Design Principles

Design elements may be explored in their own right, but are generally considered in terms of relationships between one or more element. The following are just some things to think about, taken from a range of sources and experience/thoughts on previous courses in art and photography.

Key Sources:

  • Michael Freeman:The Photographer’s Eye 
  • Alan Pipes: Foundations of Art and Design
  • de Sausmarez
  • Ian Roberts ‘Mastering Composition’
  • Theories of Paul Klee, Arthur Wesley Dow and Henry Rankin Poore

Principles of relationship

Unity/harmony:When all elements are in agreement, a design is considered unified. No individual part is viewed as more important than the whole design.

  • Symmetry
  • Asymmetrical produces an informal balance that is attention attracting and dynamic.
  • Balance: It is a state of equalized tension and equilibrium, which may not always be calm.
  • Radial balance is arranged around a central element. The elements placed in a radial balance seem to ‘radiate’ out from a central point in a circular fashion.
  • Mosaic form of balance which normally arises from many elements being put on a page. Due to the lack of hierarchy and contrast, this form of balance can look noisy but sometimes quiet.

Hierarchy: A good design contains elements that lead the reader through each element in order of its significance. The type and images should be expressed starting from most important to the least important.

Scale/proportion: Using the relative size of elements against each other can attract attention to a focal point. When elements are designed larger than life, scale is being used to show drama.A subject can be rendered more dramatic when it fills the frame. There exists a tendency to perceive things as larger than they actually are, and filling the frame full fills this psychological mechanism. This can be used to eliminate distractions from the background.

  • Cropping
  • distant cropping, close cropping
  • boundary  relationships

Dominance/emphasis: Dominance is created by contrasting size, positioning, colour, style, or shape. The focal point should dominate the design with scale and contrast without sacrificing the unity of the whole.

Similarity and contrast: Planning a consistent and similar design is an important aspect of a designer’s work to make their focal point visible. Too much similarity is boring but without similarity important elements will not exist and an image without contrast is uneventful so the key is to find the balance between similarity and contrast.

Similar environment: There are several ways to develop a similar environment:

  • Build a unique internal organization structure.
  • Manipulate shapes of images and text to correlate together.

Perspective: sense of distance between elements.
Similarity: ability to seem repeatable with other elements.
Continuation: the sense of having a line or pattern extend.
Repetition: elements being copied or mimicked numerous times.
Rhythm: is achieved when recurring position, size, color, and use of a graphic element has a focal point interruption.

Negative space: Give the eye somewhere to rest

Color: Contrast: the value, or degree of lightness and darkness, used within the picture.

Repetition

Repetition has a peculiar but generally very strong appeal, particularly when it is unfamiliar to the viewer:

  • rhythm or dynamic repetition: the movement across a picture (or more properly, the movement of the eye through a picture). Rhythm can be made more dynamic by encouraging a figure or point to break the rhythm. As the eye in Western culture naturally follows a rhythmical structure from right to left to right, it is often best to place a point on the right so that the eye has time to establish the rhythm before noticing it.
  • pattern or spatial repetition: essentially static and concerned with area. Ordered rows of large numbers of things produce regular patterns, but the slight variations in detail maintain interest. If the placing is irregular, the framing needs to be tight on the objects if they are to form a pattern.
    Perspective

Viewpoint (leading the eye): The position of the viewer can strongly influence the aesthetics of an image, even if the subject is entirely imaginary and viewed “within the mind’s eye”. Not only does it influence the elements within the picture, but it also influences the viewer’s interpretation of the subject.

Division of space

informal subdivision

high low horizons

Rule of thirds, golden mean, rebatement of the rectangle: The objective is to stop the subject(s) and areas of interest (such as the horizon) from bisecting the image, by placing them near one of the lines that would divide the image into three equal columns and rows, ideally near the intersection of those lines. The rule of thirds is thought to be a simplification of the golden mean. The golden mean is a ratio that has been used by visual artists for centuries as an aid to composition. When two things are in the proportion of 1:1.618 (approximately 3 to 5), they are said to be in the golden mean. Dividing the parts of an image according to this proportion helps to create a pleasing, balanced composition. The intersection points on a golden mean grid appear at 3/8 in and 3/8 down/up, rather than at 1/3 in and 1/3 down/up on the grid of thirds.

