Crash Course Part 1: Elements of Design

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Should design come from the heart or should it be based on principles and theories?  We believe in the marriage of both: design should be inspiring and inventive, while guided by fundamentals.

Read on for a crash course in the fundamentals of design, which will help you take your creation further. The course is presented in two parts and will be concluded later in the week.


/ fuhn-duh-men-tl n. 1. a central or primary rule or principle on which something is based

The fundamentals of design can fall under two main categories, elements and principles. The elements of design refer to the main parts of an image that you can see. The principles of design govern how and where the elements are applied.

Today, we’ll be looking at the elements: Line, Shape, Form, Colour and Texture.


Line is the most fundamental of all elements of design. It is the starting place for most artistic creation, whether someone is starting a fine drawing or painting, or even sketching ideas.

Most design begins with line. Lines come in different forms: broken, solid, or textured. You can use various stroke brushes in your software to achieve different looks. Lines are often used to lead the eye around the page or draw the eye to a specific location.


Shapes come in two forms: geometric and organic. Everything is a shape. You should always think of interesting ways to use them. Merge them, move them, scale them, distort them, combine them. If using Illustrator, use the Pathfinder feature to create shapes. It’s often effective to merge geometric shapes with organic ones.


Form is essentially the three-dimensionality of an object. To put it simply: shape is 2D, form is 3D.

Form can be applied to a seemingly flat object or shape simply by adding value – that is, different shades. Think of a circle: it’s round, it’s flat. Now shade the edges. What happens? The circle becomes a sphere. The element of shape has evolved, to also take on form.


Colour is most obvious element in design. It’s used to create emotion and mood – and ultimately, tell a story. Every colour says something different.

Most common colour schemes are monochromatic (single colour), analogous (colours next to each other on the wheel), complementary (colours opposing each other on the wheel) or triad (colours evenly spread around the wheel).

There are also split-complimentary, rectangle and square colour palettes, when referring to the colour wheel. In a primarily black-and-white design, if only one colour is used to accentuate something, this is referred to as an accent colour. When referring to value, this is simply the range of lightness and darkness within a picture. Darker values describe more blackness, lighter values describe more whiteness.


Texture is often added to design to give objects a sense of depth and character. It might refer to something that appears very rough or very smooth. Each can be applied to an object in varying degrees to give it a different look and feel.

Depending on their purpose, textures can be quite obvious in their application or, conversely, very subtle (for a more aesthetic reason). As different textures resonate with different people, it’s important to understand the target market – and not just apply textures to everything without thought or reason.


Space is often overlooked in design. Lots of people think that if there’s white, it needs to be filled. Or, if there’s one element in the middle of the page, that it needs to be huge to gather attention. This isn’t the case. Negative space, whether white or colour, can help create an overall image. Try using negative space to create shapes, just as you would with any other element.


Each of these images uses one primary element to its advantage. See if you can match the images to the corresponding elements of Line, Shape, Form, Colour, Texture and Space.



Stay tuned for Part 2 of 2 of this Fundamentals of Design Crash Course! It will be up later this week.

[Answers: Colour, Space, Form, Line, Texture, Shape]

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