A Mini Course in Design Principles


This course is designed as a complement to the line-study problems and it is taught during the second semester. Simple exercises based on a variety of design principles using cut paper or brush and plaka are done outside of class. To keep focus on process, cut paper and a restricted format are specified. Black and white plaka are used for sketching with a brush in a very loose, free manner. This encourages student exploration while examining numerous options before finalizing an image.

Students need to expand design experiences, acquire design vocabulary, and at the same time, to identify and understand theoretical design principles in a broader sense than found in the line and shape exercises.

Depending on how much time we have, or how slowly or quickly students progress with line-studies, we sometimes do compositions. This is a substitution when we did not have time to do research and design for an animal, bird, reptile, insect, etc. One year we did still-lifes using fruits and vegetables. Other years we did compositions based on a profession or an activity. On two occasions, one section did a composition based on Alaska while the other section did a composition based on Arizona.

Complexity of the composition problems is based on time parameters and an estimate of student capabilities. It was obvious that students understood very little about composition, and without criteria, they experienced great difficulty in organizing elements into a composition.

While the line-study sequence has always been extremely effective, it has always concerned me that there were so many aspects of design composition that were dealt with indirectly, and compositional tools and criteria needed to be more strongly emphasized.

When students enter the basic design program, they are predominantly content-oriented with emphasis on representational imagery. The principal objective for basic design is to make students perceptually aware and better able to see visual qualities as well as content. They should learn to view any image including representational, as an abstraction. It is important that they understand visual criteria and how theoretical principles relate to practical design. Knowing design principles does not in itself make a good designer it is how they are applied that determines quality.

Sequence of Exercises

01 Dynamic and Static Composition

02 Defining Space through Placement

03 Defining Space through Scale and Value

04 Illustrating Two Shapes as One, as Two or in Tension

05 Tension Relationships

06 Tension to Achieve Visual Balance

07 Preserving Integrity of Shape with Tension

08 Figure-Ground as Tension

09 Activating Ground with Shape

10 Activation of Figure and Ground to Create Multiple Planes

11 Maximum Activation of Ground with Minimum of Figure

12 Composition of Tension Lines Illustrating Space and Activating the Picture Plane

13 Contrast of Size and Surface

14 Division of a Square into Intervals of Line and Shape

15 Line Intervals to Define Planes
0a A flat plane receding into space
0b A curvilinear plane showing form

16 Organization and Establishing Priorities

17 Final Project: Composition Illustrating Application of Principles


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