Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

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an introduction to the principles of good design.An introduction to the principles of good design. Learning more about what it takes to create a good composition.

What exactly are the principles of good design?

Simply put, the principles of good design are the tools every artist uses to create an effective composition. These tools are: balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, proportion, repetition, simplicity, space and unity. How well an artist understands and uses these tools will determine if the composition is a weak or strong one. The desired outcome should be a work of art that is both unified and aesthetically pleasing to look at. In a series of discussions we’ll take a look at each one of these principles.

Anyone who studies design will soon discover there is no longer a clear-cut line between fine art and applied art anymore. All art, whether it is web or graphic design, architectural or industrial design, commercial or fine art, is subject to the same principles that make up all good design. Just as a fine artist arranges various elements within a painting to create a pleasing composition, so it is with the graphic artist. For example, the fine artist may use objects such as a vase of flowers, bowl of fruit, or a figurine to design a lovely still life composition in a painting, while the graphic artist will use headlines, bodies of text, photos, illustrations and clip-art images to compose a page for print or a webpage for the Internet. It’s not the objects in and of themselves that determine if the design is a good composition or not, it is their arrangement as governed by the principles.

Defining the principles

  • Balance – a feeling of equality of weight, attention, or attraction of the various elements within the composition as a means of accomplishing unity.
  • Contrast – the difference between elements or the opposition to various elements.
  • Emphasis – the stress placed on a single area of a work or unifying visual theme.
  • Movement – the suggestion of action or direction, the path our eyes follow when we look at a work of art.
  • Proportion – the relation of two things in size, number, amount, or degree.
  • Repetition and rhythm – the act of repeating an element either regularly or irregularly resulting in a rhythm of the repeating elements.
  • Simplicity (a.k.a. visual economy) – the elimination of all non-essential elements or details to reveal the essence of a form.
  • Space – the interval or measurable distance between objects or forms (two dimensional or three dimensional).
  • Unity – the relationship between the individual parts and the whole of a composition. This is the desired result in all great art.

Good art always starts with an idea.

Before beginning any work of art every artist needs to keep in mind that every composition starts with an idea. To use the design principles effectively it is necessary that the artist have an idea to express or an objective in mind. This is vital to the success of any art work. Without a clear objective, even the most conscientious attention to the principles of good design, will result in uninteresting work. However, with an idea clearly in mind a beautiful composition can emerge. Every artist’s goal should be to create a composition in their work that is both unified and interesting to look at.


  1. In its simplest term, what are the principles of good design?
  2. What is the end result when the good design principles are effectively applied?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principles: An Introduction

Good Design Principles: Balance

Good Design Principles: Contrast

Good Design Principles: Emphasis

Good Design Principles: Movement

Good Design Principles: Proportion

Good Design Principles: Space

Good Design Principles: Visual Economy

Good Design Principles: Unity

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