Design Basics Part 1 of 3: Elements

Design affects just about every aspect of our lives. From the chair you are sitting in to your favorite tee, design has had a profound impact. We live in a world of both poorly designed things (I'm sure you can image a thing you have seen that is clearly poorly design) and well-designed goods.

Many people don't realize that they are a contributor to design. Countless Americans are expected to produce something, whether content or product, with very little understanding of their part in the design of a thing. Be it a typed document, marketing campaign, newsletter, web, social media post, retail layout, menu, dish or receipt you may be overlooking your impact in improving things.

So, a lot of things are designed. I haven't ever had to think about it before, why should I be thinking about it know? - Skeptic

The success of a thing is largely dependent on how well you engage with the consumer. And guess how you engage consumers successfully? Whether subconsciously or consciously, the customer is affected by visual and non-visual aspects of a thing... which are designed.

There are 3 major areas (or spheres) of design components, that, with even a basic knowledge of their existence, can launch you lightyears ahead in providing excellent, attractive and competitive things.

These 3 spheres are:




Each sphere is dependent upon and builds off the previous. It is important to first understand the function of each sphere and the pieces that belong in each sphere. In the first sphere of Design we have the ELEMENTS, which are the most basic and fundamental parts of design. There are only 5 elements and they are the building blocks for any design.

These 5 elements are:

  • LINE


  • FORM



Just as with the spheres mentioned above, each element builds off the previous element in that succession to create a more realistic and dimensional thing (design, work of art, etc.). There are some who throw in a 6th element COLOR or they replace VALUE with COLOR. However, VALUE pertains to how light affects the thing. Since COLOR is 100% dependent on light, VALUE is more foundational than COLOR. VALUE can impact color, but COLOR does not exclusively impact VALUE. Color has a great impact on design and we plan on covering this separate subject with a "How It Works Wednesday: Color Theory", but for now, just know that it is there.

Let's start with LINE. A LINE is about as basic and simple as you can get.

What about a dot? Wouldn't a dot be the most basic you can get? - Skeptic

A dot is just a very short LINE.

As simple as a LINE is, however, you will see in parts 2 and 3 of Design Basics just how influential a LINE can be. A LINE can be physically or digitally represented. A LINE can also be invisible. Invisible LINES are formed when other elements share a common edge. This creates the illusion of a LINE. 

When there are enough lines and those lines intersect we get SHAPE. A SHAPE can also be a simple concept with major influence in design. Consider how we associate a circle with tranquility and a triangle with strength and power. SHAPES inherently are visually impactful. But there is something else missing. A 2-dimensional shape lacks the depth, volume and space that exists in the real world. 

How do we represent 3 dimensional and real space? Through the element of FORM. Add a few more lines and you can begin to develop enough information to manipulate perspective and space.

However, with FORM, we are simply left with a very flat and cartoonish image that we clearly know is not actually a box in space. That's where VALUE comes in. VALUE is the broad spectrum of light from the darkest darks to the brightest white. Light, and more importantly VALUE, will strongly dictate whether something can pass off as possibly being a thing that exists in real space.

Lastly, we have TEXTURE which allows the designer to inform you as to what the box is made out of. Is it a feather box? Is it a box made out of bubble gum? Nope, just a plain old plywood box.