Principles of Design

Best practices for arranging text and images

Principles of Design
Principles of Design: Balance, Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, Contrast, and White Space. | Design & Layout | Alpha Index to Full Dictionary:. # | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | XYZ

The principles of design suggest how a designer can best arrange the various elements of a page layout in connection to the overall design and to each other.

In landscape painting, principles of design might govern where the artist places the mountains or how many clouds are in the sky. In page layout, the principles of design govern how many colors are used, the sizes of fonts, how many columns of text there are, or whether pictures appear next to each other or spread across the page — creating effective and pleasing arrangements of text and graphics.

Although this article discusses the princples primarily from a print point-of-view, you can also use your smartphone to practice your page layout skills.

Commonly applied principles of design include:

  • alignment
    how elements on the page line up with each other and with margins


  • balance
    the distribution of elements on the page


  • consistency 
    uniform use of design elements (see unity & harmony)


  • contrast
    differences between items on the page


  • emphasis or dominance
    creating a focal point


  • proximity
    how close together or far apart items are to each other (see grouping)


  • repetition
    use of the same colors, styles, shapes, or other elements and principles throughout a document (see harmony)


  • unity
    how well parts of the document work together (see proximity & harmony)


  • white space
    the use of emptiness to give a layout breathing room


  • grouping
    visually arranging distinct components so that they appear as a single element (see proximity & unity)


  • harmony
    establishing visual agreement among elements (see repetition, consistency, & unity)


  • flow or rhythm or directional movement
    arrangement of individual components so that they lead the eye of the reader (see hierarchy)


  • scale or proportion
    use of size to establish relationships or create a focal point (see contrast, white space, & emphasis)


  • center of interest or focal point
    arranging and/or sizing components to lead the eye to a specific area (see emphasis & balance)


  • hierarchy
    creates a pecking order or visual order-of-importance of all the components of a layout (see emphasis & center of interest)



Also Known As: design principles | principles of graphic design | principles of composition

Examples: "In the first illustration on this page, some principles of design at work include contrast between the font size and style of the headings with small text blocks, and contrast of light red script with black sans serif, repeating horizontal lines, the balance of short, large headlines with longer but smaller, lighter text blocks, headings aligned the same and all the small text blocks aligned the same."