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Elements of Design definition

Elements of Design (© Creative-Touch /

Elements of Design (© Creative-Touch /

Design is a huge part of internet marketing, whether that means designing a website, designing a logo or designing a digital publication. Fortunately, there are many guides and rules that can help make design easier. One such aspect is to consider the ‘elements of design’.

Elements of design are the key elements that make up a design. These include:

  • Color
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Texture
  • Space
  • Form

When designing anything, considering each of these things can help a great deal and provide a fantastic starting point.

For instance, color theory is a huge and complex subject within design that explains which colors work well together and which do not. Choosing the right combination of colors can instantly make a design look more appealing.

Line refers to a point moving in space and this can be a curved, straight, horizontal, diagonal or vertical line. How does the line draw the eye? Are the lines a set width or to they taper? And are they implied? Or broken? Shape is similar and implies a ‘boundary’ which can be useful for segregating your designs.

openPR tip: One of the most important elements of design from a web developer’s standpoint is space: the space within an area or between an area. Consider the role of overlapping objects, highlighting and atmosphere.

An easy way to improve a great number of web designs is simply to add more white space. More white space helps you to make certain objects within your design stand out more by creating contrast (see below). Likewise, it helps you to make your site more easily responsive and can make it appear less claustrophobic or busy.

Principles of Design

A related concept is principles of design. These are the concepts and ideas that you should consider when making your design. They include:

  • Unity/harmony
  • Balance
  • Hierarchy
  • Scale/proportion
  • Dominance/emphasis
  • Similarity and contrast

For instance, is there balance between the two sides of the image or the page? Is there visual harmony or are the colors and shapes discordant? In terms of the hierarchy and the dominance, what elements on the page are prominent? Which ones stand out the most?

While this might all sound a little bit abstract and arbitrary, you will quickly see how useful these concepts are when you try to put them into practice.

Load up your web page right now and ask yourself:

  • Is the page balanced? Or is there too much going on at the top/bottom/left/right?
  • What takes prominence? What is the dominant image? Is it what it should be?
  • How have you employed contrast in order to lead the eye?

Psychology and Web Design

Taking all these subjects into account, you can then think about how your design elements and principles are impacting on the viewer and whether this is in line with your marketing goals.

Leading the Eye

Good design should lead the viewer’s eye in the way you want to. What’s the first thing someone will look at on your website?

Using contrast can help you to draw the eye by making something stand out more. Something large surrounded by smaller objects for instance, or something red on a white background. Keep in mind that the eye tends to follow left to right, and that the eye also tends to move straight to the largest object. That said, a sequence of items getting slowly larger can imply a certain hierarchy.

The F-Zone

The F-Zone might sound like a computer game (or something rude), but it actually refers to the way people view websites when they first load up. Specifically, it explains the pattern that our eyes move in when we’re greeted by a new page – which forms the shape of an F as we look along the top first, then the left hand side, and then across the middle.

This is interesting because it uniquely impacts the way that you will guide the viewer’s eye in this context.

If you have something that you need to be seen then, or if you have any critical navigation elements – put them in those places and they’ll definitely be seen.


One of the most important maxims to consider in design is ‘communicate, don’t decorate’. In other words, all the elements on your page should be there for a reason: not ‘just because they look nice’. This means you need to add things because they help to create a nice line that will lead the viewer’s eye, because they help to imply what should be clicked, or because they help to contrast with something else important.

openPR tip: Try to design your website by subtraction. Take away elements and see if this loses anything in terms of the functionality. If it does not, then in the vast majority of cases you will find that this was the right decision.

People Are in a Hurry

A universal truth that you need to understand about your visitors, is that they will almost always be in a hurry. Studies have shown that use of the internet actually shortens our attention spans, because we’re so used to getting the information we want immediately and in bite sized chunks. When you’re used to reading Twitter, you lose patience for sites that force you to navigate through lots of pages to find what you want.

Make your site immediate then or you will lose your visitors. And this goes double for people making mobile sites. That is where contrast comes into play and why it is so important to lead the eye. You can’t leave your visitors guessing even for a moment where they should be clicking next. Try to see this as a ‘chain’ of interactions with each interaction leading straight into the next. If that chain gets broken, then you lose the visitor. At the bottom of your article should go another link to the next one.

People Like to Click

One of your goals as a webmaster should be to try and get people to click on your links, and many businesses will pour a lot of time and resources into trying to figure out how they can do that. The good news here though, is that fortune is actually on your side in this case. That’s because people actually like to click on links – again it’s a behavior that we have learned and doing so can actually stimulate the release of dopamine.

Getting people to interact with your site then, should really be a simple case of ‘giving them what they want’. Make your buttons large and click-friendly and people will be much more likely to click them. Think about the color here (red apparently gets clicked more than any other color) as well as the texture. Is it clearly a button rather than just an image?

This sounds minor, but it makes a huge difference. Think about how much more satisfying some apps and websites are to order food from. Some just feel better to interact with because the buttons are large and have a visceral reaction to being clicked. Make sure your web design creates that same feeling of interaction and trust.

These are just a few of the different ways that you can use design elements and principles to build better websites and ultimately increase your engagement.

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