Design Basics: The Four Core Principles | Ben Nielsen | Skillshare

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Design Basics: The Four Core Principles

teacher avatar Ben Nielsen, Good design is the beginning of learning

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Principle 1: Proximity


    • 3.

      Principle 2: Alignment


    • 4.

      Principle 3: Repetition


    • 5.

      Principle 4: Contrast


    • 6.

      Example Analysis and Class Project


    • 7.



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About This Class

Design is a principle based discipline, so the first step in becoming a designer is to learn the core principles that guide great design. In this class we will cover all of the 4 core principles to give you the basic understanding you need before you start designing. We will also engage in a fun class project to help you start to see the principles in the world around you.

Meet Your Teacher

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Ben Nielsen

Good design is the beginning of learning


I am passionate about good design and good teaching. I believe that anyone can learn simple design principles and tools that can help them create content that is both beautiful and functional.


Background: I am a media designer and librarian. My masters degree is in instructional design with an emphasis on informal learning.


Motto: Good design is the beginning of learning.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: So you want to be a designer? Well, the good news is that you're in the right place. This class is going to cover the four core principles of design. These are the building blocks of all great designs. Design is really not complicated, or at least it shouldn't be. And once you understand the four core principles of design and apply them in your work, your designs will start to look away. Better Designing visuals doesn't take some rare talent that only a few people are blessed with. And design isn't some mystical art that you have to climb to the top of a mountain toe life because it is a principle based discipline. Anyone, anywhere can start to learn to design. Once you learn the principles, you can begin to apply them to your work immediately. This isn't to say that design is completely formulaic. There is lots of room for creative thinking and design, and designers push and break the principles in unique ways to create amazing designs. But you have to understand the principles before you can start to use them in unique ways. So let's get started. Let's dive in and learn about the four core principles of design 2. Principle 1: Proximity: the first principle that we're going to learn is called proximity. Proximity simply means how close things are together. If I hold my hands close together, then they're in close proximity to each other. Why is proximity important design? Because the human brain uses perceived proximity to determine relationships about things. For example, if two things are close together, then we perceive them as being related or is being like each other. Whereas if two things are far apart, we perceive them to be unlike each other or to have no relationship an easy place for us to see an example of proximity inaction is with these two maps. Currently, the proximity of the keys to the maps tells us nothing about their relationship, and as a user, we would have to do deductive work to figure out which key with with which map. But if we apply the principle of proximity to this design, it quickly becomes clear which key goes with which map. We can determine that relationship based on where the map and key are. So when you're designing, always keep in mind the principle of proximity. If you have two elements, they're supposed to be related are they close enough together that the user can determine that? And if you have elements that aren't supposed to be related, are they far enough apart and out of each others way enough that the user Comptel? 3. Principle 2: Alignment: alignment is one of the most important principles in design. It is one of most pleasing aspects when it is done well and is one of the most aggravating aspects to viewers when it is done poorly. It is also one of the areas where new designers seem to struggle the most simply because they aren't paying attention to it or because they don't know the tools to deal with. Let's take a look at some examples of a wine first. We have three circles. These circles are not aligned it all. They look half hazard, and there's a sense of chaos about this. The viewer experiences some anxiety just because there's a lack of order to the image. In this case, we can make it feel better by simply aligning the circle. Now the circles are all aligned along their central line. Because all of these circles are the same size. They are also aligned along their top and bottom. If the circles were different sizes, we would have to choose what aspect of them to align. We can align this center or we can align the top or we can learn the body. Each alignment portrays a different relationship between. In this case, the bottom alignment conveys a sense of growth from the second to the third circle. Another piece of the concept of alignment is distribution. In this case, all of these circles have equal space between. This is pleasing to the viewer's eye and indicates that the relationship between the first and second circles is the same as the relationship between the second and third. Sir, there are other ways to align objects when they're going from top to bottom. The first, as you might have guessed, is to align their center. The left edges and right edges air also line because they're the same size. But of course, that changes. If we change the size of one of now, we can choose where to align. Always be aware of how things look when they're aligned. For example, when my circles are aligned to the left, my top circle looks a little awkward, like it is about to fall over. If I change my shapes two squares, however, then this left alignment gives a sense of hierarchy like the top square is more important, and above the other two course, we could also aligned them to the right, and that would give a different feel as well. Remember that alignment is crucial, but it is very hard to get right by eyeballing. All of the digital design programs have alignment tools built into them, so make sure that you are using those as you are designed. 