Decore how-to: Principles and Elements Part II

Continuing on from Part One, we continue with our message (and the message of million’s of others) that good design is founded on principles and elements.  They “describe fundamental ideas about the practice of good visual design.”  After covering Principles in Part One, we’re on to Elements.  But before turning to Elements, I found this quote by William Lidwell that I found quite interesting, stated in “Universal Principles of Design:”
“The best designers sometimes disregard the principles of design. When they do so, however, there is usually some compensating merit attained at the cost of the violation. Unless you are certain of doing as well, it is best to abide by the principles.”
The elements of design are:
  • Line
  • Colour
  • Texture
  • Form
  • Light
Line is defined as the starting points of shapes and form, seen as moving points in space – they create different effects as the eye moves from one point to the next.  They can be described as curved, straight, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, organic, masculine, bold – they can communicate concepts and atmospheres, like daintiness, boldness or grace.
Curved lines can be viewed as more playful and informal, although the controlled curves found in objects like furniture can be more formal than free flowing curved lines found in plants or the folds of curtains.  Diagonal lines can increase visual width, and are also less formal – however they are sometimes difficult to apply successfully.  They appear strong when in opposition to each other, but weak when portrayed individually.
Straight lines express force, with verticals appearing strong and dominant, drawing the eye upward and adding height.  It has a formal effect, and seems active, where horizontal lines seem restful.  Horizontal lines also give the effect of width.
While we have covered colour in more depth previously, we have to reiterate its importance as a design element.  Beside the obvious design influence that colour has, we must also realise the unconscious influences that it has.  It arguably has the most important role in obtaining elements and principles – for example, objects arranged with correct proportions can suddenly appear incorrect when the colours are changed, seeming unbalanced.  If a stronger colour is introduced, the object or area may seem heavier.  Should there be a lack of balance, there won’t be any sense of harmony in the design, which is the ultimate goal of any design.  While there are no firm rules, the effect of different colours should be considered due to their ability to create atmospheres and influence moods.  It’s wise to always bear the intensity of a hue in mind.
Texture is the surface quality that deals with the sense of touch – we appreciate it in a tactile/physical sense, as well as visually appreciating the effects that it may have. (For example, the highlights and shadows that are caused by a specific texture – the surface patterns my change with changing light.)  Certain textures also communicate certain messages, like that of something sheer and light giving the impression of something dainty.

Rough textures such as wood or wool appear to be warmer and more informal, and absorb light, whereas smooth, fine textures reflect light.  These textures more easily suggest formality and a cool environment.  Coarse textures tend to diminish colour, so are often most effectively used in conjunction with dark colours.  However, pile fabrics such as corduroy and velvet both reflect and absorb light.  Therefore combinations of textures can create a colour scheme even if the overall colour scheme is monochromatic.



Form can be two or three dimensional – two dimensional forms are defined by lines, whereas three dimensional forms are defined by volume.  Form should contribute to harmony in the space, with the basic building blocks being square, rectangular, triangles, and circles.Square forms are viewed as regular and stable, but can become monotonous when used alone.  Rectangles add visual length or width and triangles are visually interesting and draw attention to corners.  Circles and ovals can seem formal and self contained – they keep the eye within their borders, as well as creating intimate environments.



Hugely important, artificial and natural light contribute a great deal towards focal points and balance.  Design should be approached in such a way that natural light should be able to create balance unaided, and when it becomes dark and that light changes, artifical light must then restore that balance.  This allows an opportunity to switch between day time and night time focal points.  Light can completely change the atmosphere of a room.


As mentioned in Part One, the place to check out for design and decor information and courses is the Design School South Africa – for information about their open days, check here.

Always remember though, that knowing the rules well means you can break them well!  And if you’re confused or stuck, there’s always Portfolio.

– Lee


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