Four Rules at the Foundation of Design
Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity are core design rules that unify design elements. These rules can be observed in all aspects of life with some basic understanding of the principals. Contrast simply means creating interesting differences between design elements. Repetition is the technique of repeating elements and treatments to unify the message and design. Alignment is the principal of positioning elements in a way that they line up with one another to carry the eye naturally through the design. Proximity means keeping elements together that belong together to create relationship with the information and other elements. In today’s day and age aesthetics are more important than ever which requires designers to stay true to fundamentals and core principals to create timeless designs, and to do this we must understand each one.
C = Contrast
Contrast can be seen all round us in everyday life and is a vital aspect to give life to the designs we create. When you create differences in size, shape, and color of elements in a design you are creating focus, interest, and importance amongst them. Doing these things creates difference between elements, which is how contrast is defined. A powerful concept of design that can be executed in many different ways and with many different techniques.
Contrast can be utilized by varying visual weights for elements and essentially having complementary sizes. Another way would be to use color fills, shades, outlines, and/or patterns between your elements. Font faces, font weights, image size, texture, background color, foreground color are important things to consider while designing, but their relationship to one another is where the application of the Contrast rule becomes most important.
R = Repetition
While contrast is all about creating differences in your design, Repetition is all about creating unity in your design. This is because the resulting effect of repeating individual elements is that it helps the audience to view the entire design as a whole. Doing this helps convey the message by reiterating focus and connects elements together so the audience can more easily understand and comprehend the information and message of the design.
Strong examples of the principal can be seen when companies brand their logo, when a team’s players all wear the same jersey, when the same fonts and headings are used throughout or when cars are made, the list is endless. Repeating design elements helps to organize, arrange, and unify the design as a whole.
A = Alignment
The purpose of the Alignment principal is to prevent clutter and the perception of random positioning. Nothing in your design should appear arbitrary because the eye needs to naturally flow without confusion. When this is done appropriately it creates a clean, cohesive, and intentional appearance.
Like all of these founding design principals, alignment indicates organization and polish. When reading text on a page, it is easiest to consume the information when it’s rows are aligned. Designers often use an invisible grid to vertically and horizontally align elements. Good examples of alignment can be seen in the rows and columns of windows in a sky scraper, or how products are displayed on shelves in a grocery store.
P = Proximity
Probably the most common sense rule of design is Proximity. The idea is to visually display the relationship of items that have the same or similar purpose, whether it be information or objects. Doing so avoids clutter and focuses attention on a macro and micro scale, as the audience often views designs as a whole and by individual parts.
Organization is a byproduct of this base principal and you can observe proximity in work by paying attention to how elements are grouped together in a design. Some examples include the organization of your garden, keeping website navigation links together, labels with inputs on a form or even photos with other photos in a gallery, you get the idea. As said before, proximity should be common sense, however it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Proximity is just as important as the other three rules and should be applied with the same respect.
The impact that good design makes cannot be overstated. Design has a long history of pushing innovation and idea generation; it is more evident now than ever the vitality of placing heavy emphasis on a design’s visual appeal. By understanding the rules, you can understand the design structure. Focus on learning to work inside the structure, within the rules, and then you can break out the box and be innovative.
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