4. Principle 3: Repetition: the next principle that we're going talk about is repetition. Repeating elements throughout your design helps to give a cohesive field to the peace. Repeating elements across multiple designs gives a cohesive field to a brand or portfolio. There are many things that can be repeated in design. Three of the most common are type, shape and color. You have seen me do this throughout the course. All of my slides used the same type face repeating shape, elements like the underlined and the colors black and white. Let's look at an example of a design peace with repetition. Here we have a mock up of a set of instructions. What do we see that is repeated here? There is the repeating number element down the left side, all in the same color and all in the same shape. The font is the same throughout. Of of the weight is different. Between the headline subheds and body text, we repeat the way in size to show what type of text each piece is. Although the picture is different for each step, it is always in the same place in relationship to the text and the shape elements like the sky and hills remain the same. You should always look at your piece and make sure that you are repeating elements throughout. Repeating elements helps to reduce the cognitive load of the viewer because once they figured out one of the repeating elements, they immediately also understand the ones that follow. 5. Principle 4: Contrast: The next principle that we're going to talk about is contrast. Contrast is when things are different, putting contrast in your design insurance that it will be readable. And like all of the design principles, contrast helps to define the relationships between elements on a layout. The key, to contrast, is to make sure that things that are different are really different. They can't just be a little bit different, or the viewer will be confused as to whether or not they're actually supposed to be different. And the relationship between the elements will become muddled. There are many ways to create contrast. Let's take a look at some examples. Black on White is an example of good contract. Like Grand White is an example of bad conscience. You can contrast in many different ways. One of those is with size. You can contrast large things with small things. Another way to create contrast is with form. You can contrast Sarah funds, San Serif fonts. This isn't a typography class, but just be aware that a Sarah font has little wings on the letters in a sans serif font does not have it. Another way to create contrast is with color. There are many ways to pray contrast with color, including varying your tints and shades. But the easiest way is to use complementary colors to contrast these air colors that are opposite each other on the cover, like red and green, blue and orange and purple and yellow. Contrast is crucial to the viewer being able to understand your design. For this reason, poor contrast can be a pitfall, and even experienced designers can create poor contrast for some kind of artistic feel that ends up making their design completely unusable. So always be aware of the level of contrast in your 6. Example Analysis and Class Project: that's it. We've learned the four core principles of design. You are now ready to go out and start using these principles in your own design work. But the best way to internalize these principles is to start looking for them all around you. For that reason, the project for this course is for you to go find examples of these principles in the real world. Here, the steps for the project find at least redesigned pieces. You confined mawr if you want to, but you really need at least three to get started. These can be anything they can be advertisements, computer program interfaces, billboards, business cards, anything that is a visually designed piece. Take photos of those pieces and then upload those photos to the project. Then in your project, analyze the four principles as you see them in each of the pieces of design. Let me show you what I mean with a few examples. Here we have an advertisement. This looks like it would probably appear in a magazine, and we want to analyze it according to the four core principles, so we'll just start out by going through them. Let's talk about proximity for a sec. Where do we see proximity here? Well, we see proximity in the titles over the hat, right? So the titles are supposed to relate to the hats. And with the tall cat, there's good proximity. But with short hat, the proximity is not as great. The title is far away from it, and so it might be hard to determine the relationship there, especially since that's the 1st 1 receipt. Why is that? Well, they want the titles to remain aligned, I'm sure. So they're using the principle of alignment to keep those titles in line with each other. Also, the fact that you have to drop your eyes way down is using that lack of proximity to really emphasize their point that their guests are different. Then the passengers, another airline. Where else do we see alignment here? Well, the hats are aligned together so that they're on an even playing, so that makes the contrast between them all the more apparent. You can see that we can't really talk about just one of the principles of design without talking about the others. The contrast here gets a little bit weak on the left hand side, where we have the white of the hat with the lighter end of this bluish green radiant. So that's not my favorite for contrast. The contrast is really good on the taller hat, and since that's the emphasis of the piece, I guess they're trying to guide our I there. But I would still appreciate more contrast on the left hand side. What do we have? A. For repetition? Well, we have the farm repeating in the titles of each of the hat, so passengers a and our guests dine. That's the same farm. We have white farms throughout except in the logo, and we have the repetition of the bluish green color throughout the design. The hats themselves are an element of repetition because you have one hat and then you have another. But they're also an element of contrast because obviously you're meant