight line.

Lines don't necessarily have to be solid. Dashed and dotted lines can also be used and have a friendlier feel than a solid line. Straight lines usually come across as a steady and static element. On the other hand, curved lines are dynamic and give energy to your design.


The three dimensional area of an object. An object that has height, width, and depth, is tree dimensional. On a page, form is the positive element over the space, the negative element. A dot, line, or shape is a form when placed on a page. Unfortunately, form and shape are mostly used interchangeably. A form can be either two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Many also believe that form is a shape that acquires three-dimensional values, but the correct term is volume.

Form and shape are mutually dependent because changing one would affect the other. The spatial relationship between form and space can create tension and add 3D qualities to your design. Form and space will lend the design lots of visual activity that can help keep viewers engaged. To create a 3D effect in your design, you can add shadows, stack multiple elements, or play with color.


The way we see light when it is reflected from a surface or reflected from a prism. The primary colors are red, yellow, blue. The secondary colors are orange, purple, green. We can apply color to any of the elements we mentioned before this point. Colors create moods and can say something different depending on the connotations associated with it. Color can create an emphasis on specific areas of your design layout.

This element contains multiple characteristics: 

Hue is the name of a color in its purest form. For instance, cyan, magenta, and green are pure colors. 

Shade is the addition of black to a hue in order to make a darker version. 

Tint is the addition of white to a color to make a lighter version.

Tone is the addition of grey to make a color muted. 

Saturation refers to the purity of a color. A specific color is most intense when it is not mixed with white or black.

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