Ultimate Guide to Design Principles
Did you ever wonder how to explain your design decisions to the client? Perhaps it's time to refresh your knowledge of the design basics you learned in your noob era and apply them quickly by heart.
Today, I will walk you through the principles crucial to ensure harmony in design and safeguarding an optimal user experience.
As stated on the Nielsen Norman Group website, design principles are value statements that frame design decisions and support consistency.
We will talk about these 15 rules:
Repetition & Rhythm
In UI design, contrast is an important tool for drawing the user's attention to important information, improving legibility and readability, and creating visual interest and hierarchy within a design. Some of the key considerations when using contrast in UI design include color contrast, size contrast, using different tones and levels of brightness and darkness, texture contrast - using different textures and patterns to create contrast and interest within a design, and space contrast - using negative space to create contrast between elements and to give the design a sense of balance and structure.
Balance is a fundamental design principle in UI (User Interface) design that refers to the distribution of visual elements within a design to create a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing composition.
Symmetrical Balance: This type of balance refers to a design in which elements are arranged in a mirror-like fashion on either side of a central axis, creating a sense of stability and order. This type of balance is often used in traditional and formal designs.
Asymmetrical Balance: This type of balance refers to a design in which elements are arranged in a way that is not symmetrical, but still appears visually balanced. This can be achieved by arranging elements of different sizes, shapes, and colors in such a way that the overall design appears balanced, even though each side may look different. This type of balance is often used in modern and creative designs.
In UI design, balance is important because it helps to create a visually pleasing and harmonious interface that feels comfortable and stable to the user. A balanced interface also helps to create a clear hierarchy of information, making it easier for the user to navigate and understand the content.
Colors in design can greatly impact the overall look, feel, and user experience of a digital product. Some of the key considerations when using color in UI design include:
Meaning: Different colors can evoke different emotions, connotations, and cultural meanings, so it is important to choose colors that align with the intended message and brand identity.
Contrast: High contrast between colors can make text and other elements easier to read and distinguish, especially for users with visual impairments.
Hierarchy: Different colors can be used to create a hierarchy of information, with the most important elements being highlighted in bold or bright colors and secondary elements being in more muted colors.
Consistency: Maintaining a consistent color palette and using colors consistently throughout the product can help to create a sense of unity and brand recognition.
Accessibility: Ensuring that the color palette has sufficient contrast and is accessible to users with color blindness and other visual impairments is important for accessibility. Using a sufficient level of contrast and avoiding color-dependent information can help address this issue.
In UI design, color is used to create visual interest, evoke emotions, and help to communicate information effectively.
Hierarchy is a design principle that arranges elements in a clear and organized manner to help users understand the relationships and relative importance of elements on a page or interface. The most important information should be a focal point of the design.
Repetition & Rhythm
Rhythm refers to the pattern of repetition and can be used to create a sense of movement and flow in a design. This can be achieved through the use of repeating elements with varying sizes, spacing, or colors to create a memorable and effective visual experience.
A pattern in design refers to a repeating visual element or motif used to create a consistent and cohesive look in a design. It can be a repeated shape, color, texture, or other design elements that serve as a visual cue for the viewer. Patterns can add interest, depth, and texture to a design and can also be used to create a sense of movement, rhythm, and balance. When used effectively, patterns can be an important tool for reinforcing a brand's visual identity, creating a memorable design, and making a design more visually appealing.
White space, also known as negative space, is a space between and around the elements of a design, such as text, images, and graphics. Sometimes the white space is overlooked by those not skilled in visual aesthetics, and wrongly underestimated.
It has an important role in the design, as it provides visual breathing room and helps to create a sense of balance and hierarchy. It can also help to emphasize important elements, make the text more legible, and improve the overall readability and usability of a design.
Effective use of white space requires an understanding of the proportion between positive and negative space, and the ability to create a harmonious balance between the two. By using white space effectively, designers can create clean, modern, and visually appealing designs that are easy to understand and engaging for the viewer.
Movement is something like a visual flow that guides the viewer's eye through the composition. It creates a sense of direction and can help direct attention to the most important elements in the design. Movement can be achieved through the use of lines, shapes, color, and texture, and can be used to create a dynamic and engaging visual experience.
Variety refers to the use of different elements in a design to add interest and prevent monotony. It can be achieved through the use of different colors, textures, shapes, and visual elements, as well as through variations in size, placement, and repetition. Variety helps to create a more dynamic and visually engaging design and can help to draw the viewer's eye through the composition. By using variety, designers can create a sense of movement and flow, and can also add depth and interest to a design.
Simplicity, also known as a visual economy, is achieved by the elimination of all non-essential elements or details to put emphasis on the meaning of the design. Like the white space principle described above, the use of the simplicity principle creates a clean and modern user interface and plays an important role in user experience.
Proximity is a design principle that refers to the placement of elements in close proximity to one another in order to group them together and indicate a relationship between them.
For example, related pieces of information, such as a headline and a subheading, or a set of related images, can be placed close to each other to indicate a relationship between them and make the content easier to comprehend. Effective use of proximity can help to improve the overall organization, readability, and hierarchy of a design. Proximity is tightly connected with one of the gestalt principles - closure. Many famous logos use this principle, e.g. logo WWF pictured here.
Fun fact: As you can see on this logo evolution timeline, WWF started to use the closure principle in their logo for the first time in 1986.
(Image source: https://popicon.life/panda-world-wildlife-fund-logo/)
Proportion is a fundamental principle in design that helps to create a sense of balance and harmony. Proportion is defined by the relationship between objects in size and visual weight. The use of proportion can be applied to various aspects of design such as typography, graphic design, and architecture. The golden ratio, which is a mathematical ratio of 1:1.6180339887, is a commonly used proportion in design and is believed to create aesthetically pleasing designs.
(Image source: https://slate.com/technology/2021/06/golden-ratio-phi-irrational-number-ellenberg-shape.html)
Emphasis is a design principle that refers to the creation of a visual hierarchy by highlighting the most important elements in a design. It is used to guide the viewer's eye to the most important information or element in a composition. Emphasis can be achieved through a variety of means, such as size, color, contrast, position, texture, and more. By emphasizing certain elements, the designer can create a sense of hierarchy, order, and visual interest in the design. For example, a headline on a page can be made larger and in a different color than the body text to give it emphasis and make it stand out.
Alignment is a design principle that involves arranging elements along a common line or axis to create a cohesive and organized look. It helps to establish a visual connection between elements and can be used to improve the overall balance and hierarchy of a design.
In graphic design, elements can be aligned vertically or horizontally, and designers can choose to align elements to the left, right, center, or grid. Consistent alignment can help to create a clean and organized design, while misaligned elements can create a disjointed and cluttered look.
Alignment can be used in combination with other design principles, such as contrast, repetition, and proximity, to create visually appealing and easy-to-understand designs.
Unity is a crucial design principle. It can be achieved only through the use of all the other principles to present a composition that is both harmonious and whole.
A design with strong unity is visually appealing and easy to understand, and it can help to create a lasting impression on the viewer. Effective use of unity can help to improve the overall effectiveness and impact of a design by creating a sense of harmony and balance.