Graphic of human profile

Visual Impact

What are the visual qualities that best capture one’s attention?

Visual design elements and principles describe fundamental ideas about the practice of visual design.

outline showing design elements and principles

Elements of Design = Line, Shape, Color, Tone, Texture, Direction, Size

Design elements are the basic units of any visual design which form its structure and convey visual messages. We can think of the elements of design as a collection of abstract tools. They can be combined and arranged in any way we like to create some sort of visual statement. The elements of design are the raw materials or building blocks for any form of visual expression.

Diana Eftaiha outlines how these design elements can turn a simple subject into a striking photo in her article:  6 Elements of Design .

Principles of Design = Contrast, Harmony, Balance, Repetition, Dominance, Gradation, Unity

Design principles integrate design elements into one composition. How one applies design principles determines how successful a design may be. Important considerations are:

Focal point – the center of interest of the design. Be aware of where you want the viewer’s eyes to look.

Contrast – engages the viewer by making the design more visually interesting.

Balance – the use of space in the distribution of objects and colors. The sense of balance or symmetry affects the viewer’s emotional response. For example, a perfectly symmetrical design may result in tranquility or boredom while an asymmetrical design may create excitement or anxiety.

Rhythm – the use of lines to direct the viewer’s eyes around the page or screen. Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines direct the eyes in different directions and convey different emotions.

Perspective – providing a sense of depth (usually thought of in terms of foreground, middle ground and background). Methods for providing perspective include using a horizon line, relative size and scale of objects, linear perspective (converging lines to convey distance), and color and value (darker, richer colors appear to be in the foreground).

Unity – consistency and cohesiveness in the overall design. Everything works together to make one unified whole.

Trent Sizemore outlines how to effectively incorporate design principles into photography in his blog post The Principles of Design in Photography.


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