What Makes Good Design? Basic Elements and Principles

What Makes Good Design? Basic Elements and Principles
Mydee Lasquite

Written by:
Mydee Lasquite

Sep 28, 2015

The wide availability of visual tools both online and offline has made it quite easy to create homemade graphic designs. Today, more and more freelancers and non-professional designers are using visual tools to jump start a career in graphic design. If you’re looking to improve your understanding of design and its creation, then read on.

This blog post will not only delve into the details of the basic elements of design, it will go further by explaining the principles of how elements should be put together to create an entertaining and amusing visual project for yourself and your client.

The Elements of Design


A beautiful design is not a product of great imagination or a result of an idea. Rather, it is a product of carefully plotted design elements chosen to create a visual representation of the idea and the imagination.

Design is not about pictures placed together and arranged in a way that creates a story. Design is about creating harmony among the elements and having them come together in a final product that is unequivocally outstanding.

The elements of design refer to a set of particular guidelines for graphic designers or artists. Design elements are the basic unit of painting, design, drawing, or any other visual piece coming into existence.

These elements are vital to every visual project.



The most basic design element is the line. With a simple drawing a line is regarded as just a mere stroke of a pen, but in the field or study of design, a line connects any two points. Lines are effectively used in separating or creating a space between other elements or to provide a central focus.

The direction, weight, and character of the line can convey different states of emotions and can evoke various reactions.



Color affects the mood of the visual design. Color represents different emotions and represents different personalities. The use of the color red, for example,  can incite anger, love, and passion or strong will. On the other hand, the color blue, creates a sense of peace, serenity, and security.

Color effectively contributes to the unity of a series of flyers and puts emphasis on the pertinent information that is conveyed by the other visual elements.

Color can stand alone at any time. It can serve as a background or be a supporting element to other elements. It can heighten the impact of shapes, lines, and fonts on texture. The use of individual color is easy, but combining one with another will require a deeper understanding of its psychological implication in visual design.

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A shape is formed when a line encloses an area. It is always defined by boundaries and more often used to stress a particular portion of a page.

In design, shapes can be created when you are combining all other elements or they can  be combined to create icons or symbols for your design project.

Use shapes to add interest to your elements. Angular shapes indicate masculinity while velvety and curvy shapes like circles indicate femininity. Square shapes, elements, or designed items communicate  security, trustworthiness, and stability. On the other hand, circles are like eye candy: They are organic, complete, indestructible, and almost always communicate unity.



Texture is the perceived surface quality of a work of art. Texture is hard to identify in today’s visual applications, but for career graphic designers, texture is a fun and creative design element that can be experimented with to add realism to any project design. It makes any visual design unique and can increase the visual value of any given element.

Texture can be used to accent a particular area of the visual project so that it becomes more dominant than the other elements.



These elements go hand in hand. They are responsible for bringing balance, proportion, and contrast to every design.

Size refers to the actual dimensions of a particular element, while the scale is its relation to the original value, and proportion refers to the relation of all present elements to both size and scale.

Scale and proportion are used to indicate the exact size of an object or to emphasize the difference in size of two objects found on a particular visual presentation.



Direction is an element of design that establishes the general mood and atmosphere. It creates the illusion that there is movement within the design.

Visual direction refers to instances in which the content screams “look over here” through the use of horizontal and vertical lines.

Vertical lines establish an atmosphere of balance, alertness, and formality.

Horizontal lines communicate peace, stability, and tranquility.

Oblique lines, on the other hand, suggest movement and action.


The Principles of Design

Principle in this field refers to the ways elements may be  manipulated to create a work of art.

The principles and elements of design both carry the same weight in executing an effective piece. If you disregard the principles, then you have a visual piece that lacks a story.

These principles are guidelines that are used to visually communicate the ideas represented by the elements.

In a previous post, we discussed Visual Communication as an effective tool in conveying the company message and corporate mission. Today, we show you how to be more effective in creating visual content that is both appealing and informative.



Proximity refers to the way in which elements are grouped together so that  the attention of the viewer or reader is redirected to the various parts of the visually designed message. It is the nearness of one element to another.

