'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.

The "Elements of Desidifferrent from the "Principles of Art" include various ideas or ways to organize the elements. Composition of organizing these elements into a harmonious or pleasing whole.

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.

Lines or Edges

Lines are long, thin marks on the surface. Sharp, firm, soft, or lost in or out of focus, lines may create boundaries or contours defining a shape or form. Lines may also be created from the edges of shapes.

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.

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Is an enclosed area or figure. A shape may also be defined as an area that stands out from the space around due to an implied boundary or edge. Shapes may be enclosed by a line in a drawing. Shapes have the characteristic of length and width. Silhouettes are shapes or forms fil in with a single tone or a color. Any shape's outer edge or contour automatically creates a negative shape on the other side up to the frame or edge of the paper.


The form differs from a shape in that it includes any visual information regarding its location, scale, or orientation. The form is the configuration of a shape well understood in how this object sits in space about the viewer. For example, a square is a shape, and a cube turned three-quarters becomes a form. There are endless varieties and combinations of shapes or forms, including natural, geometric, abstract, or free form. Whether complex or straightforward, the meaning of shapes or forms is derived from the viewer's culture.

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Is one of the many characteristics of color. It describes the lightness or darkness of a shape or object. Variations in light and dark values create patterns. Our vision uses these patterns to determine one shape or object from another, even in low lighting conditions when we cannot determine the hue or color. Value also conveys mood or lighting conditions. For example, values with little contrast evoke a different feeling than values with extreme contrast.


Tones can be light, dark, or in between. A tone is a single color swatch or shade of gray, which may be compared to another tone or a single step on a value scale. A gradation is a gradual change from one tone to another, depicting an object's volume, three-dimensional characteristics, or shape. Gradual changes in value create the illusion of a 3D object on a 2D surface.

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Is a characteristic of human visual perception producing different sensations in the eyes due to how an object reflects or emits light. It is described as a hue and contains a spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple. Color has other characteristics, such as value, intensity, and temperature.


Colors are capable of affecting our mood. They can also create a feeling of warmth or coolness. Hue combinations may cause harmony or disharmony. Scientists have found that physiological changes occur in human beings when they are exposed to specific colors. The meaning of hue or color is always derived from the viewer's culture.

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The texture is visual and tactile, including the surface or substance's feel, appearance, or consistency. Without a sense of structure, the texture is just a pattern that may create a variety of visual interests. Texture also conveys moods. For example, a rough texture evokes a different feeling than a soft or smooth.


"Texture" is both a tactile and a visual phenomenon. It refers to the roughness or smoothness of a surface, i.e., the physical feel, appearance, or consistency. Every material has a different touch or tactile quality to it. However, smooth surfaces also have textures such as marble or wood. In the visual arts, "texture" is one of the "Visual Elements of Design" and falls into the following categories.

What is Texture?

Tactile Texture

Also known as 'physical texture,' it refers to the actual variations or surface. It can be felt by touch, i.e., animal fur can be smooth or rough.

When the light hits the physical variations, it casts a shadow that appears as a pattern. It won't appear in shadows or areas of shade because it needs light to stand out or be seen.

Tactile Texture

Visual Texture

Visual 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).

A visual texture may also be produced by some types of drawing papers with a lot of tactile texture or 'tooth.' These papers are considerably rougher than a computer or printer-thin sheets of paper. Paper with a lot of 'grain' or 'tooth' may not be best suited for creating the illusion of a flat, smooth surface or texture. However, it's suitable for 'graining,' a drawing technique that involves the gradual build-up of marks or medium over the 'grain' of the paper. The texture of the paper will come through and add to the overall visual and textural effect.

Yume Gardens by Christy Olsen.
Pen & ink on watercolor paper heightened with gouache. 8x14.

Detail of 'Graining'
(build-up of ink from brayer & brush on cold press watercolor paper)

In oil painting, visual texture can be created with a physical paint build-up called 'impasto.' The paint protrudes from the canvas or board. The painter uses a palette knife to add globs of paint or build up layers that appear as textured areas.

Natural Texture

Belongs to a specific organic element created by the natural world, such as the grain of a piece of wood, reptile skin, or elephant skin. However, a smooth, polished surface like marble is also considered a natural texture.

Natural texture is the appearance of a material, such as wood grain, metal, glass, or leather. The tactile or physical texture is the variations of a surface or material, which may also be felt by the touch, such as animal fur or reptile skin. When light hits the variations in the surface, it casts small shadows. Visual texture or inferred texture is a realistic illusion of a physical or natural texture on a 2D surface, usually by alternating values.

Marble has a "Natural Texture."

