ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

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ELEMENTS ANDPRINCIPLES OFGRAPHIC DESIGNGraphic design is about representation of ideas and conceptsfor communication or expression. It requires a visual mediumof representation. A graphic design communicates throughthe visual language of dots, lines, shapes and colours.When we write something on a paper with black ink we ‘read’ itbecause we see it first and then understand the meaning.Reading is nothing but first and foremost, a visual perception.Similarly, when we see a beautiful painting, it is a visualperception. Visual perception has two basic components.Firstly, there should be some material medium such as thewhite surface of a paper, or black ink, colours that result intodots, lines, shapes and so on. This material is called ‘medium’in graphic design. Material medium is a vehicle of visualperception. Secondly, visual perception happens through theeyes and, therefore, visual sensitivity is very important.Material medium and visual sensitivity, both play animportant role in graphic design.Any random scribbling of ink on paper is not calledwriting. Similarly, any random splash of colour on paper is notcalled a beautiful picture. Therefore, a disciplined or propervisual arrangement is required. Dots, lines, shapes, forms,colours are the basic elements of graphic design without whichgraphic design is not possible. Similarly, there are time-testedrules or laws of arrangement of these elements so that they willlook beautiful and will be effective. These rules are calledprinciples of visual composition. A graphic designer needs tolearn and understand the role of basic elements and principlesof composition in design. They are the core of graphic design.These elements and principles are discussed in detail here.

Let us first discuss the elements of graphic design followed byprinciples of composition.ELEMENTS OF GRAPHIC DESIGNThere are three major categories of these elements.ªBasic elementsªRelational elementsFigure 3.1 Scribbling drawingªIntentional elementsBASIC ELEMENTSBasic elements of composition are abstract concepts. They donot actually exist but seems to be present in a picture or in anyvisual representation.PointFigure 3.2 PointsFigure 3.3 Dots of variousthicknessIn geometry, a point is defined as an entity without length andbreadth or an entity without any dimension. In graphic design,a point is represented in the form of a dot and it indicates aparticular position. It is the end or the beginning of a line. Dothas a physical dimension which is a visual representation ofan abstract concept also known as ‘point’. For example, we feelthat there is a point at the angle of a triangle or wherever twolines meet. This point is a basic element of design.There is another interesting notion related to a ‘dot’.Assume that there is a bird sitting on a tree or near yourwindow. You can see the bird in detail. When it starts flyingand goes away from you, all the details get blurred and you justsee a shape of a flying bird. As it goes further and further theneven the shape also gets blurred and finally you see a ‘dot’.This dot need not be round in shape. It can have the shape of aflying bird reduced to its limits of recognition. It appears as a‘dot’. Therefore, a ‘dot’ can have any desired shape.LineHorizontal straight lines ofvarying thickness24A line is defined as a one-dimensional entity having length butno breadth. In graphic design, it is metaphorically defined as ‘aline is a dot gone for a walk’, that is, a line is a point in motion.However, in graphic design a line is depicted where it haslength as well as breadth. A line can be thin or thick. It canhave many variations in thinness and thickness.FOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

Curved lineZigzag lineHorizontal rhythmic lineRightwardslanted linesVerticalstraight linesRhythmiclines merginginto eachother tocreatemeaningfulformThinness or thickness of line creates a visual impact.A thick line appears heavy and a thin line appears lighter in avisual composition. Lines can be of various types. They can bestraight, curved, zigzag, decorative, ornamental, vertical,horizontal, inclined, random or showing free movement.Each type of line will create a visual impact. If lines are groupedtogether then they will create even more visual impact.Straight horizontal lines create a feeling of calmness.Horizontal lines are stable. Vertical lines appear dynamicand may also suggest upward mobility. Inclined lines areunstable but may suggest growth or decay depending onthe context of use. Curved lines create various types ofrhythmic movements while zigzag lines create a feelingof harshness. Decorative and ornamental lines create animpact of Indian tradition. In all the above cases, thicknessand thinness of lines will either increase the visual impactor reduce the impact.Figure 3.4 Lines of differentcharacteristicsActivity 1Collect images or photographs of lines from newspapers. Briefly describe the character and impact oflines in the collected images.Therefore, depiction of line in graphic design is notjust a representation of an abstract concept of a line but itis a representation of emotions, expression as well as avisual impact.Figure 3.5 Visual plane of threedimensional objectPlaneA plane is defined as an entity with length and breadth but nodepth. It is a two-dimensional flat or level surface.SpaceFigure 3.6 Visual effect ofthree-dimensionalspace by tonalvariationSpace is defined as an infinite expansion. It is also defined as acollection of points in three dimensions. However, in graphicdesign space is defined in terms of its visual representation ina composition. Using the other elements of design such aslines, colours and forms, it is possible to create an illusion ofthree-dimensional spaces or volume on two-dimensionalELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN25

