Design Basics: Elements

Welcome to our Design Basics series. In this series we will be discussing the Elements, and Principles of design as well as basic Color Theory and Typography. When you think of the elements of design think of ingredients in a recipe. They’re the building blocks that lead to a composition.
The elements of design are: Lines, Shapes, Color, Value, Texture, Space, and Form.

Lines are the first basic building block in all designs. They can be straight, curved, zig-zagged, dashed, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, contour, actual or implied. Specific types of lines are used in certain instances to convey motion, direction, movement or intention.

examples of line types

Shape is an enclosed two-dimensional space that has both length and width. Shapes can be both geometric and organic. Value can be used to make shapes appear three-dimensional. Simple geometric shapes are circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles. Acute shapes with sharp points tend to look dangerous. Organic shapes tend to be more natural looking curving and flowing in appearance as well as irregular or asymmetrical.

Basic geometric shapes
2D artwork depicting both geometric and organic shapes

Color is the element of design made up of these properties; hue, tint, tone, and shade. Color is perceived due to the reflection of light off of an object and returned to the eye. Hue is the actual color such as red, blue, and yellow. Tint is the hue with white added which makes a lighter version of the color. Tone, similar to tint, is a hue added to gray and dulls the color and makes the color (hue) less intense. Shade, like tint and tone is color with black added which makes a darker version of the color. Tint requires pure white. Tone requires pure gray 50/50 black and white. Shade requires only pure black. We have 3 primary and 3 secondary colors with 6 tertiary colors. There are also color modes: RGB (red, green, blue) which is an additive color used in digital media. CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black{key}) is a subtractive color mode used in print media. Find more in depth explanations in our Color Theory article.

Color wheel with examples of hue, tint, tone, and shade

Value has to do with the degree of lightness and darkness in an image. Often referred to as contrast. The lightest value is white and the darkest is black with an infinite number of grays in between. Though value is most relative in grayscale it is also exemplified in color artworks as well. Value tends to be the most important element in a successful design. Value can also make 2D elements appear to be 3D with proper use of value.

Examples of value and form

Form denotes that something is three-dimensional. The object has volume and dimension. Cubes, Spheres, and Cylinders are examples of form. Often form is used in physical works such as sculpture. Form like shape can be both geometric and organic.

Space refers to both the distance between and around (perspective) as well as the size (proportion) perceived between the shapes and forms in the foreground or background of a composition. Space can be both positive and negative. Positive space refers to the subject(s) in a piece. Negative space is the blank or unused area in a composition. Creative use of both positive and negative space can make your work more compelling and interesting.

Example of space

Texture is the visual feel of an artwork. Texture can be tactile (real) or visual (implied). Tactile is used to describe three-dimensional artworks such as sculpture or oil painting. Visual is simply implied texture in a digital artwork that the eye perceives based on visual cues.

Texture example

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