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A Simple Guide to The Principles of Design

We started looking at the fundamentals of creating successful surface pattern designs when we looked at the elements of design. Remember we can break down the makeup of a design into 2 main categories. They are the elements and principles of design.

We already learned that the elements are the structure of the design. That is, what the design is made up of. Today we’re going to have a look at a simple guide to the principles of design.

Before you read on if you need a refresh on the elements of design, head over here.

A Simple Guide to The Principles of Design

So, what are the principles of design?

The principles of designs are what we do to or how we organise the elements.

The principles of design can be broken into the following categories:

  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Repetition/Pattern
  • Harmony
  • Unity
  • Rhythm/Movement
  • Proportion
  • Emphasis/Dominance
  • Variety


Balance refers to the weight of the composition in relation to how the objects are placed.

The two main forms of balance are symmetrical and asymmetrical.

Symmetrical designs are equally balanced from the centre point e.g. your face is symmetrical.

Asymmetrical designs are designs where the elements are distributed equally from the centre point.



Contrast consists of opposing elements.  The relationship between elements with different characteristics.

A simple guide to the principles of designv



A pattern or repetition is created by a recurring design element.

Sign up for your free download of the most common surface pattern repeats below so you can understand patterns in relation to surface pattern design.


Unity is created by the elements of the design having a harmonious relationship together. The individual design elements combine together as one.


Harmony is similar to unity and describes a peaceful relationship between the elements of the design e.g. a harmonious colour scheme.


Rhythm is the movement of design elements at regular intervals. It creates a sense of movement.

A simple guide to the principles of design


Proportion is the relationship between the scale of one design element to another and will give a sense of size e.g. a large object or a small object


Emphasis or dominance occurs where a particular area of a design or design element stands out more than other areas. A dominant element will draw your eye to that part of the design. 

A simple guide to the principles of design


Variety refers to elements that are different or dissimilar. Variety creates interest within a design.

Now you have an understanding of both the elements of design and principles of design, try considering them in your next design.


A Simple Guide to The Principles of Design

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