Crash Course Part 2: Principles of Design

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Welcome to the second half of this week’s crash course into the fundamentals of design. You can read part 1, The Elements of Design, hereToday, we’ll look at the Principles of Design: Alignment, Balance, Hierarchy, Contrast, Emphasis and Unity.

Unlike elements, which refer to the main components of an image that you can see, design principles are more about the rules. It’s the taking of the elements, and the asking of how, why and where… when it comes to applying them.


Alignment is the arrangement of elements in a proper, relative position. There are easy tools that allow you to align to a selection or a composition/art board. When objects are aligned they look more ordered. Use guides and grids to align objects, and consider aligning objects to each other.


Balance is the “weight” of objects in a scene. Everything has a visual weight to it – for example, a darker square next to a lighter square will instantly make the darker square seem heavier. When moving objects around, you will get a feel for the overall balance depending on where the object sits.

There are different types of balance, mainly symmetry and asymmetry. Designers often use asymmetry, as it creates a more interesting and engaging look.


One of the primary intentions of design is to get the viewer to look at specific elements. Hierarchy comes into play when there are multiple elements that should be viewed in a specific order.

Visual hierarchy influences the “order” in which the human eye perceives what it sees. It’s the principle used to guide the viewer through the overall image. The design should first draw the viewer into the most important part of the image, then naturally lead them to the remaining elements in a certain way.

Ideally, you do not want elements competing with each other for attention. The viewer should instantly sense what is most prominent and should be able to process the design easily and intuitively.

Scale and colour will often play an important part in hierarchy. For example, think of typography. You would make specific words larger than others or a different colour, if they’re more important. Instinctively, the largest word on screen is what the viewer will be drawn to first.


Contrast creates visual excitement and adds interest to the design. Contrast is the juxtaposition of opposing elements. Think about opposite colours on the colour wheel, or light and dark values, or horizontal and vertical direction. Contrast allows us to emphasise or highlight key elements, such as contrasting shapes, forms and colours. Squares versus triangles. Blacks versus whites.

Similarity transfers what we know about one element, to another. Differences draw our attention. Often, the goal is to contrast groups of similar layers: making the elements in each group look similar to each other, yet at the same time having those groups look different.


Emphasis and dominance are used to draw attention. It doesn’t always mean creating the “first” thing you want the viewer to look at, but it’s often used to stir more interest in the visual.

For example, playing with the relative size of elements against each other can attract attention to a focal point. When elements are designed larger than life, scale is being used to show drama.
Dominance is created by contrasting size, position, colour, shape or form. The focal point should dominate the design, without destroying the unity of the overall image.


This can also be referred to as harmony, sometimes considered the main or final goal of the graphic designer. Unity is the combination of all design elements and principles. This is when everything works together as one.

When all elements are in agreement, a design is considered unified. Designers often refer to proximity, similarity, continuation, repetition and rhythm – this is all part of unity and harmony. Ultimately, by applying the principles of design to the elements of design – in a unique and interesting way – your final image should be unified.


Try to match each of these images to the principle that it uses to its advantage: Alignment, Balance, Hierarchy, Contrast, Emphasis and Unity.




We hope you’ve found this guide useful and we wish you all the best in your design endeavours! Stay tuned for more handy tips about animation and design.

If you found this topic interesting or are pursuing animation as a career, read about Jumbla Academy and Jumbla Internships.

[Answers: Balance, Contrast, Unity, Emphasis, Alignment, Hierarchy]

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