Terminology: Principles and Elements of Design

Space - A two or three-dimensional coordinate system. In design 3D space (a.k.a, Cartesian Space) is created by using the rules of linear perspective. Space can also be implied by overlapping planes, relative position, isometric and oblique perspective. Space can also be described in terms of positive or negative, filled or empty, closed or opened.

Point - Spatial dimensions progress from the most primitive element. It is the most minimal of the visual elements used in visual design. The "point" (a.k.a. a vector or an axis.), is a dimensionless entity, which can be used to determine and define a location in space. In design, a point is positioned in relationship to either a 2D or 3D coordinate system. A point that extends in one direction becomes a one-dimensional line. In nature, it is the most common formations. In symbology, it is the period that marks the silence at the end of a sentence.

Line - is a moving point that has both a position and a direction in space, having only one dimension: "length." The variables that define the quality of lines are: size, weight, shape, position, movement and direction, number, pattern, color, shading, interval and density. Points create lines, lines create shapes, planes and volume. Because we generally experience the world horizontally and vertically, lines of this kind can help to stabilize and balance the visual weight in a composition.

Contour - The outline of an object.

Shape - A closed two-dimensional area which defines the contour of an object, form, etc. Shape falls into two general categories: Geometric and Organic (a.k.a. Free-form shapes)

Plane - Conceptually a two-dimensional expression of length and width. A plane is a line stretched in two-dimensional space in a direction other than that of it's length.

Form - Is the complete state of work including all of the elements of design combining to form a structure.

Figure - Outline or contour of an object, shape, form, image etc.

Light and Color - typically known as hue. Color has a primary emotional response on any audience.This word represents a specific color or light wavelength found in the color spectrum, ranging circularly from red to yellow, green, blue and back to red. Color is defined by the variables: hue, value, and chroma (a.k.a. purity or saturation.)

Volume and Mass - is a three-dimensional form comprising length, width, and depth. Volumetric forms contain points (vertices), lines (edges), and planes (surfaces). A mass is the two-dimensional appearance of a three-dimensional form. Here, mass is interchangeable with volume. A mass is a solid body or a grouping of visual elements (line, color, texture, etc.) that compose a solid form.

Surface and Texture - Actual or implied, texture refers to the surface quality of an object. Qualities like smooth and roughness are used to describe texture. Texture is usually associated with the sense of touch.

Type - Also known as typography, and it is considered an element in graphic design. Although it consists of elements of design, it is - in itself - often an element in the form of visual communication.

Tone/Value - Another word for the lightness or darkness of an area, a color, or black and white. Both tone and value are interchangeable terms that refer to the relative lightness or darkness create as light reflects off the surface of an object. Brightness is measured in relationship to a graded scale from white to black. The contrast of values is used to give the illusion of space and three-dimensionally on a two-dimensional surface.

Pattern - The emphasis of a visual form relationship through the repetition of tone or more visual elements. Many textures have or create a specific pattern. Pattern is related to the principles of Repetition, Rhythm and Consistency.

Density - (Opaque/Transparent)

Ground - That which is behind a figure, without dominant form.

White Space - The space between objects in a composition. Sometimes referred to as "positive/negative space."

The Elements of Design are used by these Principles listed below to create Emphasis (Tension) and Balance (Release).

Concept - An idea, thought, theory, or notion conceived in the mind.

Structure - Mode of building, construction or organization of parts, elements or constituents.

Content, Subject and Character - The specific theme or innovation in addressing a visual problem.

Sketch (Rough) - The drawing of an concept where only those basic elements of design are used to describe an object or form are used.

Balance - The elements of design converge to create a design or arrangement of parts that appear to be a whole with equilibrium (a.k.a. Symmetry). It is the balancing of the "visual weight" of elements in a design. Balance is related symmetry, asymmetry and radial balance. Symmetrical balance (a.k.a. formal balance) is the even placement of visual weight in a design, where the correspondence between opposite halves of a figure, or form on either side of an axis or set of axes in a design. Asymmetrical compositions (a.k.a. informal balance) are created by uneven spaces and therefore create "tension" in a design. Asymmetry gives motion to a composition that wants to be resolved into a balance. Radial symmetry relates to images emitting from a single point like the ripples from a stone thrown into a pond. The symmetry we experience as bilaterally symmetrical beings (two eyes, two ear, two arms etc.) is at the basis of the idea in a "classical" sense of design with an focus toward balance, stability, order and harmony.

Unity, Proximity and Variety - "Gestalt" meaning oneness, harmony, is a condition of completeness with the use of all visual elements within a format. It is a principle focused toward creating a sense of continuity in a design. This is closely related to creating a "rhythm" in a design. Proximity or the closeness of objects creates a bond between those elements in a composition. The relationship of distance between those objects implies their relationship to one another. Unity is commonly achieved by using a "grid" as an underlying foundation throughout a design.

Similarity - The condition of elements being visually grouped according to like features, contours or symmetries.

Contrast - The "automatic principle." Whenever an element is placed within a format, contrast is created in the various elements. Contrast can be emphasized by size, shape, color, texture, etc. Contrast is closely related to the principle of "Emphasis."

Emphasis - Also known as dominance. It is the focal point in a design. This condition exists when an element or elements within a visual format contain a hierarchy of visual importance. It is a condition achieved through distinct principles of optical perception, especially through emphasizing the minority.

Time, Motion and Direction - (Continuous/Discontinuous) Utilizing movement to create the visual illusion of displacement. This principle portrays the act or process of changing place or direction, orientation, and or position through the visual illustration of starting or stopping points, blurring of action, etc. Animation is an end product of movement. In 2D design, motion is created through the repetition of elements in a composition.

Position - The location at which compositional elements are placed within the visual field or format. Position is commonly described as relative to other compositional elements within the boundary of the visual field or format.

Orientation - The position of a compositional element relative to a format or other objects in the composition. Orientation is the placement of the figure or form within a given space described as "facing forward", "upside down" etc.

Scale - Size and dimension of figures and forms relative to a given unit of measurement. Scale is often described in terms of a notation of dimension of an object as compared to it's actual dimension in the physical world.

Size - A relative term used for comparing figures. The relative terms of "larger" and "smaller" than another are used in describing size. Size aids the viewer to determine scale, depth, and distance in the visual field.

Proportion - A two-dimensional or three-dimensional element defined by it's relationship to other elements in a design. In human terms, scale is strongly related in relation to the human body and it's relationship to the space around it. Proportion is seen in terms of the relationship between parts in a given design. Proportion is often described in terms of ratios (i.e. 3:4, 9:16, 1:2 etc.)

Repetition and Rhythm - The recurrences or repetition of one or more elements within a visual format, creating consistency and stability. In visual design, rhythm is achieved by the repetition of visual elements such as type, shape, image and layout (grid)in a given design.

Alignment - Alignment brings order to chaos. It is closely associated with the use of grids (a.k.a, Matrixes) in structuring a design.

Format - A 2 or 3 dimensional field or space in which art forms, visual messages, designs, and environments are created (a.k.a. "Composition"). 2-dimensional formats have width and length. 3-dimensional formats have width, length and depth.