A Journey Through the Seven Elements of Design

Empedocles, a Greek philosopher and scientist, first introduced the concept that everything is made up of four basic “roots”, which were later referred to as elements by Plato.

If you’re musing over the components in relation to air, water, fire, and earth, you’re somewhat heading in the right direction. Nonetheless, this is not fully what I’m alluding to when it comes to the elements of design.

In the world of design, these elements refer to the fundamental building blocks of visual composition and communication. Having a good understanding of these elements is essential for effectively conveying your design ideas and creating designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and impactful.

Let the Journey Begin

Whether you’re a designer or just an avid doodler, we’ve all put pencil to paper at some point in our lives. But did you know, every stroke and every line you make is actually following the seven elements of design? Well, neither did I.

Designers wield their own special brand of magic. Similar to a wizard, they start with a concept in their mind and use their tools and talents to make it a reality. By utilising design elements, they bring something new into existence. The resulting designs have the potential to inspire, enthral, and even alter the world – much like a wizard’s enchantment.

These basic elements of design are line, shape, form, space, texture, value, and colour.

Line

One of the most important elements of design is line. Lines can be classified as either vertical, horizontal, diagonal, zigzag, or curved lines. Lines can be used to guide the viewer’s eyes in a particular direction, creating a sense of movement, indicating depth and dimension, and evoking different emotions in the viewer.

In design, it is almost impossible to perceive and observe something that does not contain a line. You simply cannot avoid this crucial element of design, even if you try.

Shape

Do you remember playing the game “Connect the Dots”? The objective was to connect a sequence of numbered dots by drawing lines, resulting in an outline of an object. This demonstrates the fact that connecting lines always results in a shape.

Shapes play a crucial role in design, helping to create balance, proportion, and visual interest. The five most basic shapes are triangles, squares, rectangles, ovals, and circles. Shapes can also be categorised as geometric or organic. Geometric shapes are precise and orderly, while organic shapes are irregular and imperfect, often found in nature.

Utilising a combination of different shapes in design can create dynamic and engaging compositions.

Form

How dull would design be if everything was flat and two dimensional? This is why we have the concept of form in design. The physical appearance of objects, whether they are tangible or intangible, all fall into the element of form.

Form can either be geometric, which is man-made, or organic, which appear in the natural world. It has three dimensions – height, width, and depth, which gives form a 3D quality. An example to further explain the idea of form is by thinking of a circle. Once the circle acquires depth and becomes three dimensional, it takes on form.

The advantage of form is that it can enhance a design by defining space, creating contrast and visually adding volume.

Space

If everything in design was gathered into a cluster it would be almost impossible to distinguish the difference between two objects. This is why we have the concept of space in design. Space is the area that a shape or form occupies.

If an object was placed in the middle of the page, then the area that does not contain the image would be considered as white space (not necessarily white), or negative space. When utilised correctly, negative space would allow the viewer’s eyes to rest and focus on the point of interest. 

Positive space would be the area that is occupying the subject, or the design. Too much positive space in a design could literally give the viewer a headache and lead to confusion. One could argue that the term ‘negative’ doesn’t always refer to unfavourable thing when it comes to design. Something negative can more often be a positive thing.

Texture

Our interaction and comprehension of the natural world around us heavily relies on our five senses. One of these senses, often overlooked, is touch. Touch can be experienced not only through physical contact with our hands, but also through our perception and interpretation.

In design, texture is used to create a visual illusion of the look and feel of an object. Adding texture to a design can uplift the presence of the design and make it seem alive. It can even seem as if it is coming off of a page. Texture adds a layer to the design that none of the other elements do.

If texture is effectively created and incorporated into a design, it can make the viewer feel as if they are able to physically touch the surface depicted in the design.

Value

Value, also referred to as tone, refers to how light or how dark the elements of your design appear. The lighter the colour, the higher its value, the darker the colour, the lower its value. When you increase the value of a colour, you would technically be mixing it with white, or lightening it. Decreasing the value of colour would be achieved through adding more black to it, or darkening it.

You will notice something that is darker in a design with more ease than you will something that is lighter.

Colour

Is colour real or an illusion? I’ll let you be the judge. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines colour as “a phenomenon of light (such as red, brown, pink, or gray) or visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects”.

Colour is used to draw attention, group related elements, convey meaning, and generally enhance certain aesthetics of your design. It can be verified visually by measurement of its properties such as hue, saturation, chromaticity, and value.

Colour can also be used as a psychological tool to impact human behaviour and the decisions people make.

End of the Line

Next time you dive into a design project, keep in mind that taking a closer look at elements like colour, texture, and space can make all the difference. It’s a win-win situation – you’ll have more creative satisfaction, and the viewer will be able to enjoy a more impactful final product.

Here’s an activity you can do to help understand the concept of line in design:

  1. Gather a few supplies such as pencils, charcoal sticks, or markers of different thicknesses.
  2. Draw a still life setup of objects with various shapes and textures, such as fruits, flowers, or books.
  3. Experiment with using different lines to create contours, shading, and texture. Try thick lines for bold, graphic shapes and thin lines for subtle details.
  4. Once you’re done, compare your drawings and see how the use of line changed the overall look and feel of the objects.
  5. Now try drawing the same objects with just one type of line (such as only straight or only curved lines) and see how this impacts the look of your drawings.

By doing this fun and hands-on activity, you’ll get a better understanding of how the elements can be used to convey emotions, create compositions, and influence the overall look and feel of a design.

At Grindstone, we’ve added an intriguing shape to our logo that you may recognise. The shape is called the Annulus, which is simply a circle within another circle. This circle symbolises limitlessness, completeness, and unity, aligning with Grindstone’s values.

Esther Jacobs

Esther is a content producer by profession and a conservationist by avocation. She has gained an eclectic mix of skills throughout her couple of decades of working in copywriting and social media management. Esther’s passion lies in conservation and she controls the office naughty jar for anyone who dares bring single-use plastic to work. She also boasts being nominated as Scotland’s Ambassador of Rock through Hard Rock Cafe, once-upon-a-time.

Follow us on Instagram