Design is everywhere. It is on water bottles and t-shirts, websites and hoardings, packages and boxes, and the things inside them. It is everywhere, and it is screaming for our attention. Some designs that intrigue, fascinate, foster curiosity and look appealing, draw in the viewer, while other designs that are ordinary without vibrancy or urgency – any visual appeal – fail utterly to captivate. Both sets of designs use the same basic elements, however, and it is worth listing them to engage with the designs that surround us more fully, or to take up a more proactive role of creating designs that are compelling.
Design Elements of Canvas
Designers work on what can be described as a digital canvas that is like the painter’s in the sense that it allows the creator to give ideas a definite form that is either functional, aesthetic, informative, useful, or a combination of these in varying degrees. The elements that make up the digital canvas, which houses designs are as follows:
Space is one of the mysteries of the universe. It is infinite in the real world, but definite and limited for the designer. Hence, the designer is forced to use it optimally. Space in terms of design can be divided broadly into two types – negative and positive. Positive space is made of other design elements like typography, shapes, objects. Negative space is everything that gives these elements room to breathe on the digital canvas. A balance between the two kinds of spaces is critical for designs. With an excess of either, the design stands the risk of seeming too crowded or too empty – both of which, fail to impress the viewer.
How to maintain a balance between the two types of spaces? By using imaginary grids for perfect alignment and measurement. Grids allow us to divide the space into equal parts and to place different elements accurately in them. It is useful for photographers and so is a feature on DSLR’s. It is useful for designers, so design software programs have it. They allow us to observe the amount of positive space and negative space in the design, and to establish order in space, which could otherwise be wild task.
Another element of photography that spills over to design is that of framing. Frames allow viewers to draw inferences from the image. Therefore, they are crucial for the designer. They are an off-shoot of grids in the sense that they are imaginary (conceptual) and allow us to position objects purposefully for effective communication. But they are different from grids because they’re not static. It’s not a feature in DSLRs or design software because it can’t be. It is a perspective and a perception. Hence, a designer must develop a sense for it. For instance, while designing a portrait, the subject must be the center of attraction that pulls the viewer to the design. If the framing of the design fails to lay this emphasis on the subject, the design defeats the purpose of a portrait.
Design Elements on Canvas
So far, we have identified design elements that help us use the digital canvas. Now let’s look at the ones that find themselves on it.
Point is probably the smallest element of design. They’re most often used in series as lines (every line is a series of connected points). And lines combine to form shapes or objects in design. The element lets you outline your ideas in distinct fashion. Point uses the principle of scale to define small and big objects. They use other principles like direction – a line can be straight or oblique to give a sense of depth – to alter the perception of shapes and objects. They can be repeated to form patterns or used in a way to denote a certain texture. Points and lines help frame ideas and bring concepts to life.
What follows points and lines, is the need for further definition of design – more details. Color emerges as the next main element that adds to the meaning and mood of any design. It makes designs look more real (as the world is colorful), and even surreal at times. Colors communicate intent and meaning subliminally. When used well, they allow the viewer to instantly attach meaning or determine the theme – the concept – of any design based on their own feelings and experiences of the color. For example, red might remind the viewer of blood, danger, anger, a setting sun, etc. Depending on the context of its usage and possible associations, viewers can interpret and even feel colors in designs. Colors are also good indicators of similarities and differences in objects as they unite and separate objects in a visually obvious manner.
There is a classic rule in writing – “show, don’t tell!” The rule should apply more to designing than writing. Design is a more visual medium than anything textual. Texts help us form images with words, whereas design can form images, period. Does that mean there is no need for text? Of course not. Text adds to designs in its own way. They help create associations (sometimes remote) in the viewers mind due to their special detachment from the immediacy of the image and due to their ability to be direct and precise in communication. They can even bring together two disparate meanings together in a single design without incorporating two disparate images and creating confusion.
Every design must have a singular concept – an idea, theme, or purpose – that unites various elements harmoniously. The seeds for this harmony is sowed in the mind of the designer and the fruits from the seeds are reaped in the minds of the design consumers. With a clear visual concept and good execution, the designer can improve the fruits for the viewer, and thereby draw them closer or engage them with more purpose. A clear concept allows the designer to coherently compose the design.
Design is easy once we familiarize ourselves well with these elements and how they relate to each other on the digital canvas. To bring these elements to life, however, we need to practice using and putting things on the digital canvas. For anyone, who is willing to invest time and effort in this endeavor, opportunities for remuneration and recreation are aplenty. Because design, like I said at the start, is everywhere!