Illlustrated Design Principles

These design principles are found in Molly Bang’s book, Picture This. This book not only gives design principles and examples, but also presents them so you can visually understand what is communicated to the viewer through pictures. I recommend this book to all visual artists as a supplement to their design library. I re-drew these book illustrations using Illustrator.

Smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm.


Vertical shapes are more exciting and more attractive. Vertical shapes rebel against the earth’s gravity. They imply energy and a reaching toward heights of the heavens.


Diagonal shapes are dynamic because they imply motion or tension.


The upper half of a picture is a place of freedom, happiness and triumph. Objects placed in the upper half often feel more spiritual & important. An object placed there has greater pictorial weight.


The center of the page is the most effective. It is the point of greatest attraction.


White or light backgrounds feel safer to us than dark backgrounds because we see well during the day and only poorly during the night.


We feel more scared looking at pointed shapes. We feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves.


The larger the object is in the picture, the stronger it feels.


We associate the same or similar colors much more strongly than we associate the same or similar shapes.


We notice contrasts. Contrasts enable us to see … through our associations and perceptions.


Try one or more of these out in your next design assignment. Pick on that supports your purpose or intent and incorporate it into your design work.

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4 Responses to Illlustrated Design Principles

  1. I’v;e never quite seen design principles expressed like this. Emotional impact. Very archtypal. I need to review this a couple of times to remember it. Where do you teach?

  2. cherylcolan says:

    Oh, these are just my top ten from Molly Bang’s book, which is under $15 and has tons more in it. It is one of the best books I know of to really teach how images work, what makes them work. In her book she illustrates a scene from Little Red Riding Hood out of nothing but colored paper and basic shapes – rectangles and triangles – and I think she limits herself to 3 or 4 colors. She keeps pushing it until she finds exactly what will make the scene have the most impact. It’s completely brilliant and you should buy it, it will blow your mind.

    I teach at Scottsdale Community College in Scottsdale, Arizona. We do offer online classes, and this is one of the exercises I have my students do, illustrate a scene from a fairy tale using nothing but basic shapes and no more than 3 colors plus black or white. It’s fun!

    Thanks for your comment, Kathleen.

  3. Useful for analysing the emotional impact of colour choice and perspective in film as well. Thanks for sharing.

  4. leelzebub says:

    Thanks so much for making this, I’m bookmarking this into my design folder. It really clarifies the basic principles that people who have never taken art classes (like me) need to know to make our pictures more effective.

    I may even convince my parents that this is a necessary textbook for the class ;D

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