surfaces. Similarly, a physical space as well as conceptual(or mental) space can be represented in a composition.ShapeFigure 3.7 Visual effect ofthree-dimensionalspace by variationin size of trees, theirreflection, tonalvariation and alsocolour variationFigure 3.8 Two and three dimensional basicformsA shape is a contour or well-defined outline of a twodimensional form. In the case of a three-dimensional form, ashape will be the skeleton of a form. In the figurative drawingsof humans, natural things or man-made objects initiallyshape, i.e., contours or outlines are depicted.FormAny shape, outline or structure of anything like the body of aperson, animal, tree, leaf or object is defined as ‘form’. Form isdefined in two ways. In graphic design, form is understood asone of the basic elements of visual composition as well as thewhole ‘visual composition’ is also considered as having a‘form’. As a basic element of composition form is defined as ashape that is ‘meaningful’. A shape is just an outline, but whenit is filled with some colour, texture or gradation it becomes‘meaningful’ as well as it creates an illusion of threedimensions. In such cases a shape becomes a ‘form’. Form alsobecomes ‘meaningful’ due to its position in the visualcomposition or its placement in the composition. Similarly, aform becomes ‘meaningful’ due to its relationship with otherbasic elements, viz. dots, lines, colour and other forms in theFigure 3.9 Three-dimensional form26FOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGNFigure 3.10Form as composition, the wholecomposition is treated as a formas well as the mountain inside thered triangle is also treated as anindividual form

composition.Figure 3.11 Basic form is alsounderstood as abasic structure asindicated withlines in abovefiguresWhole composition is considered as a ‘form’, when theoverall visual impact of a composition is ‘meaningful’. In thiscase, the overall impact is the cumulative result of all the basicelements and their arrangement in a composition. Also, it isthe result of the overall relationship of each part of thecomposition to the whole. In both cases, form as a basicelement as well as a whole, a ‘form’ becomes ‘meaningful’ since,it generates a psychological impact in creating mood, emotionsand feelings in the minds of the audience. Apart from this aform creates an impact if it has some unique features. In suchcases the audience recognise the form easily and remember itfor a longer duration.In graphic design written text that is made up of typefacesis also treated as form. Each word and sentence has a meaningin a particular language but apart from that, the word orsentence itself is treated as a visual form in a visualcomposition. You can achieve maximum impact from a word orsentence if its linguistic meaning and their visual treatment ina composition are complementary to each other.Figure 3.12 An irregular formof a leafFigure 3.13 A palate is used tomix colours withbrush to getappropriatecombination, tint,tone or shade ofcoloursFigure 3.14 Grey scaleColourColour is the basic and core attribute of visual perception andtherefore it is the most effective element of graphic design.Can you imagine a world made up of only black, white and greyshades? Colour is studied in physics, psychology, culturalstudies and many other disciplines of knowledge. In fine artsand graphic design, colour is studied to understand its visualproperties such as hue, luminosity (intensity) and value.Grey ScaleGrey scale is an ordered arrangement of white, black andvarious tones generated by mixing of white and black indifferent proportions. When black and white are mixed in equalproportions then the resultant tone is called ‘grey’ or ‘mediumgrey’. If there is more amount of white and less black then theresultant tone is called ‘tint’ or ‘light grey’. If there is less whiteand more amount of black, then the resultant tone is called a‘shade’ or ‘dark grey’.HueHue is a unique quality of colour by which a particular colour isELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN27

