Elements and Principles of Design

I think people would have a lot more fun with fashion and be less afraid of it if we thought about it more in the terms of the elements and principles of design. The elements/principles provide a framework for analyzing the aesthetics of an outfit. The fun part is finding an interesting way to use the elements to apply, stretch, or challenge the principles. I couldn’t find an authoritative list of the elements/principles anywhere, so I tried to combine the multiple sources I found to make a decent list, and here’s the best I could come up with.  If anyone knows a better one, please let me know!


Line: This includes lines that are on the fabric (like stripes) and the line that is created by the edge of garments.

Form/Silhouette: Form is any three dimentional object.  Form can be organic or geometric. I’m not sure whether Silhouette should fall under line or form, but either way, it’s the outline created by the clothing.

Color: Color has three main characteristics: hue or its name (red, green, blue, etc.), value (how light or dark it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is)

Shape: defined as an area that stands out from the space next to or around it due to a defined or implied boundary, or because of differences of value, color, or texture

Texture: the way a surface feels or is perceived to feel. Texture can attract or repel interest to an element, depending on the pleasantness of the texture.


Balance: Balance is the a state of equalized tension and equilibrium, which may not always be calm. It relates to our physical sense of balance, and creates visual stability.  Balance can take multiple forms, including symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, mosaic.

Proportion: Proportion refers to the relative size and scale of the various elements in a design. The issue is not just the size of an element, but the relationship between objects, or parts, of a whole. Viewing distorted proportions typically makes people feel uncomfortable.

Rhythm: Rhythm creates an easy, connected path along which the eye follows a regular arrangement of motifs. The presence of rhythm creates predictability and order in a composition.

Emphasis:It marks the locations which most strongly draw the viewers attention. Usually there is a primary point of emphasis, possibly with secondary emphases in other parts of the composition. The emphasis is usually an interruption in the fundamental pattern or movement of the viewers eye through the composition, or a break in the rhythm

Unity: Unity is the underlying principle that summarizes all of the principles and elements of design. It refers to the coherence of the whole, the sense that all of the parts are working together to achieve a common result; a harmony of all the parts

Contrast & Variety: (maybe): These was on quite a few lists, but not all. It seems to me to be somewhere in between an element and a principle. Basically the gist is that too little contrast/variety is boring, but too much can be overwhelming and/or distracting.


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