Design principles describe how artists can arrange the elements (letters, shapes, etc.) in their work. These principles are important because they help to create more engaging artwork than if they weren't used.
I have a BFA in art with a concentration in graphic design, so these ideas were drilled into my head! I'm lucky to be so familiar with the principles of design because I'm able to create stronger compositions in my lettering.
I've seen different interpretations as to what the definite design principles are, but generally these six ideas (in no particular order) are included: balance, proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast and space. This post is the first in a series in which I'll discuss basic design principles and how to apply them to lettering.
So let's kick things off with balance. Balance simply means that the visual weight of a design appears to be equal. That equality is important because ultimately the entire composition needs to feel comfortable for the viewer. Something will just seem off if it's not properly balanced. There are a few ways you can achieve balance in your lettering:
- The most straightforward way is through symmetry. If you were to split a design in half down the middle, both sides would be identical. In lettering, perhaps you'd have the exact same decorative elements at the beginning and end of a word.
- Balance can also be achieved through asymmetry, where a design would not be identical on both sides if you split it in half. However, you can still distribute the visual weight equally on both sides even though you aren't using identical elements on both sides. In lettering, this could mean that you add a swash at the end of a word to balance out a capital letter at the beginning of the word.
- I'll touch on this more later on in my post about space, but you can also achieve balance by utilizing the positive and negative space in your composition. Positive space is created by whatever shape you create. Negative space is automatically produced by the empty space surrounding that positive shape. Even though there is nothing in the negative space, that empty area acts as visual weight.
The lettering I made for this post combines the two ideas of asymmetry and positive/negative space. The capital "B" and the tall "l" add visual weight to the left side, whereas the right side has four similarly weighted letters ("ance") since none of them have ascenders or descenders. I actually opted to use a capital "B" instead of lowercase so it would add even more weight to that side. Even though split down the middle it would seem like the left side is heavier, the negative space above (and a little below) "ance" balances out that weight.
The underlying concepts of symmetry and space are key to creating balance in any piece of art. By using the basic principle of balance in your lettering, you'll create a final product that's much more pleasing to the eye.