Proximity preserves unity and maintains the continuity of visual elements. It creates the relationship and connection among the elements on a page. Proximity provides a focal point, which is the center of interest or activity.



Balance is the distribution of the various visual weights of the objects used in the visual presentation, the proper combination and harmony of colors used, the tone and refinement of visual texture, and the appropriate use of space.

Balance provides stability and structure in a particular design. Balance in design is similar to the concept of  balance in Physics.



This particular principle refers to the order and organization between and among the elements.  When elements are aligned, they create a visual connection with each other that communicates a story.

Alignment serves to put elements together in a visible and readable arrangement. Alignment is the sister or extension of proximity. It specifically refers to positioning items in such a way that they line up with each other..


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Repetition may be overwhelming, but not in design. Repetition is visually appealing when used to put emphasis on particular elements and can effectively grab the attention of a reader.

Repetition strengthens the design by connecting individual elements together. It creates consistency and association, while at the same time creating a feeling of organized movement.



Contrast is defined as “the difference in visual properties that makes one object distinguishable from other objects.” Contrast is often used to emphasize key elements in specific design projects.

Contrast is used to make elements stand out and grab attention. Contrast, like proximity, creates a focal point in a visual design.

Contrast creates visual excitement and increases the interest of any work of art or design creation.

A color contrast, for example, can redirect the attention of a reader to a more important part or message of a presentation.



This principles is also known as white space or negative space. This is the very open, underutilized area of any visual presentation or creation.

Space is an area activated by the elements.  It is the active and visible distance or area between and around, above, and below or within the elements used in one project design.

Space is powerful when you want to deliver a direct message without the clutter of other design elements.

Not everyone is gifted or has the ability to put elements together to come up with visual content. Whether you are a professional designer,an amateur, or a person seeking employment in this particular field, then learning the basic precepts and implementation of a design isnecessary training that you cannot overlook.

This is just a taste of design principles and elements. Watch out for a more detailed discussion of this topic in our upcoming posts.


Your Turn

Now that you’ve seen what constitutes good design, learn more about some of the most common mistakes made by non-designers here.

And if you want to put these visual communication principles into practice, there are online tools that allow you to create professional-looking visual content for your marketing and social media campaigns–even if you don’t have advanced design skills. You can try one for free here.

And if you want to receive additional tips on becoming a better visual communicator, don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

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    About the Author

    Mydee is a content strategist at Visme’s Visual Learning Center. After years of writing for various companies to promote brands and products, her passion for content and love for offering valuable information landed her at Visme to help individuals and businesses make informed decisions and improve their communication and presentation skills.

    8 responses to “What Makes Good Design? Basic Elements and Principles”

    1. […] Mydee, L 2015, ‘What Makes Good Design? Basic Elements and Principles’, visme, blog post, 28 September, viewed 25 March 2017, <https://visme.co/blog/elements-principles-good-design/&gt;. […]

    2. horndeangraphics.co.uk says:

      These designers who just start their jobs from other newly earned degree can always need more
      practicing about 1-3 years before moving up to more advantced positions.
      Browsers including Google Chrome respond well to the video tags and video uploads.
      They might have a decade of business experience, but have
      only been doing web page design within the last year.

    3. Sadaf says:

      I think when people have the freedom to tell their own story rather than trying to be specific to a certain design or style, there’s more freedom, and it ends up feeling more like home. Those spaces we see in magazines and on the Internet are beautiful, but if there’s not that story there, then it’s going to lack that feeling of home.

    4. THOMAS M ALLEMAN says:

      The illustration that accompanies “Scale and Size” in the Elements section is of questionable taste, I believe. Is that heavily hand guiding the airplane into the World Trade Centers? Most of us would agree that it isn’t, but the lack of clarity is a little disturbing. Probably, it’s “catching” that plane before it collides with those buildings. Right? But, of course, no such heavenly hand did reach down to avert that tragedy. So, the illustration becomes a bit of a riff, a kind-of jokey counterfactual––especially in its depiction of that oversized, comic hand. It’s a bit of a cartoon, isn’t it? All to say: a spectacular and terrible event has been made whimsical, fantastic, cheeky. The artist’s intention may have been “good”, but the effect is off-putting and a bit creepy, and I don’t think your site is served by the use of that piece.

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