principles of design

Visual Arts

Accepted conventions associated with organising the visual art elements into more complex units. Includes:

  • pattern: a regular arrangement of repeated or alternated visual art elements or design motifs, derived from combining visual elements such as shape, line, colour
  • repetition: repeated use of certain visual art elements multiple times to create pattern or emphasis; incorporating repeated sequences into an art form to emphasise aspects of production
  • harmony: relates to the organisation of the visual art elements or design principles into a unified composition. Harmony can be achieved by combining similar shapes, textures or colours, within an artwork
  • contrast: juxtaposition of different visual art elements and/or design principles in order to highlight their differences; to create visual interest or a focal point
  • unity: unity means the organisation of the composition into a meaningful visual arrangement and can be achieved through such means as re-use of imagery, visual art elements or design principles. Unity does not mean uniformity
  • balance: art elements that are arranged to create the impression of equality in weight or importance. Balance can be described as symmetrical or asymmetrical
  • scale: scale relates to size or proportion. In a composition, the differences in scale can draw attention to a focal point or emphasise particular aspects of the artwork
  • proportion: relationship of scale between the parts of a group within, or beyond the parameters of the composition of an artwork. Using the relative size of visual art elements against each other can attract attention to a focal point
  • emphasis: positioning of visual art elements and/or design principles which are considered important in creating a focal point within the composition
  • perspective: artistic device for creating the illusion of distance (or a third dimension) on a 2D surface; such as parallel lines appearing to meet at a single point on the horizon, known as the vanishing point. Also, creating the illusion of distance by reducing the intensity of colour, the amount of detail and the size or scale of the subject/object, so as to imply its distance from the viewer.


In creating the sensory environment a scenographer or designer will select and control the follow aesthetic principles that add to the quality of the experience:

  • Balance: objects, colours and other stage elements can be symmetrical providing an impression of evenness or asymmetrical providing an impression of imbalance or discomfort.
  • Contrast: occurs when there is a marked difference between two aspects of drama. This can be used to focus audience attention or used as a symbol or metaphor, for example, use of contrasting light and dark colours in design or contrasting use of comedy and tragedy in a play.
  • Emphasis: bringing the audience’s attention to something by making it bigger, stronger, louder, brighter or clearer. Emphasis can be part of writing, direction, acting or design.
  • Harmony: the arrangement of elements (for example, the use of particular combinations of colours) that create a sense of congruity, order or calm.
  • Movement: the sense of energy and motion created by patterns in design elements.
  • Pattern: the creation of sequences that encourages the audience to anticipate and expect that sequence to continue or change.
  • Repetition: the selection of elements to be featured in a performance to emphasise as well as surprise especially when creating new associations
  • Rhythm: both musical rhythms (for example, variation in tempo and beat) and the patterns form in approaches to design (simple, gentle – complex, aggressive)
  • Scale/proportion: the relationship between the size of objects presented on stage as their relationship with observed reality
  • Unity: the sense of connection and belonging created by the sharing of common qualities in the elements on stage.
  • Variety: the offering a new patterns to the approach to design and performance.