Architectural Design Stage Series, Design, Education

Episode 2: Understanding the Fundamentals of Design

Fundamentals of design or principles of designs are applied to the elements of design that bring them together into one design. How one applies these principles determine how successful a design maybe. They represent the basic rules of how to arrange a composition and create a successful design. In other words, they guide us in the way we arrange the elements of design. Sometimes we look at an image or object and we find it aesthetically pleasing or easy on the eye but we may not quite understand why. The reason is that one or more of the principles of design are at work. Here are the basic principles of design:

  • Harmony
  • Balance
  • Hierarchy
  • Scale and Proportion
  • Emphasis or Dominance
  • Similarity and Contrast


Harmony is an agreement between the shapes that stresses the similarities of all parts. In other words, the shape of one part should “fit” the shape of the adjoining elements. Shapes should ”fit” properly in their positions and spaces. The following are aspects that make a design harmonious:

  • Proximity: a sense of distance between elements.
  • Similarity: ability to seem repeatable with other elements.
  • Continuation: the sense of having a line or pattern extended.
  • Repetition: elements being copied or mimicked numerous times.
  • Rhythm: achieved when recurring positions size, colour, and use of graphic element has a focal point interruption.


Balance refers to the arrangements of design elements within a composition, how they relate to each other and the overall composition. Elements can have different visual weights dependent on their size, shape or colour and if positioned poorly they can unbalance a composition. There are 3 types of balance used in design:

  • Symmetry: elements on either side of the axis are arranged similarly.
  • Asymmetry: elements on each side differ in shape but still are in visual equilibrium.
  • Radial: elements are arranged around a circular form.


Hierarchy is another principle that relates to how well elements can be understood visually. It refers to the importance of elements within a design. The most important elements should appear to be the most important. Hierarchies are represented in the following ways:

  • Trees: elements arranged in order of a tree with a trunk, branches and sun-branches.
  • Nest: elements mapped on to each other as parents, children and grandchildren.
  • Weight: elements of the same weight belong to the same class of a hierarchy position.

Scale and Proportion

Proportion is simply the comparative size of elements relative to each other. Proportion can be used in a composition to create a sense of distance or demonstrate a size difference. Proportion can also be used to create or unhinge the balance in a composition as their visual size and weight will automatically establish themselves in the composition.

  • Size: elements of different size in relationship with each other.
  • Ratio: elements related to each other in a ratio appears together in visual harmony.
  • Division: these create a focal point that automatically gives a sense of the relationships.

Emphasis or Dominance

Dominance (also known as emphasis) may seem similar to proportion but is actually more to do with the visual weight of an element. The dominant part of a composition is the one that stands out the most or appears closest to you. The following are components of emphasis or dominance:

  • Highlight: breaking the visual hierarchy using form to lay emphasis.
  • Colour: to distinguish between elements in a series of similar for.
  • Size: elements of different sizes focus the viewer’s attention accordingly.

Similarity and Contrast

Contrast refers to the arrangement of opposite elements in a piece so as to create visual interest, excitement and drama. This can be done in a variety of ways such as through light vs. dark colours, rough vs. smooth textures, large vs. small shapes, etc.

  • Light & dark: clear foreground & background separation Lend contrast between elements.
  • Line: elements of varying textures and forms bring about a contrasting effect.

1 thought on “Episode 2: Understanding the Fundamentals of Design”

  1. May allah help an improve all the skills needed.
    Design here is soo exciting 😘.
    One thing about this site is I’ve learned many things about architecture

    Liked by 1 person

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