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Visual Elements & Principles of Design

Instructor: David Gloag
How things are made and function is very important, and design is a large contributing factor. In this lesson, we'll take a look at what design is, as well as the visual elements and principles that contribute to it.

Appealing Utility

These days, it isn't enough for an item to simply exist. It has to have a purpose. For example, would you have a dresser, if it didn't organize your clothes and keep them off of the floor? Would you have a car, if it didn't get you where you want to go? And would you have a cell phone, if it didn't keep you connected with the world? The fact is, you wouldn't. If the item didn't serve a useful purpose, you wouldn't have it. But it goes farther than that. Items in your life must also be visually appealing, in addition to their utility. That is where design comes in.

What is Design?

Design is the process of creating something. For example, architects design buildings, electronic engineers design circuits, and chefs design meals. But more than that, it is the collection of descriptions, images, and plans, used to create that something. Every item we see and use has an associated design. Some are very simple, like that of a pencil, and others are extremely complex, like that of the largest building in your city. Design takes into account every aspect of the something in question; size, color, weight, shape, and texture are examples. Good design optimizes each of these characteristics for utility or use, and visual appeal.

What is a Visual Element?

A visual element is any aspect of something that we can see. This includes a number of characteristics, which are as follows:

  • Line - a mark made by a pen or brush, or the divider between two areas. In a drawing of a city street, a line would represent the edge of a building, or the edge of the curb on the street.
  • Shape - an enclosed area that can be organic or geometric. In an image of an orange, the shape would basically be a circle, filled with an orange color.
  • Direction - an attribute of a line; horizontal, vertical, or skewed. In a city street drawing, the building edges would be vertical, and the curb edges would be horizontal and skewed.
  • Size - the area occupied by a shape. In the drawing of a city street, you have small buildings and large buildings. The area occupied by each would indicate their size.
  • Texture - the visual description of a surface, or the tactile sensation something presents. In an image, this would be the surface qualities of any shape; dull, shiny, etc. For something physical, it would be how the object feels to the touch; smooth, rough, etc.
  • Color - the hue from the visible spectrum an object shows or projects. For a stop sign, the color would be red.
  • Value - The shade of a color; how light or dark it is. On a sunny day, the sky is light blue, or the leaves on the trees are various shades of green.

What Are the Principles for Using Visual Elements in Design?

There are a number of principles for using visual elements in design. Think of them as suggestions that lead to easier understanding, and/or visual appeal. They will vary in their relative affect depending on the design effort underway. These principles include:

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