Principles of Design

Principles of Design refers to the use of proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast, and other visual elements in compositions. Learn about the theories and conventions that inform how writers compose with the elements of art so your texts pique the interests of your readers. Learn design principles so your presentations and texts convey a professional tone and style.    

What are the Principles of Design?

Design Principles refers to

Related Concepts: Design Thinking; Visual Language

Why Do Principles of Design Matter?

Design Principles inform reading and writing practices. They constitute a basic literacy competency for a knowledge worker, especially given the visual turn in professional, workplace, and academic writing. Declarative and tacit knowledge of design principles can help you avoid creating discordant designs that detract from your intended purpose.

Design Principles are a sort of grammar for visual language: they inform both the interpretation and production of information. Yet rather than defining how words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs can go together to create clarity, they govern visual language. Just as we learn grammar informally as we read the works of others, 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.

The visual design of your documents plays an extraordinary role in modern communications. Note, e.g, this summary by MoveableINK:

1. 90% of the information processed by the brain is visual.
2. It takes only 13 milliseconds for the human brain to process an image.
3. The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.
4. 80% of people remember what they see, compared to ten percent what they hear and 20 percent of what they read.
5. In responses to a recent survey, 95% of B2B buyers said that they wanted shorter and highly visual content.
6. Publishers that feature visual content grow traffic 12 times faster than those who don’t.

Source: 29 Incredible Stats that Prove the Power of Visual Marketing

The Big 4 Design Principles: P.A.R.C (aka C.R.A.P)

In 2015 Robin Williams argued that non designers should be aware of four major design principles: 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.

ProximityPlace related items together. Chunk liked-minded content together and separate disparate chunks of content.
AlignmentAlign copy and visuals in consistent manner. Avoid a jumbled look, the feeling of puzzle pieces scattered willy nilly.
RepetitionRepeat design elements (e.g., consistency in alignment and headings) throughout a text.
Repeat words and phrases for emphasis and clarity.
ContrastCreate focus by using design elements (such as use of bold face or font) to highlight texts and the ideas behind those texts.

Since the publications of Williams’ book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, other designers have seconded her opinion that these are the four most important considerations for anyone endeavoring to communicate visually. Examples:

Design Principles: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity

Other Principles of Design

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.
Color – Color TheoryColors, like words, have connotations. Be sure to choose colors that reflect your intentions.
11 Visual Hierarchy Design Principles – Learn How to Improve and Create Beautiful Graphic Designs

Works Cited

Williams, R. (2015). The Non-designer’s design book. Peachpit Press.

Shen, Z. (n.d.). Robin Williams’ four basic design principles for non-designers. Wiredcraft.