The Elements of Design/Art:
(Line/point/plane), colour, shape, texture, space, form.
The elements of design are the ‘elemental’ basic units of any visual object of art or design. Not coincidentally, we will be also be studying these design elements while acquiring drawing and rendering skills in our drawing class. I will make every effort possible to identify drawing skills that are overt design elements during the drawing class.
*(Line/Point/Plane might also be considered elements of graphic design)
Generally speaking, artist/makers with charcoal and paint under their fingernails working at easels in cluttered filthy studios talk about the 'elements of art'; designers with manicured fingernails working in sterile studios on painful looking chairs at virtually empty desks with Macs talk about the 'elements of design'. These are in fact the same elements.
The colour wheel is a way of arranging the colour spectrum in a logical format that allows an easier understanding of the attributes of primary, secondary and tertiary colour and illustrates the effect of mixing colour with colour and colour with white and black. The most important, the main ingredient, on the colour wheel is hue (colour), which makes green look green or blue look blue. The intensity or saturation (brightness) of a colour can be altered by adjusting its value (lightness or darkness translated into black and white), by tinting the hue with varying amounts of white or black. A fully saturated colour has as much hue as possible; by adding white or black you are desaturating the colour. An example of how colour might inform the principles of design is by creating unity in a colour scheme that is analogous, or closely grouped on the colour wheel. This type of scheme is used extensively in classical animation and live action film backgrounds to convey the design principal of unity. Alternatively two colour schemes might be used in an image, using complimentary colours, one hot and one cool, conveying the design principal of emphasis. If the more aggressive hue covers a smaller area than the less aggressive, the design principle of balance might be evoked.
Areas in two or three dimensions that are separated from surrounding space by defined or implied boundaries such as lines, or differences in value, colour or texture, can be considered shapes. Objects are composed of and perceived of as shapes, and shapes can be part of all other art elements. Shapes can be geometric or organic. Geometric shapes are sometimes described as mechanical and organic shapes as natural, however, crystalline structures in nature are based on geometry.
Tactile texture is three dimensional surface regularity or irregularity. In a 3D sculpture or model you will be able to run your hands over the surface and actually feel the texture. Visual texture is suggested by rendering on a smooth 2D surface but is an illusion. If a texture is repeated it can become a motif. If motifs are repeated extensively they become a pattern.
Three dimensional objects exist in space and relate to each other within space, a relationship that changes with point of view. Two dimensional objects can be made to exist in an illusory space by various means. Overlap forces the ’top’ element to appear closer to the viewer and the overlapped element deeper in the illusory space of the picture plane. Shading uses graduated tones to suggest the effect of light and shade to describe form. Highlight, transitional light, shadow core, reflected light, and cast shadow enhance a rendered objects 3D look. Linear perspective in drawing and painting relies on mimicking the effects of observed perspective by using vanishing points and geometry. Atmospheric perspective pushes more distant objects further into the picture plane by reducing contrast and tinting colour. Darks get lighter and lights get darker, ultimately reducing a form to a tonal silhouette. Be aware that all these phenomenon employed in the 2D creation of illusory space naturally occur on 3D objects, however, careful arrangement, staging and lighting will enhance the effect of the real objects existing in space. You will employ all the above sub elements associated with space not only when rendering an object of jewellery in paint but also when photographing an actual finished piece. You will find yourself enhancing the 3D qualities of your art piece by manipulating the lighting. You would also use these same lighting and shading qualities in a digital 3D program to enhance the appearance of a CG object. Lighting designers for theatre, art directors for animation and cinematographers for live action film all use lighting and shading to design space for the interaction of characters.
All 3D objects are forms, and have height, width and depth. As with shapes, there are two types of form, geometric and organic. Form is defined by light and shadow on its surface, in either constructed real objects (in 3D) or illusory illustrated objects (in 2D). It can be further enhanced by tone, texture and colour.
(Do note the significant amount of overlap shared by these 5 elements of art and design.)
The Principles of Design:
Unity/harmony, balance, hierarchy, scale/proportion, dominance/emphasis, similarity/contrast, movement/rythm
Applying principles of design to the elements of design is essentially composition: the two domains merge in a finished product. How well you are perceived to have composed/applied design principles is indicative of a successful design.
Harmony of the elements of art/design is often considered to be a primary goal of design. No individual part is viewed as more important than the whole design. A balance between unity and variety can be established to avoid a chaotic design drained of life. Vague stuff, eh? Always consider that principles can be twisted or ignored for the purposes of communication, that there will always be exceptions. But the principles of design are useful for discussing or hanging ideas on and when they unconsciously occur or are consciously employed they will usually result in more pleasing results. Unity might be achieved by similarities, by continuation of lines or patterns, by repetition, rhythm of recurring motifs regularly interrupted. (paintings, buildings, etc.)
Equalized tension and equilibrium, between all sorts of elements; colour, objects and their size and weight, treatment, textures, shapes, between chaos and hierarchy. Symmetry is an obvious, and straightforward, form of balance. Asymmetrical balance produces an informal dynamic balance that attracts attention. Paradoxically (art design seems to be full of paradoxes), a whole lot of nothing can balance a little bit of something. Radial Balance is arranged around a central point. Overall balance is mosaic-like; it lacks hierarchy and contrast but achieves equilibrium similar to static, with active elements cancelled out by passive elements. (shop fronts, logos, designs). Too much overall balance can make a design static or boring. Note how subjective all this is! Also note how design principles overlap.
In good design there is generally an order of significance to the various elements. A good deployment of the fundamental of hierarchy will ensure the user is aware of the appropriate order. (one,two,three,four) (medieval figures)(religious painting) (byzantine art)
The relative size of elements to each other can signify importance or lack of importance. If an element is shown larger than life it suggests drama, importance. (Medieval figures, Statue of Constantine, truck advert perspective)
This principle is achieved by singling out design components by contrasting size, positioning, colour, style, or shape. In an ideal design this is done without disrupting the unity of the whole design.
The key to creating something generally regarded as a good design is to find a balance (unity again) between similarity and contrast. Too much similarity might be boring. Too much contrast might be irritating. (However too much contrast might also communicate something essential! Think of initially outrageous fashion statements that capture attention because they contrast with the norm. As they become more ubiquitous they are no longer seen as outrageous and become perceived as attractive). Note the subjectivity that comes to bear in assessing this design principle.
Similarity can be created by creating an internal unifying structure such as a compositional device. Shapes can be made to relate to each other, for example, by consistently using organic or geometric shapes. Text can be made similar by using the same font. Continuity in text formats from page to page provides a consistent, or similar, overview creating a sense of unity; like wise a consistent/similar treatment of headers, themes, borders, spaces (something to keep in mind when you design your website!). Develop a style manual for a project, and adhere to it.
Contrasts might be itemized along the following lines:
Space: filled/empty; near/far; 2D/3D
Position: left/right; top/bottom; isolated/grouped; centred/off centre
Form: simple/complex; beautiful/ugly; whole/broken
Structure: organized/chaotic; mechanical/free hand
Size: small/large; deep/shallow; thick/thin
Colour and Value: grey scale and black and white/colour; light/dark
Texture: fine/course; rough/smooth; dull/sharp
Density: transparent/opaque; thick/thin; liquid/solid
Movement in static objects alludes to the path the eye makes as it scans an object or image. (Remember our observations and discussion of eye saccades which are quite literally drawings done by the eye.) These eye paths can be manipulated or directed by a compositional element, such as a spiral or a colour or value transition. The eye can be led along lines, colours, edges, shape and colour.