How many design principles are there?

Have been reading about design principles and have come across these terms being used somewhat interchangeably:

Contrast/Emphasis/Dominance/Focal Point

And I’ve noticed it also seems to happen with these too:


Do you think they are all describing the same thing or are they seperate principles describing something totally different?

They are all different.
And sometimes they can be regionally particular.
There are too many design principles to count…

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I use many principles:

Good and Bad
Thumb Up and Thumb Down
Like and Not Like
Whoa and Ewww


It’s good to study and think deeply about such things, but don’t be lulled into thinking you possess linear control over this particular aspect of “nature”.

In my view anyway, “design principles” are like flame, almost as though they don’t exist, until they exist, and then they may snuff out at any time, depending on surrounding conditions. You have some in your mind, and you may attempt to apply them with varying degrees of success, but potentially unforeseen context could cause a shift in their effectiveness later during the life of the design.

We all want to put solid controls on our work and everything we see. So someone may critique your print design and express a dislike for certain color combinations. But, had they viewed it under halogen lighting rather than LED, their perception of it may have been markedly different. Or, perhaps the migraine they’re getting over has left them sensitive to visual tension. So the principles you applied, the ones they applied, and the prevailing conditions, can at any time result in an uncertain “quotient” — a flame was there, until it wasn’t. You can strike the match, but you can’t control the wind.


I think it’s something like Eskimos having dozens of different words for snow. The words often refer to nuanced variations of the similar things. I also suspect there is lots of overlap, disagreement and differences from one place to the next.

Sometimes, I think of the elements of design as being analogous to how those same words are used to describe music. In some ways, graphic design might be considered as a visual equivalent of music, so much of the terminology of one has counterparts in the other.

I wouldn’t be too concerned with nailing down the precise definitions of what all the various principles and elements of design mean. Instead, it’s probably best to just let them remain nebulous and realize that things like movement, rhythm, and contrast exist and should be understood and considered, while realizing that there are not necessarily well-defined boundaries between one and the other. An attempt at doing so is a little like trying to define the exact spot in the color spectrum where red turns into orange — that precise location doesn’t exist, but lack of a boundary doesn’t invalidate the fact that both red and orange exist as separate colors.


That’s such a great analogue for describing it.

When I was thinking about this, I was sure that there was definitely some cases where they overlap and could be used interchangably, however other cases where one term would be more appropriate than the others.

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