identified. Due to this quality, eyes can differentiate one colourfrom the other. The colour ‘red’ is called red because eyesrecognise the quality called ‘redness’ of the colour. The sameapplies to other colours also.Figure 3.15 Colour hueValueValue is a relative darkness or lightness of a colour hue inrelation to a grey scale. Blue colour with light valuecomparable with light grey values on the grey scale as shownin the image.LuminosityFigure 3.16 Colour valueFigure 3.17 Colour luminosityLuminosity is the brightness or freshness of a colour hue.When a colour hue is pure, it is brightest. When a colour hue ismixed with other colour hue or black or white, it loses its purityand brightness. Graphic designers always try to preserve theluminosity of the colour hue. If you go on mixing again andagain with different colour hues then finally the resultantcolour will be dull. Green colour with maximum luminosity onthe left side of the rectangle decreases luminosity as it is mixedwith blue colour towards right side of the rectangle as shownin the image.TextureA visual texture is the characteristic of a surface that createsan experience or the feeling of touch in a visual composition.Many a time designers create an illusion of a tactileexperience. This is termed as simulated texture or impliedtexture. Designers work with simulated texture as well as realtexture or both. When we run our fingers over a stone or a barkof a tree, we experience the tactile feeling. The tactileexperience could be smooth or rough and most of the time it isvery difficult to express it in words. Designers create suchtactile experience through their designs by using colours andany available material on a particular surface. Designers alsotry to generate the same effect or an illusion of the same tactilefeel by using colours alone. People appreciate designer’s skillin creating such an experience or creating illusion. Texturealso helps in creating and enhancing subtle feeling and mood.Figure 3.18 Various types oftexture28RELATIONAL ELEMENTSThis group of elements governs the placement andinterrelationship of the basic elements such as dot, line andFOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

Activity 2out of it.On a white paper take impressions ofinteresting textures from yoursurroundings. For this, first select asurface in your surroundings, thencover it with the white paper and with acolour pencil, gently scratch over thepaper and try to capture the impressionof the surface texture. Now collect atleast twenty such interestingimpressions and make a compositionEach impression should be at least 3 cm by3 cm in size. Size of the composition shouldbe 10 cm by 15 cm.Activity 3Collect different materials having differenttexture surfaces and then make acomposition out of them. Size of thecomposition should be 10 cm by 15 cm.form in a visual composition to enhance the visual impact ofthe composition.AlignmentFigure 3.19 Relational elementsWhen a group of elements in a composition are arranged in avertical or horizontal manner in such a way that they fall inline, then this arrangement is called alignment. The elementscan be arranged in a diagonal manner also.DirectionFigure 3.20 Aligned figureIt is an arrangement of basic elements of graphic design thathelps in organising various elements in the composition. It canbe parallel or angular arrangement. Direction is perceivedalways with reference to the observer, with reference to theframe that contains it or with reference to the other majorforms in the context.Visual ThrustIt is an arrangement of graphic elements that helps or guidesthe audience’s eyes to move in a desired way in thecomposition. It literally forces viewers to move in the expecteddirection. Above mentioned directional elements contribute togenerate visual thrust. It is also termed as visual momentum.Figure and GroundVisual elements in a composition occupy space. The spaceELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN29

Figure 3.21 Negative andpositive space.Here figuresconstitute thepositive spacewhile whitebackground istreated as anegative spaceoccupied by the majority of visual elements is called positivespace and rest of the space in the composition is negativespace.Visual GravityFigure 3.22 Visual gravitycreated by variedthickness of linesAll of us experience earth’s gravity and associate heaviness orlightness with it. Thus, the notion of gravity is established inour mind. In the context of visual composition we tend toattribute the notion of gravity in terms of visual heaviness orlightness, stability or instability to individual elements orgroup of elements in the composition. Therefore, big shapes inthe lower part of the composition appear heavier and smallshapes in the upper part appear lighter in the composition.Visual gravity is also termed as visual weight.INTENTIONAL ELEMENTSFigure 3.23 Form as ameaningfulelement in acomposition30All designs have some purpose or an intention. Graphic worksmake an impact on the target audience. For example, anadvertisement in a newspaper not only communicates theFOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

