From print design to lithography, typography, and even industrial design, the basic principles of effective design are common throughout the field. Essentially, there are two fundamental concepts we can discuss with respect to web design: principles and elements. Principles of design are the basic assumptions we make that guide design practice and the arrangement of objects; while elements of design are the working components of design, or the objects that are arranged.
Principles of Design
More specifically, when we discuss the principles of web design we are talking about aspects like balance, rhythm, proportion, dominance, and unity.
Balance refers to the arrangement of objects in a design as they relate to their importance or visual weight. Web design may be symmetrical or asymmetrical, but the goal should be to achieve equilibrium on the page. Symmetrical design occurs when objects are evenly distributed across the page; while asymmetrical design does not require that objects are evenly distributed.
Rhythm refers to how elements are repeated or alternated. Rhythm promotes a sense of movement, and establishes pattern and texture. Regular rhythm is achieved when intervals between elements or the elements themselves are evenly spaced. Flowing rhythm lends to a sense of movement. Progressive rhythm is achieved through a sequence of elements that are displayed via a progression of steps.
Proportion represents the comparative distribution or dimensions of elements. When we talk about scale or size, we are talking about proportion. Proportion influences balance but may also establish visual depth and weight.
Dominance as a principle of design relates to how elements are emphasized. Dominant objects are given more visual weight and are usually found in the foreground of a page. Sub-dominant elements have less visual weight and fall into the middle ground of the page. Subordinate elements have the least visual weight and usually fall into the background.
Unity is a concept that defines the relationship between each of the elements and the web page as a whole. For effective web design, all elements of the page must come together to create a sense of wholeness. Alternatively, elements may even be disconnected to give an impression of variety. Ultimately, as a principle of design, unity influences how our brain organizes the elements of a page.
This very basic overview of the principles of web design should encourage designers to overcome the many constraints of the medium so they can create more effective web pages. As a designer, it can be easy to get bogged down in function without much consideration for form. In a sense, web design is much like any artistic expression, and designers need to treat their tools as implements of art if they want to develop striking, memorable, and attractive web sites.
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