'Design' is the process of envisioning and planning the creation of objects, interactive systems, buildings, vehicles, etc.

Design is defined as:

1. a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or another object before it is built or made.
2. an arrangement of lines or shapes created to form a pattern or decoration.

1. decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or another object) by making a detailed drawing of it.

The Elements of Design

Also known as the "Visual Elements of Design" they are essential building blocks to translate an idea or message into a visual concept, design, or composition. Any of these elements may be used to control the mood or emotional impact of a composition or work of art.

Elements of Design

The "Visual Elements of Design," also known as the "Elements of Art," are essential building blocks to translate an idea or message into a visual concept, design, or composition. In visual arts, these elements can be found in drawing, painting, mixed media, photography, or any other two-dimensional (2D) visual communication methods, and the list depends on the source.

Similar to words in spoken language, they are used to express images or visual messages. Each element has its own meaning or can be associated with other elements to convey a specific emotion or emotional response. Use them deliberately to control how visual messages, images, or stories are composed.

The "Elements of Design differ from the "Principles of Art" which includes the concept of how to organize the elements within a composition.

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Lines are long, thin marks on the surface. Lines may also be created from the edges of shapes. They may be sharp, firm, soft, or lost in or out of focus. Lines may create boundaries or contours defining a shape or form. Lines may also create the illusion of motion or lead the viewer's eye through an image.


Lines may also be implied, and their quality can be soft or bold. Lines can also convey emotions. For example, sharp or jagged lines portray a different feeling than elegant or smooth lines. Straight lines may be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Organic lines may be radial, spiral, or curved. Line lengths may be long, short, continuous, or broken, whereas the line width can be thick, thin, uneven, or tapered.

Straight lines may be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Organic lines may be radial, spiral, or curved. Line lengths may be long, short, continuous, or broken, whereas the line width may be thick, thin, uneven, or tapered. Lines may also be implied, and their quality may be soft or bold. Click to read more.


It is an enclosed area or figure. It is a potent tool for visual communication as one of the Elements of Design. When looking at an object or image, 'shape' is the first retinal impression the human eye registers before color, texture, space, or anything else.

Two-dimensional shapes may be manipulated with mathematics but lack three-dimensional visual information about their location, scale, or orientation within space. They have uniform measurements and are usually man-made.

Contours are the outlines or outer edges of a shape.

Contrast is the difference in value, luminance, or color that makes a shape distinguishable.

A Silhouette is a shape filled with a single tone or a color, usually black.


It is an actual, three-dimensional shape or conveys three-dimensional information to the viewer. The term "form" differs from shape because it includes visual information regarding location, scale, or orientation with regard to the viewer.

Elliptical distortions, curvatures, or angles suggest perspective. Forms provide information to the viewer so they know how that object sits in space. It is well understood if they are looking up or down upon an object. Forms may be geometric or organic.

Cross-contours are lines that go across the form and may provide three-dimensional information on the form.


It is the lightness or darkness of a color.

The lightness or darkness of a silhouette or color.

Tone is a single-color or color swatch with a unique combination of color characteristics. Note that tone is sometimes defined as any color or hue mixed with gray. In charcoal or pencil drawings, there are only gray tones. Each tone has a unique combination of hue (color family spectrum), value (light or dark), intensity (brightness or dullness), and temperature (cool or warm). 

Shade is created from any tone with the addition of black or dark (in a drawing, it would be a darker mark or darker pencil). A tint is any tone mixed with white (in drawing, it would be the lighter marks or the paper's white).

The Vocabulary of Value

A gradation is a minute change in value over several tones. It allows us to visually sense what we see when light falls onto a round or curved object, and the surface turns away from the light source. Soft lighting creates a gradual gradation. Harsh lighting creates a dramatic change in gradation.

Value Scale in Six Steps

A value scale is a tool used to measure a single tone's lightness or darkness. Next to other tones in context, the scale has a light or dark relationship.

Each tone relates to another, getting darker or lighter in equal increments. A complex scale may contain as many as nine to eleven distinct tones.

Any scale can be simplified into six, five, or even three tones. Light or dark shapes may be simplified using only two tones until the shapes are clearly defined.

Visual Texture

Texture or implied texture is an illusion. It is created on a two-dimensional surface, in drawing or painting, and makes the appearance of a physical texture. For example, paint-spattered from a toothbrush in watercolor will create visual texture.

The visual texture created may portray the subject matter realistically. However, the texture appears as a repeating pattern without a sense of structure or form (i.e., cone, cylinder, sphere, cube-type shading, etc.).

In a drawing, implied texture can be created by repeating shapes, dots, lines, stenciling, or mark-making. Remember to use the edges or contours of the object to enhance the texture (i.e., fur does not have a smooth edge around it; it looks furry).


It is a continuous area or expanse that may be free, available, or unoccupied. It refers to the distance between shapes or objects. 3D space is recognized as having height, width, and depth and is referred to as space. Nothing exists without it and is the distance or area around each object, between, above, below, or in real places.

2D space is the illusion of depth. Visual Arts is primarily limited to height and width. It can be created by linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, magnified perspective, placement, elevation, or overlap.

The Principles of Art

Otherwise known as the 'Principles of Design,' it is a universal, nebulous, and subjective concept used to compose images.

Not to be confused with the 'Elements of Design,' these 'principles' are utilized by the creator to intentionally organize the visual elements within an image.

The Principles of Art

Let's clarify the idea with an analogy to language. The 'principles of design' are grammar or language structure, as the 'elements' are words. For example, the listener might need grammar to understand the message even if you speak the right words. The spoken words may need to be clarified or be all out of sorts.

  • Elements are the 'what,' i.e., the components that make up an image, such as line, shape, value, space, size, color, or texture.
  • Principles are the 'how,' i.e., those elements are intentionally arranged within an image.

It is prevalent to find differing opinions on the list of 'principles,' it varies across books, articles, and sources, and there is some overlap between each individual. This makes it hard to narrow the list, but this article's 'Principles' include unity, emphasis, balance, proportion, and rhythm.


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