Rule of odds: The “rule of odds” states that by framing the object of interest with an even number of surrounding objects, it becomes more comforting to the eye, thus creates a feeling of ease and pleasure. The “rule of odds” suggests that an odd number of subjects in an image is more interesting than an even number. An even number of subjects produces symmetries in the image, which can appear less natural for a naturalistic, informal composition. Related to the rule of odds is the observation that triangles are an aesthetically pleasing implied shape within an image.

Baselines and ground contour: foreground, middle ground and background division.ensure that you indicate the contours of the land, even if it appears flat. Use variations such as differences in soil colour, texture, vegetation, wind in grass etc. Light and shadow on land.

Overlapping forms: overlapping forms give a feeling of depth to space. If forms do not overlap there is no depth.

Tie together: If you have a distinct division of space that extends from one side of the painting to the other, tie the two divisions together by crossing the division with something in the foreground.

Simplification

Images with clutter can distract from the main elements within the picture and make it difficult to identify the subject. By decreasing the extraneous content, the viewer is more likely to focus on the primary objects. Clutter can also be reduced through the use of lighting, as the brighter areas of the image tend to draw the eye, as do lines, squares and colour. In painting, the artist may use less detailed and defined brushwork towards the edges of the picture. Removing the elements to the focus of the object, taking only the needed components.Merge shapes that have similar values into larger shapes of one value.

Creating movement

Movement is the path the viewer’s eye takes through the artwork, often to focal areas. Such movement can be directed along lines edges, shape and colour within the artwork.

Shape

  • turbulent shape arrangements.
  • variety in division of space.
  • repetition with variety: pattern, rhythm
  • active, passive mix. Need place for the eye to rest. But depends on overall aim of picture.
  • odd number groups – maybe we like to see things in pairs, so we look for completion? Variety in threes.

Rule of space: The rule of space aims to give the illusion of movement, or which is supposed to create a contextual bubble in the viewer’s mind. This can be achieved, for instance, by leaving white space in the direction the eyes of a portrayed person are looking, or, when picturing a runner, adding white space in front of them rather than behind them to indicate movement.

Other techniques that can act together:

  • There should be a centre of interest or focus in the work, to prevent it becoming a pattern in itself;
  • The direction followed by the viewer’s eye should lead the viewer’s gaze around all elements in the work before leading out of the picture;
  • The subject should not be facing out of the image;
  • Exact bisections of the picture space should be avoided;
  • Small, high contrast, elements have as much impact as larger, duller elements;
  • The prominent subject should be off-centre, unless a symmetrical or formal composition is desired, and can be balanced by smaller satellite elements
    the horizon line should not divide the art work in two equal parts but be positioned to emphasize either the sky or ground; showing more sky if painting is of clouds, sun rise/set, and more ground if a landscape
  • Variety: no spaces between the objects should be the same. They should vary in shape and size. That creates a much more interesting image.

Focal point:

  • staccato focal point: a small point or line that the viewer’s eye gravitates to
  • focal area: a specific area of colour or value

focus may be achieved by:

  • directing lines,/intersection of lines or implied lines,
  • contrast in colour, saturation, temperature,
  • texture, moves to areas of high density and detail.
  • shape or relation of shape to boundary, value. Isolation. rule of thirds.

A composition may have primary and secondary focus of interest. Not all images have to have a focal point or focal area. Or focal area may be large. Or there can be more than one and the interest is in the relationship between the two.

Eye movement

the aim is to keep the interest of the viewer and keep their attention in the frame.

  • types of path: C forms, S forms, I forms.
  • entry point, often in bottom left . Avoid splitting painting in two.
  • avoid leading eye into a corner, take it back in and around.
  • avoid trapping the eye in one part of the frame.
  • repeat colour spots. Linking lights, guiding darks and lights
  • let the brain fill the gaps.

 

 

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