Hyper Texture

Or artificial texture is created by a computer or cyber graphics simulating surface texture. Textures are produced by adding minor distortions across the surface of an object or by describing the texture in a repeating photograph.

Simulated or "Hyper Texture"

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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; it 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, it is primarily limited to height and width. It can be created by linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, magnified perspective, placement, elevation, or overlap.

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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.

Unity (Pattern, Repetition & Variety)

Is the quality of "wholeness" or "oneness." Something is unified when all components are working together. Unity is achieved when the parts complement each other in a way that has something in common.


Proximity is an easy way to achieve unity. For example, these fans are all of different designs and colors. Despite their differences in appearance, all have the same characteristics in common. They are unified because they share the same texture from the folds within each fan. However, their repeating arc-like shapes are aligned or in the same diagonal proximity.

'Gestalt,' a visual psychological term, is the concept that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." This is an essential aspect of visible unity in design. The whole must predominate over the parts, i.e., you must first see it as a whole before noticing each individual piece.


Effectively shared elements create harmonies, such as repeating circular shapes or colors. They look like they belong together, making a harmonious or visually pleasing agreement.


Any element repeated consistently throughout an image creates a pattern. 'Pattern' also reflects the underlying structure of a composition or design by intentionally organizing the values or tones within the composition.

With variety, an image may become exciting and attractive to the viewer. It is used to create visual interest within a unified composition. It means to change one particular characteristic of an element, to make it different.

For example, objects of the same shape will unify the composition, but significant, medium, and small sizes of the shape will create variety.

Ways to vary design elements using unity include:

  • Line - direction, length, width, quality, or focus
  • Color - hue, saturation, or temperature
  • Value - degree of darkness or lightness
  • Space - positive vs. negative, flat vs. three-dimensional, or depth
  • Size - large, medium, or small; height vs. width 
  • Shape - geometric, graphic, organic, pattern, or orientation
  • Texture - roughness vs. smoothness


It is also called a 'focal point' and is used to attract the viewer's eyes to a place of particular importance or interest. In nature, it occurs when one element differs from the rest. In design, 'emphasis' is intentionally created when one part or area appears dominant over the other parts or if many other elements are directed towards it.


The juxtaposition of opposing elements, or 'contrast,' emphasizes or highlights any essential design part. For example, a dark value is near a light value of complementary colors such as green and red.

Contrasting Colors

Placement and simplification are also both methods used to achieve emphasis. Any element or object by itself will stand out. Objects take on greater meaning or importance when they are dissolved of clutter, isolated, or surrounded by space. Simplification, or the concept of "less is more." reduces a composition to only the most essential elements that support the visual statement.

Less is More

Is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, textures, or space. It includes symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, and crystallographic patterns. Lack of balance or imbalance disturbs us as we develop a sense of balance during childhood. We grow up walking on two legs, always aware of unstable surfaces which could cause us to fall.


Growing up looking at each other's symmetrical bodies and faces, we assume an imaginary vertical center axis divides symmetrical objects into two equal halves. This is called a 'fulcrum.' When assessing images, we expect to see some type of equal visual weight on each side of this imaginary fulcrum. 'Opposition,' created by two straight lines meeting or where they form the corners of a square or rectangle, also creates balance.


If equilibrium is not present vertically or horizontally, it becomes a seesaw or an unbalanced scale. Subconsciously we recognize it, and it makes us feel uneasy, just as a tilted picture on the wall suggests that we reach out to straighten it. An imbalance can intentionally draw the viewer's attention to the design.

Not in balance

Size is the relative extent of something, a thing's overall dimensions or magnitude. Size describes how small or large an object is in relation to another object. Larger objects are defined as more important than smaller objects.


Contrasting sizes create visual interest or may attract more attention. Smaller objects appear distant next to larger entities.

Proportion refers to the relative size, scale, or number of various elements in a design and how they relate to each other. Proper spacing is always a careful consideration in every design.

Artists began recognizing the connection between proportion and space during the Renaissance Era. They produced the illusion of 3-dimensional space using sizes that diminish in the first perspective drawings.


'Proportion' in figure drawing is the size of a limb or body part relative to the scale of the whole body. In design, 'proportion' creates emphasis, significantly if something is intentionally scaled out of proportion. For example, if one figure is made to look more prominent than other figures in a composition, it is out of proportion; however, the Egyptians used this to provide further importance to the pharaoh.


Rhythm & Movement

Rhythm is a repeated combination of elements but in variations, continuance, flow, or a feeling of movement achieved by the repetition of regulated visual elements. It is characterized by objects with spacing, size, alteration, and/or progression variations.


