Principles of Good Design: Unity

Principles of Good Design UnityUnity is the hallmark of every good design. The final result is when all the design elements work harmoniously to give the viewer a satisfying sense of belonging and relationship. When all aspects of the design complement one another rather than competing for attention, you know you’ve achieved unity. It reinforces the relationship between the design elements and connects them to the painting’s main theme.

Unity is achieved when all design principles (balance, movement, emphasis, visual economy, contrast, proportion, and space) are applied correctly. Everything selected for use in a composition must complement the central theme and must also serve some functional purpose within the design. Achieving unity in your compositions will only result from practicing, knowing, selecting the correct visual elements, and using the best design principles to relate them.

Unity within art accomplishes two things:

  1. It creates a sense of order. There will be consistency of sizes and shapes, as well as color and pattern harmony, in a design with unity. This is achieved by repeating key elements, balancing them throughout the composition, and then adding a little variety to give the design a personality. A key to good design is learning to juggle the elements and principles in order to achieve the right mix.
  2. It also gives elements the appearance of completeness, that they belong together. When a composition has unity, the design is seen as a whole, rather than as individual elements within the painting. Using too many shapes and forms can result in a design that is disorganized, cluttered, and difficult to understand. The use of a basic shape that is then repeated throughout the composition will result in a well-organized design.

When Unity is Achieved:

    • The individual elements within a composition do not compete for attention.
    • The central theme will be communicated more clearly.
    • The design will evoke a sense of completeness and organization.

To Create Unity:

    •  You must have a clear objective in mind, one that you wish to communicate effectively.
    • You must stay focused on achieving the objective and not deviate from it. For example, if an element you consider adding does not contribute to the objective, it should not be added to the design.
    • You must be analytical about your work, maintaining objectivity at all times, and accept critiques from peers, friends, and family members. When several people consistently understand the purpose and message you intend to portray, then unity has been maintained within your painting.

When you feel your composition is complete, take a step back and observe it with an objective eye. The final test of unity is one in which nothing can be added to or taken away without reworking the entire composition. The relationship of all the elements should be so strong it would hurt the design to add or remove any one thing. When nothing can distract from the whole, you have unity.

A word of caution regarding unity: too much unity without variety is boring, and too much variation without unity is chaotic.

Some easy ways to achieve unity in your compositions include:

Similarity: Try repeating colors, shapes, values, textures, or lines to create a visual relationship between the elements. Repetition works to unify all parts of a design because it creates a sense of consistency and completeness.

Continuity: Treat different elements in the same manner. Continuity helps to create “family resemblances” between various forms. This helps to tie them together by creating an uninterrupted connection or union.

Alignment: Arranging shapes so that the line or edge of one shape leads into another helps creates unity in your design. When an element is placed in a composition, it creates an implied horizontal and vertical axis at its top, bottom, center, and sides. Aligning other aspects to these axes creates a visual relationship that unifies them.

Proximity: Group related items together so that these particular items are seen as one cohesive group rather than a bunch of unrelated elements. Elements positioned close to one another are perceived as related, while elements farther apart are considered less connected. How close together or far apart elements are placed in a composition suggests a relationship (or lack of) between otherwise disparate parts. Using a “third element” such as a road to connect nearby elements with distant ones also helps create a relationship between the forms not grouped.

Examples of the effective use of Unity

Principles of Good Design Unity     Principles of Good Design Unity

The painting on the left creates a sense of unity by the effective use of repetition. See how the artist has repeated similar forms (ducks) and color (brown) throughout the composition?

On the right, the grouping of similar objects;  proximity was used to create unity within this painting.

     Good Design Unity

The road in this painting is the “third element” that helps create a relationship between the people in the foreground and the people in the background.

This painting is another good example of how proximity creates relationships between related objects.

IN CONCLUSION: Using The Design Principles

This study on the design principles would not be complete without giving some practical guidelines on using the principles of design.

  1. Apply the principles in every assignment.
  2. Don’t apply the principles equally because one may be more important than another depending on the mood and purpose of the design. For example, one design may be strong in balance, another in proportion, another in movement, and so on.
  3. Try to include as many and as much as will work of each principle into each design.
  4. You should always add a bit of your personality to your art. Without this touch, your work may be well designed but lack character.
  5. As you become more confident in your ability to achieve unity, then dare to violate one or more of the design principles to promote growth in your creativity.

Once the designer has an objective in mind, the effective use of the design principles of balance, movement, emphasis, contrast, proportion, and space will aid in the achievement of unity in a work of art. Unity should always be the goal of every artist.


  1. How do you know when unity has been achieved in a work of art?
  2. What is the final test of unity?

Your Next Art Lesson

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

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

Principles of Good Design: Balance

Principles of Good Design: Contrast

Principles of Good Design: Emphasis

Principles of Good Design: Movement

Principles of Good Design: Proportion

Principles of Good Design: Space

Principles of Good Design: Visual Economy

Principles of Good Design: UnityYou are here.

Want More Art Lessons?

After you’ve finished the lessons on the Principles of Good Design, why not move on to the Basic Art Elements? To begin, go to The Basic Elements of Art(An Introduction)

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UPDATED: 13 March 2023

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