information but because of appropriate graphics makes animpact. This is possible due to the proper use of intentionalelements. There are three types of intentional elements:Aesthetic, Content and Function.AestheticFigure 3.24 The Scream, EdvardMunch 1893,National Gallery,Oslo. The figures inthe composition arealigned followingdirection by therailing and thewhole paintingcreate a visualthrust. Also all thelines create a visualthrust to supportthe emotionsexpressed in thepainting.When a concept or an idea derived from nature is expressedusing dots, line colour, texture, shapes, etc. it is calledrepresentation. The representation of a concept or naturalforms is called realistic if it is depicted as it is. It is calledActivity 4Collect images or photographs from magazinesand newspapers and classify them according tovarious aesthetic styles.stylised if the representation is decorative and ornamental. Ifthe representation eliminates unnecessary details andrepresentation is minimal then it is called abstract. All thestyles produce distinctive visual and thematic impact.Activity 5Collect images or photographs from magazines andnewspapers and classify them according to thecategories of content.ContentA message or a theme of the design is called the content. Thetheme can be historical, socio-cultural, eco-friendly, orscientific and so on.Figure 3.25 Science kit isdesigned to keepthe tools and othermaterial used inconductingexperiments inclassFunctionIt is the purpose or application of the design to deliver results.Design can be informative, for instance, it can createawareness about something or provide information aboutsomething. Design can be expressive, i.e., it can be used toELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN31

express thoughts or emotions. In that case the function of thedesign will be termed as expressive function. Sometimesgraphic design is used for giving instructions to operate aninstrument or machine or a kit, viz., science kit. Graphicdesign is used to design a textbook, instructional manual,educational CD-ROM, or it can be used as a teaching tool. Inall such cases the function of graphic design is instructivefunction. In advertisements, many a time graphic design isused to create an impact. It does not have any specific functionas discussed above; creating impact itself is the utilitarianfunction of graphic design in such advertisements.PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGNVisual balanceThere are several principles of design that have evolved over aperiod of time. Understanding and practical application ofthese principles is varied and diverse depending on thedesigner's attitude and overall approach. These principles areused in various fields, viz., graphic design, industrial design,fine arts, and architecture. They are understood andinterpreted according to the need of the profession. However,there is a certain consensus among practising designersacross all the disciplines about their nature and utility. Someof the definitions of these principles are accepted and sharedacross all the disciplines. By and large it is agreed that theyare generic principles related to design sensitivity anddesigners use them to arrange or organise the basic elementsof design so that overall composition looks appealing. Theseprinciples govern the relationship among various componentsand basic elements of design. These are the principles ofaesthetic arrangement of components of design. They alsogovern the relationship of parts of design to the overalldesign. Successful application of these principles helps adesigner to achieve the purpose of graphic composition andvisual goals.In any work of art or design the consideration of form, i.e.,overall structure and its relationship with individualcomponents, fitness and unity has become a great source ofbeauty. Every work of art or design supposes unity of graphicalbasic elements, depicted by the artist or designers in thecomposition. The beauty or elegance of design is considered asthe expression of design emerging out of principles of designsuch as balance, unity, consistency along with carefulimplementation of variety with rhythm.Figure 3.26 A plane is abalanced form32FOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

BalanceHumans always experience balance in everyday life, forexample, riding a bicycle. It is used for controlling gravity.Graphic designers apply same principle to control the visualgravity or visual weight of various components in acomposition or design. The principle of balance provides avisual stability to design. There are three types of balance:radial balance, symmetrical or formal balance andasymmetrical or informal balance.Radial BalanceFigure 3.27 Different formsshowing radialbalanceIn radial balance, there can be multiple visual axes and allshould converge to one single point. It is interesting to try outActivity 6Study the radial symmetry of different flowers andanalyse i composition as well as between a particular15 yr. to 10 yr. 5 yr.adultsFigure 3.32 Human bodygrows inproportion fromchildhood toadulthood.Relativeproportion of eachpart of body withother parts as wellas the whole bodychanges as wegrow old.3 yr.1 yr.component or a group of components and the overall ‘form’ ofthe composition. The ratio can be expressed as a mathematicalformula, however, in visual composition, proportion isunderstood as a relative ratio in terms of visual weight, size,visual thrust and other visual relational properties of thecomponents. There are few well established ratios accepted inthe fields of art and design. ‘Golden Mean’ or ‘Golden Ratio’(golden proportion) is based on the Fibonacci series. If twosides of a rectangle follow the ratio of 1:1.618 then thatELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN35

