Every graphic designer and, arguably, every visual artist should know how to use the principles of design to their advantage. I’ve seen mistakes before in the list of principles as presented by others, and I wanted to provide an accurate list here for reference.

I’ve listed the principles of design below as I learned them when studying graphic design in college. The information is based on my college notes and includes some direct quotes, but is largely presented in my own words. Unfortunately, I’m not sure of the exact source of some of the information, but I’ll list recommended books from the course outlines in another post for those who may be interested.


  • Used to portray stability or instability.
  • Categories: symmetry, asymmetry, asymmetrical symmetry, and radial.
  • Symmetry tends to create stillness and results in a more static, controlled composition. Asymmetry can give a sense of unrestrained energy.
  • Asymmetry can feel balanced by giving the same weight to different areas without being symmetrical. Differing weights in asymmetry can create tension and/or emphasis.


  • Can be used to create emphasis or a sense of similarity.
  • Often used in conjunction with other principles.
  • Contrast can be between: shape/form, volume, size, value/colour, position, or direction of items.


  • Used to focus the attention of the viewer and add interest.
  • Unity must be carefully considered. A composition which is not cohesive feels uncomfortable to the viewer.


  • The interplay of positive space (the figure/image/component) and negative space (white space/ground/picture plane).
  • Balancing positive and negative space is more comfortable for the viewer. It allows for focus on important positive space while giving the viewer some visual rest.
  • Excessive positive space prevents the viewer from focusing and important elements can be overlooked. Excessive negative space can result in a product which appears unfinished or unusually plain.


  • Encompasses rhythm and patterns.
  • Can be used to create unity (e.g. a predictable pattern), a dynamic effect (e.g. a swirling vortex), or even emphasis (e.g. an anomaly within a pattern).


  • Used to portray liveliness, stillness, time, change, or motion.
  • “Tension plus direction equals motion.”
  • Diagonals tend to create visual movement, as they encourage eye movement in a particular direction.
  • Comics, or sequential art, are a classic example of art used to portray the passing of time. The layout of sequential art also encourages a particular reading pattern or eye movement from the viewer/reader.


  • Grids create a sense of unity and structure. Mathematical sequences can be used to create grids, including the golden mean and the Fibonacci series.
  • Grouping creates a sense of unity and harmony. The relationship of groups can create a sense of closure, which is more comfortable for the viewer. Grouping can also be used to create implied shapes.
  • Gestalt theory:
    1. “The parts of an image can be considered as distinct components.”
    2. “The whole of the image is different from and greater than the sum of its parts.”

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