Design Principles

Learn the key Principles of Design to make your message clear, relevant, and concise. Learn how to focus on your message and your audience.    

What are Design Principles?

Design principles are theories, conventions, artistic traditions that inform how writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . use design elements in their texts (aka compositions).

Design principles are a sort of grammar for visual language: they inform both the interpretation and production of information.

Related Concepts: Design Thinking;


Why Do Design Principles Matter?

Design Principles inform literacy, reading and writing practices. They are semiotic, cultural, artistic traditions that govern a discourse community’s textual practices. They are a form of grammar and mechanics. Yet rather than words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, they govern visual language.

Just as we learn grammar informally as we are raised, we learn design principles largely through informal processes: from trial and error, from practice, learning, observing, and thinking. Consider, for instance, the global preoccupation with selfies: some surveys estimate that people take 450 selfies a year, and over 25,700 selfies in a lifetime. That’s a lot of practice when it comes to framing and working with images.

Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, Contrast—these principles, sometimes referred to as P.A.R.C. or C.R.A.P., play a king-size role in any composition.

AlignmentAlign copy and visuals in consistent manner. Avoid a jumbled look, the feeling of puzzle pieces scattered willy nilly.
Balance: Symmetrical, Asymmetrical, & RadialPlace design elements in relation to other design elements. Place equal weighting of design elements on the left, right, top, and bottom quadrants of the text to achieve balance.
ContrastCreate focus by using design elements (such as use of bold face or font) to highlight texts and the ideas behind those texts.
Color TheoryColor Theory pertains to research and scholarship
Emphasis
Gestalt
Harmony
Movement
Pattern
Proportion
ProximityPlace related items together. Chunk liked-minded content together and separate disparate chunks of content.
RepetitionRepeat design elements (e.g., consistency in alignment and headings) throughout a text.
Repeat words and phrases for emphasis and clarity.
Rhythm

Scale
Simplicity (Visual Design)

Symbolism

Works Cited

Williams, Robin (1994). The Non-Designer’s Design Book : Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice. Berkeley, CA :Peachpit Press, 1994.

Works Cited

Williams, Robin (1994). The Non-Designer’s Design Book : Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice. Berkeley, CA :Peachpit Press, 1994.