Figure 3.33 Last Supper byLeonardo da Vinci is the idealexample of all the elements andprinciples of visual compositionand organic unity. The originalpainting adheres to the ‘goldenratio’. Relative proportion ofits height to width is 1:1.618.Christ’s face is the centre ofinterest in the painting. All thehuman figures are either looking athim or their body actions aredirected towards his face includingall the lines of perspective of thebackground architecture. Lightcoloured sky visible throughwindow creates an impact of anaura around his head. The lightsky, dark colours of the interiorcreates maximum contrast. Due toall this a visual thrust is generatedso that our eyes come back to hisface repeatedly.rectangle is called a golden rectangle. A famous painting titledthe Last Supper, painted by Leonardo da Vinci follows thegolden ratio. Many such ratios are well known and can lead tointeresting visual composition. For instance some of thefollowing ratios can result in interesting compositions:1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 4:5, 5:6.HarmonyWhen two or more components in a composition are incomplete conformity or unison with each other then theircombination results in harmony. If the components are not inperfect unison but adhere to certain ratios then it isconsidered proportionate unison. Various colour schemesdiscussed earlier are good examples of proportionate colourharmony. There can be harmony of colour, shape, size, form,etc. Skilful application of the principle of harmony leads to apleasant visual impact.ContrastFigure 3.34 Visual harmonyFigure 3.35 Visual contrast36When two or more components of a composition have anopposite visual impact in terms of certain attribute then theresultant impact is called contrast. There can be a contrast ofcolor, value, size, etc. There can also be a proportionatecontrast. For example, if white and black come together thenthey will produce maximum opposite visual impact in terms ofvalue. On a grey scale white has highest value while black hasthe lowest value in terms of tonality. But if grey and black areput nearby each other then they will produce mediumcontrast. If any two nearby grey values from the grey scale areput together then they will produce low contrast. Therefore,FOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

Activity 7Colour also produces value contrast. Now select any two colours from the colourwheel and find out whether they belong to high, low or medium value contrast.Activity 8Explore various possibilities of high, low and medium contrast of lines in terms ofwidth of lines or expressive character of lines.there can be three categories of proportionate contrast—high,medium and low. If you look at the colour wheel, then any twocolours which are opposite to each other on the colour wheelwill produce high colour contrast. Therefore we have standardpairs of contrasting colours, viz., yellow-violet, orange-blue,and red-green. Any two nearby colours on the colour wheel willproduce low colour contrast. Any two colours on triads willproduce medium colour contrast. There can be contrast ofvalue, colour, shapes, size, lines, and form and so on and soforth.Centre of InterestFigure 3.36 Centre of interestin a visualcompositionbIn a visual composition, a component or a group ofcomponents are placed in such a way that they attract theattention of the viewer. Visual composition should alwayshave a centre of interest. It is achieved by skilful application ofthe principle of contrast. It is also achieved through deliberateemphasis on certain elements in a composition and deliberatesubordination of certain other elements in a composition.There is another way of achieving it by isolating one element orcomponent from the rest of the components in a composition.The isolated component will capture the attention of theviewer.Organic UnityFigure 3.37 Organic unity indifferent formsELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN37

Organic unity is the most important principle of composition.It is the quality of a composition that makes it visuallycomplete. In such a composition neither you can add an extraelement nor you can remove any. It is the state of achievingvisual perfection in a composition. In nature, for instance, if aActivity 9Observe nature and find out how principles of design or composition are manifested innature and how they contribute in achieving organic unity. Collect images andphotographs of natural things from newspapers or any available source and recognisethe presence of principles of balance, rhythm, proportion, contrast, harmony, centreof interest and classify your images accordingly. Write brief description of how aparticular principle is visible in the image or a photograph.Figure 3.38 A colour wheel, a new colour is obtained by mixing one or twosecondry and/or tertiary colours with primary colours38FOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN

Activity 10Draw a rectangle of 10 cm by 15 cm (use pencil to draw the rectangle). Using compass,draw a circle of any size inside the rectangle (do not draw a circle in the centre of arectangle). Then you can draw four rectangles or squares of different sizes. They canoverlap each other as well as the circle. Now draw three triangles of different sizes in such away

24 FOUNDATIONS OF GRAPHIC DESIGN ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN 25 Let us first discuss the elements of graphic design followed by principles of composition. There are three major categories of these elements. “Basic elements “Relational elements “Intentional elements Basic elements of composition are abstract concepts. They do

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