In visual art, movement confuses everyone because it can be literal or compositional. 'Literal Movement' is a person or thing physically moving from one place to another, defined as 'motion.' 'Compositional Movement' applies to the visual elements in an image intentionally set precisely to lead our eye throughout or around the picture. Elements may or not be subject-dependent. The eye will follow any design element with similar characteristics, such as all diagonal lines, square shapes, or alternating value tones.

Types of Design

Includes the following.

What is Graphic Design?

It is the technique or process used to convey information graphically for signs, logos, or advertising a specific brand. It is the creation of visual compositions to solve problems and communicate ideas through typography, imagery, color, and form.

From antiquity, graphic design emerged as a distinct profession in the 19th century within Western culture and has evolved since. Given the rapid and massive growth in information exchange today, the demand for experienced designers is more significant than ever.

Graphic Design Types

Includes the following.

Symbolic or Hieroglyphic is a technique or process used to simplify any language or use symbols or graphic language, i.e., Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Silhouette is a technique or process used to fill in the shape with a flat town or cut out of black paper, commonly in black & white.

Page Layout or Publications deal with arranging elements (content) on a page, such as image placement, text layout, and style. This is also for book or magazine publications. This may include marketing materials or advertising designs, such as postcards or decals.

Topography includes type design, modifying type glyphs, and arranging type. Type glyphs (characters) are created and modified using illustration techniques.

Web or User Interface is involved in interface design in an environment commonly called a Graphical User Interface (GUI). This has included web and software design when end-user interactivity is a design consideration of the layout or interface.

Calligraphy is a type of visual art related to writing. Essential tools for a calligrapher are a pen and brush, which are also used in drawing.


Illustration or Commerical

Includes the following.

Illustration is a technique or process used to create book or storyline drawings. It also includes representing the layout of a particular piece of literature or document.

Fashion Design is a technique or process used to create drawings with the intent to design fashion prototypes before being made out of muslin or fabric.

Cartooning is a technique or process to create drawings for comic books, animation, or graphic novels.

Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM)
or Technical Drawing

Includes the following.

Architectural, Blueprints or Floor Plans is a technique or process used to create drawings for designing and building architecture or structures. Usually giving dimensions with symbols, based on the American Society of Mechanical Engineering standards or ASME Y14.

Historical or Botanical is a technique or process used to create drawings when new plants or species were discovered or record historical events before the invention of photography.

Diagrammatic or Analytic is a technique or process used to create drawings that simplify complex systems or as an active design process for new ideas conceived and developed.

Scientific is a technique or process used to create drawings that visualize some scientific idea that we can not see with the naked eye or a complex concept, such as the DNA helix or a supernova.

Schematics or Structural is a technique or process used to create drawings to design scaffolding or build anything from the mind.

Materials or Supplies

Include the following

Intellectual Property Laws

Include the following.

What is a Creative Commons (CC) License?

It is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted "work." This license is used when an author wants to give others the right to share, use, and build upon a work they have created.

What are Copyright Laws?

Copyright law protects the rights of creators in their works in fine arts, publishing, entertainment, and computer software. The laws protect the owner of the work if others copy, present, or display the owner's work without permission.

What are Patent Laws?

A patent protects new inventions, which can be products, processes, or designs, and provides a mechanism for protecting the invention. The patent law promotes share of new developments with others to foster innovation. The patent owner has the right to protect others from producing, using, distributing, or importing the protected item. The patent is a property right that can be licensed, sold, mortgaged, or assigned. [1]

What are Trade Secrets?

Trade secrets are business practices, formulas, designs, or processes used in a business, designed specifically to provide a competitive advantage to a business. These trade secrets would not be otherwise known to an "outsider" of the business. An example of this is the formula for Coca-Cola. Trade secrets are protected without registration, and appropriate steps should be taken by the owner to maintain confidentiality. [1]

What are Trademarks?

Trademark law protects a word, phrase, symbol, or design used by an entity to identify its product or service. Examples are Dunkin Donuts' orange and pink sausage-style lettering, Apple's apple logo, and Adidas' three stripes. Trademark owners can prevent others from using their marks or marks which are confusingly similar so that consumers would not be able to identify the source. Federal and state laws govern trademarks, but the Lanham Act is the primary source of trademark protection. These laws protect against infringement and dilution. Rights in trademarks are gained by being the first to use a trademark in commerce or being the first to register the mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.[1]


[1] 2022. Georgetown Law. Intellectual Property Law. Retrieved from


Include the following.

The Elements of Design

How to Photography Artwork


Valuable Links to CC Licensed Materials

Links to creative commons licensed materials for the visual arts on the web.

  • Pixaby is a site that offers images that have a creative commons license.
  • Unsplash has freely usable images powered by creators everywhere.
  • MorgueFile free images for creatives, by creatives

Links to creative commons licensed materials for use in the visual arts on social media sites.

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