to compare one to the other and determined that the one on the right is better than the one on the left. All right, let's look at another exam. So here's a billboard for McDonald's ice cream, and what do we see here? Well, let's talk about proximity. The two cones are placed close together in the middle, which gives them proximity to each other, inviting us to directly compare the fact that there's two comes there. But the text on the other side is placed far away from each other, so the text is not necessarily related. Well, it is related, but it's the proximity of the cones that pulls it all together and helps us to understand the relationship between now. Contrast here is very good. Obviously, we have dark brown and white as the primary colors here, and we have white text on dark brown background and dark brown text on a white background and then white ice cream and dark brown ice cream. So the contrast years great. It's easy to read, which is very important in creating a billboard. As far as repetition goes, we have the repetition of the colors which binds the whole piece together. And we have the repetition of the farm, which reduces cognitive love by not asking us to change the type of font that we're reading while we're in the middle of it. We have contrast between the size of the text for the price and the size of the text for what it is so Obviously they're trying to emphasize the price by making it larger. Alignment here is a little bit interesting. Obviously, the comes are in the middle of the peace there, the primary shot there, the whole idea behind it. And then we have text on either side text, which is left lined to itself, but then begin in the yang, which our center aligned Well, actually, I think that on the right, there's left lineman on the yang center, alignment over on the left, on the so the alignment. You know, it works, but perhaps it could be better. All right, moving on. This is the weather app on IOS, and so this is really important. There's a lot of visual information being communicated, and so applying the principles of design here is really quite important. So proximity important that the main temperature is in close proximity to the name of the City Castle, that it's obvious that this is the temperature in Los Angeles. It's important at the time, and the weather icon in this case, the sun and the temperature that's expected at that time are all close together so that it's obvious that at 1 p.m. it's going to be sunny and 86 degrees. There's also alignment going on there, so they align each of those pieces down the center together so that it's easy to read them and you can tell that they all go to down below. There's alignment horizontally. So what's interesting here is they actually change the alignment. They do a contrast of alignment by first, starting with the alignment going straight down. And then they Lima going straight across the read Saturday will be sunny with a high of 88 low of 63. You can see that they're contrast ing the white of the 88 with the grayish blue of the 63 they're trying toe emphasize through contrast what the high will be and de emphasize what the low These are just choices that we make in design, but understanding the principles helps us to make those choices. So obviously, here there's repetition of the forms, so the farm for the different items gets repeat. So when it's words, it's a certain font, and when it's numbers, it's a different form, and there's repetition of icons. So the sun appears and the same sun appears when it's partly cloudy weather so that they're not changing that element. That's that element were a completely different sun symbol that would increase the cognitive load on the viewer. Okay, that will do it for these examples. That's the kind of analysis that I want to see you doing in your skill share project. When you upload your photos, tell us what you see going on with the four elements of design. 7. Conclusion: congratulations. You've made it to the end of the course. You've learned the four core principles of design. So the next question might be, where do you go from here on your journey to becoming a designer? Well, the first thing to do is to complete the project for this course, like we talked about in the last video. That will help you to start looking for the four core principles in the world around you. And that's something that you should be doing every day. Whenever you have a little bit of time. Whenever you're someplace new, think about the four core principles and how they're being used in the things that you see when you're in line at the grocery store, look at the packaging on the things that they're selling their in life and analyze it for the four core principles. When you're waiting for your food and restaurant, look at the menu. Look at the table tents that are sitting there and analyze those for the four core principles. Going through this type of practice will really help you to see how you can apply the principles in your own work. Now there are many courses on design here and skill share that you can take now and begin to learn the tools that you need to have to be able to do really excellent design. I realized that if you're just starting out as a designer, you might not have access to some of the higher end programs like Adobe Illustrator and in Design. For that reason, I have created courses that anyone can use to start learning how to design with tools that they already have. I have courses on how to design a power point, which most people already have on their computer. And I have AH course on using the assembly app on iPad, which is free and can create awesome vector illustrations. So check out those courses on my channel if you want to learn how to design without spending a lot of money upfront on some program, I also recommend that you get a book about design that you can reference easily when you're working. The book that I recommend is the Non Designers Design book by Robin Williams. The designs in that book are not my favorite, but the principles that she teaches are really good and really clearly put together, I've found that it's very useful in teaching new designers about the principles and how to apply them. Thanks so much for taking this course, and I hope to see you in another course very soon.