Skip to main content

Elements and Principles of Two Dimensional Design


The elements and principles of design are the building blocks from which images are made. Line, shape, texture, value and color are the basic elements of design. The principles of design are a wide range of organizational strategies such as balance; unity and variety; scale and proportion; rhythm and emphasis.

Artists and designers translate their personal insights into public communication. The ideas and emotions a professional wishes to express must engage an audience whether the encounter occurs in the silence of a museum or the chaos of a city street.

Design Elements

Picture plane: the two dimensional surface on which shapes are organized into a composition.

Positive space/shape: any shape distinguished from the background; also referred to as figure.

Negative space/shape: an area around a positive shape, a shape created by the absence of an object; also referred to as a ground.

Line: a connection between points, an implied connection between points, a point in motion.

Shape: a visually perceived area created either by an enclosing line or by color and value changes defining the outer edges.

Texture: the visual or tactile quality of a surface within a composition.

Value: the relative lightness or darkness of a surface.

Color: see previous reading..

Design Principles

Balance: the distribution of weight or emphasis among visual elements within a composition. Balance involves - visual weight, symmetry, a symmetry, and imbalance.

Unity and Variety: elements that provide compositional cohesion; the differences that give a composition visual and conceptual interest. These include grouping, containment, repetition, proximity, continuity, closure, pattern and grid.

Scale: a size relationship between separate objects within a composition.

Proportion: the relative size of visual elements within a composition.

Rhythm: presentation of multiple units in a deliberate pattern.

Emphasis: special attention given to some aspect of a composition to increase its prominence.

(Text and definitions from: “Launching the Imagination,” 3rd Edition, by Mary Stewart)

Self Checks

Check 1: Design Elements

Look at two images created for this course. Identify the primary design elements and primary design principles employed by each.