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Elements of good design

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Title image for the blog article named elements of design

When it comes to good design is fundamental to know which are those practices that are right and those that are wrong but, how to do so?

We live in a society that is constantly evolving and reshaping itself but, if we slow down for a moment we can realize that some things are always the same and one of these are the elements and principles of good design.

For who as me has studied these theories at the university years ago they are not to be strictly followed thus because I attain some kind of compensation at the cost of the violation. Simply said I always stick to one or more of the rules and only sometimes I don't use them gaining unique and striking works.

Let's start with the elements of design.

Elements of design are the most simple and basic aspects of any visual piece. Many times these elements can be find in combinations with each other.

By my point of view the logic way to study the elements of design is this one:

Line, Direction, Shape, Size, Texture and Color.


Line

Yea, we all know what lines are but just to be sure they build the fundamentals of everything. Lines comes from dots placed in front of each other. Lines can be Straight, diagonal, vertical curved and have different thickness. With lines we can form shapes and give directions. For instance, lines can lead your eye to certain focal points and can evoke feelings. Straight lines evoke calmness, curved ones represent excitement and angled ones are sign of being nervous.

Summarizing we can say that points form lines. Lines has direction, weight, gesture. When combined they create shapes like outlines or silhouettes that can be regular and geometric or irregular and organic. When shapes are put together they can define each other creating contrast.

image representing examples of different lines

Direction

Direction is what guides our eyes from one point to another but how to archive so? Elements as lines, colors, shapes and sizes in contraposition to each other can give sense of direction. Think about dots with growing size placed one in front of each other. Your eye will move from left to right or vice versa. The same goal can be archived with colors.
With direction we answer to questions as how does your eye move across the page? Do readers know exactly where to look next? Is the direction of the eyes logical?

In this context the direction is also referred as "flow" of the eye.

The element of direction has a powerful influence on the mood of any design and making conscience decisions about the dominant direction in a design it can have a noticeable effect on the atmosphere of the work. This is nowadays a very powerful concept especially if we think about web design. Wed designers need to guide the eyes of the clients in a logical way keeping in mind usability and functionality.

To summarize, the direction will give to any design a sense of stability or movement.

image representing growing dots around a circle

Shape

Shapes are another basic element of design. They are made up of closed contours and three dimensional objects placed in the design. Manly they are used to organize information and give meaning.

We have three types of shapes.

Geometric, organic and abstract

When thinking of the geometric shapes, you are right, it's them. The triangle, the square, the oval, the cube and so on. Organic shapes are those forms that can be find in nature but also can be manmade. if we think about leafs or butterflies they can either be leaving organisms with their "shape" or they can be carved in wood or simply hand drawn.

To be more precise geometric shapes are those shapes that can be drawn using a ruler or compass. Shapes as line and direction produce feeling. Take for example the mechanical shapes, whether simple or complex, they produce a feeling of control or order while abstract and organic shapes are for instance the opposite of mechanical shapes.

Organic and abstract shapes are freehand drawn shapes that are complex and can normally be found in nature. There is thou a slight difference between organic and abstract. The first ones produce a natural feel while abstract can also give a sense of disorder and chaos in contraposition to geometric and mechanical shapes.

image representing geometric and organic shapes

Size

Size is simply the relationship of the area occupied by one shape to that of another. In other words is how big and prominent an object can be. It's mostly used to give importance, visual interest and contrast when in relation to other elements. The example I gave previously about direction is gained with the use of the size element.

image representing a white dot in two big dots

Texture

Texture is the way a surface feels or is perceived to feel. It can be added to attract or repel interest to an element, depending on the pleasantness of the texture. In different words Texture is the surface quality of a shape that can be rough, smooth, soft hard glossy etc.

There are two different types of texture specifically as tactile and visual.

Tactile texture is the actual three-dimension feel of a surface that can be touched.
Visual texture is the illusion of the surfaces peaks and valleys, like the tree pictured. Any texture shown in an illustration is a visual texture.

Most textures have a natural touch but still seem to repeat a motif in some way. Regularly repeating a motif will result in a texture appearing as a pattern.


image representing green and white circles creating a repeition

Color

LColor is one of the most powerful of elements. It has tremendous expressive qualities. Understanding the uses of color is crucial to an effective composition in design and in fine arts.

Color is the general term which applies to the whole subject as for example referring to a triangle that can be red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, black or white and all possible combinations thereof.

We than have two different aspects to add to the color.

The first one is called Hue and is the correct term to use to refer to just the purest spectrum of colors. Any given color can be described in terms of its value and hue. There are only three primary hues which cannot be created by mixing any other color and these are red, yellow and blue.


image representing relation between red yellow and blue

Together with the hue we must consider the value of the color. The value is the lightness or darkness of a color. This concept is very important because it automatically brings us to the concepts of contrast of value or, better to say, separation of objects in the space and gradation of value that suggests mass and volume.

Finally we have the Saturation of colors that gives brightness or dullness, and by doing this it makes the color more vibrant than before and it must not be confused with the value of color. The saturation is how "vibrant" a color can be while value is how light or dark a color can be.

As we can see the elements of design are not that difficult to understand and is not necessary to use them all together when creating our works.


Conclusion

The elements of designs are the bricks of what are called principles of design. Understanding them will not only improve the quality of your work but will also let you appreciate better the work of other designers therefore gaining knowledge about what is good and what is bad practice.


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