Principles of design

Jan 28, 2019
The Principles are concepts used to organize or arrange the elements within a work of art.

Components of Principle of Design

  • Axis
  • Symmetry
  • Hierarchy
  • Rhythm
  • Datum
  • Transformation


  • It is a line established by two points about which forms and spaces can be arranged in a regular or irregular manner.
  • Imaginary and not visible except to the mind’s eye.
  • An axis is essentially a linear condition.
  • It has qualities of length and direction.

Characteristics of axis:

  • Induces movement and promotes views along its path.
  • An axis must be terminated at both of its ends by a significant form and space.
  • The notion of an axis can be reinforced by defining edges along its length.
  • An axis can also be established simply by a symmetrical arrangement of forms and spaces.

An axis serves to:

  • Points in space established by vertical, linear elements or centralized building forms.
  • Vertical planes, such as symmetrical building facades or fronts, preceded by a forecourt or similar open space.
  • Well-defined spaces, generally centralized or regular in form
  • Gateways that open outward toward a view or vista beyond.

Examples of Axis:

In Everyday Life:

In Architecture:


  • The balanced distribution and arrangement of equivalent forms and spaces about a common line (axis) or Point (center)

Types of Symmetry:

i. Bilateral symmetry

  • Refers to the balanced arrangement of similar or equivalent elements on opposite sides of a median axis.
  • One plane divides the whole into essentially identical halves.

ii. Radial symmetry

  • The balanced arrangement of similar, radiating elements.
  • The composition can be divided into similar halves by passing a plane at any angle around a centerpoint or along a central axis.

Examples of Symmetry:

In Nature:

In Architecture:


  • The articulation of a form or space by its size, shape, or placement relative to the other forms and spaces of the organization.

Types of Hierarchy:

i. Hierarchy by Size

  • A form or space may dominate a composition by being significantly different in size from all the other elements in the composition.
  • Dominance is made visible by the size of an element.

ii. Hierarchy by Shape

  • A form or space which is visually dominant.
  • By clearly differentiating its shape from that of the other elements in the composition.
  • The differentiation is based on a change in geometry or regularity.

iii. Hierarchy by Placement

  • A form or space may be strategically placed as the most important element in a composition.
  • The centerpiece of a symmetrical organization.
  • The focus of a or radial organization.
  • Being offset above, below, or in foreground.

Examples of Hierarchy:

In Nature:

In Architecture:


  • A datum refers to a line, plane, or volume of reference to which other elements in a composition can relate.
  • It organizes a random pattern of elements through its regularity, continuity, and constant presence.

Datum can organize the elements in the following ways:

i. Line

  • A line can cut through or form a common edge for the pattern
  • Grid of lines can form a neutral, unifying field for the pattern.

ii. Plane

  • A plane can gather the pattern of elements beneath it or serve as an encompassing background for the elements and frame them in its field.

iii. Volume

  • A volume can collect the pattern of elements within its boundaries or organize them along its perimeter.

Examples of Datum:

In Nature:

In Architecture:


  • Rhythm incorporates the fundamental notion of repetition as a device toorganize forms and spaces in architecture.

We tend to group elements in a random composition according to:

  • Their closeness or proximity to one another.
  • The visual characteristics they share in common.

Repetition can organize the elements in the following ways:

i. Size

ii. Shape

iii. Detail characteristics

  • Rhythm refers to any movement characterized by a patterned recurrence (Repetitions) of elements or motifs at regular or irregular intervals.

Rhythm can be organized in the following ways:

i. In a radial or concentric manner about a point

ii. Sequentially according to size in a linear fashion

iii. Randomly but related by proximity and similarity of form

Examples of Rhythm:

In Nature:

In Architecture:


  • The principle that an architectural concept, structure, or organization can be altered through a series of discrete manipulations and permutations.
  • In response to a specific context or set of conditions without a loss of identity or concept.

Examples of Transformation:

In Nature:

In Architecture: