Principles of Composition in Graphic Design

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  • 0:04 Principles of Design
  • 0:34 Function & Alignment
  • 1:12 Balance & Hierarchy
  • 2:05 Contrast, Proximity &…
  • 3:03 Repetition & Simplicity
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll explore the principles of composition in graphic design. We'll discuss each one, their definitions, their functions in overall composition, and provide visual examples.

Principles of Design

The building blocks of graphic design include:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Form
  • Space
  • Texture, and
  • Typography

Good design requires that you apply some basic principles to how you use the elements in your composition.

Some principles of design are:

  • Alignment
  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Function
  • Hierarchy
  • Proximity
  • Repetition
  • Simplicity, and
  • White space

How those elements, whether consciously used or not, will imbue your composition with a particular quality. Let's look at each one.

Function & Alignment

Function is defined as the primary message or objective communicated in a piece of work and the reason for communicating this message. Most graphic designers are hired to create an artistic composition by a client that wants to promote a product, a brand, or a public message. Fully understanding the intended function of a project will help guide the design process.

Alignment refers to how different visual elements are arranged in such a way that they line up in the composition. These can be diagonal, horizontal, or vertical lines, including text along the top, bottom, left, or right edge of a page as well as across a center line.

Balance & Hierarchy

Balance refers to the placement of the elements in such a way that their visual weight is equal across the composition. Visual weight is the amount of attention an object will command from the viewer, such as darker objects attracting more attention than lighter objects.

There are three kinds of balance commonly used in design:

  1. In symmetrical balance, objects of equal or similar visual weight are placed with equal distance from an invisible center line

  2. Asymmetrical balance exists across the center line; however, smaller or lighter objects appear on one side to balance a much heavier object on the other side

  3. In radial balance, objects are placed in relation to a central point instead of a line

Hierarchy in graphic design uses the visual weight of objects in a composition to establish an order of importance. It guides the viewer's eye through the information in the specific order the designer intends.

Contrast, Proximity, & White Space

We create contrast when two or more elements in a design are different. The degree of difference will determine the noticeability of the contrast. One of the most common examples of contrast involves color. Certain colors almost blend into each other when placed in close proximity. Others distinguish themselves from each other and can therefore be even noticeable in a composition. These contrasting colors are located directly across from each other on a color wheel.

Proximity simply refers to how close together or far apart two objects are placed in a composition. The reason proximity matters, and it matters quite a bit, is that distance helps determine the relationship between the objects.

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