The elements of design are all around us, from the logos on our clothes to the interiors we live in. But have you ever stopped to think about what makes a design great?
The answer lies in the elements of design.
The elements of design are the building blocks of any visual piece, and understanding how to use them effectively can make all the difference in developing a great interior space.
In this blog post, we will explore the elements of design and how you can use them to create visually stunning interiors. Whether you are a professional interior designer or just starting out, understanding the elements of design is essential to creating impactful and memorable spaces.
The Elements of Design
Element of Design #1: Line
By definition, a line is a connection between point A and point B.
Lines are important in interior design because they can affect how we perceive a space. For example, vertical lines tend to accentuate height. On the other hand, curved lines can create a sense of movement through a space.
I have listed the common types of lines and the kinds of psychological effects they create below.
Horizontal: Secure, reposed. Visually offset the direction of gravity.
Vertical: Restrained, formal. Draws the eye upward. Especially useful when you want to instill a feeling of awe through grandiosity.
Diagonal: Movement, dynamism. Can present themselves as going from bottom to top or top to bottom. More visually interesting than horizontal or vertical lines.
Zigzag: Rhythmic, lively. Can add a sense of both movement and energy in a space. Just be wary of using it too much and creating a confusing space.
Curved/Circular: Soft, graceful. Can be used to break up angular lines. Curved lines are capable of adding softness and femininity to a space.
Flowing: Gentle, can imply growth. A flowing line is a curved line that moves irregularly. Their movement can be random or spiraling.
Tightly Curved/Busy: Visually stimulating, lively. You can find these types of lines in complicated patterns or motifs.
Element of Design #2: Shape/Form
The simplest way to conceptualize shape and form is to think of it this way:
- Shape is a two-dimensional outline of an object/motif.
- Form is a three-dimensional configuration of an object/motif.
A three-dimensional object always has both a form and a shape. If you were to stand directly in front of a couch and take a photo of it at eye level, then you’d be photographing its shape, not its form.
When it comes to designing interior spaces, you should be incorporating a variety of forms and shapes.
That said, you should also think about the principles of scale and proportion when deciding whether to include a particular form or shape in your space.
Element of Design #3: Space
Space is in itself infinite, but we delineate parameters through construction. We build walls, floors, and ceilings to define a space. Space is important to space planning, as it is what limits our otherwise infinite design options.
A space can be small or large. Sometimes we want the comfort and coziness of a small space, and other times we want the freedom that a large space offers to us. Regardless of what we may want, we are often limited in our space in one way or another. Perhaps we have a large room we want to break up to feel smaller. Or we have a small room that we want to feel larger. There are ways in which to accomplish this, such as through color or pattern mixing.
Element of Design #4: Mass
Mass is what exists within a shape or form. You can also think of it as the density or mass of an object. This mass can be actual density or optical density.
You want to utilize furnishings that are heavy when you are designing a large room. This will prevent the space from looking empty once it has been furnished. However, you can also create heavy mass by grouping various furnishings together. This is called massing. A couch coupled with a side table, coffee table, and a table lamp will carry more mass than a couch whose side table and coffee table are further away. Similarly, a lone painting on a wall has less mass than a gallery wall.
Element of Design #5: Texture
Texture is both the appearance and the feel of a surface.
You determine texture in two ways:
- You can touch a surface.
- You can observe a surface.
These two methods will not always produce similar results. That is to say, something may feel soft, but it may look rough. A printed textile of the bark of a tree is an example.
You can apply this element of design to your interior projects by ensuring you incorporate a variety of textures. However, it is important to recognize when two differing textures do not work together or do not reflect the function of the space.
When selecting textures, also consider upkeep. Smooth textures tend to show dirt and/or dust. Rough textures tend to conceal dirt and dust. So, if the furnishing you are selecting has a rough texture, then it will require less maintenance.
Below are some adjectives that describe texture.
Words describing texture that you see: shiny, glassy, dull, opaque, translucent.
Words that describe texture you see and feel: fuzzy, light, heavy, smooth, rough, soft, hard, lumpy/bumpy, feathery, wrinkly, leathery, silky, gritty.
Element of Design #6: Color
Color is one of the elements of design that most beginner designers are familiar with. It generally presents itself in the form of color schemes. These color schemes can be simplistic or complicated depending on the design.
Warm-toned colors such as red, yellow, and orange are generally stimulating. Cool-toned colors like blue, green, and violet are generally calming.
Color theory is an extensive topic on its own, but here are a few things you should definitely know.
The value of a color refers to how dark or light it appears. Pink has a low value, while red has a high value.
Saturation refers to how vibrant a color appears. The closer it is to the vibrancy of the primary colors, the higher its saturation. The closer to black or white it appears, the lower its saturation.
Element of Design #7: Pattern
A pattern is when a motif is repeated to create a larger design or composition.
Generally, patterns fall within four categories:
- Geometric Motifs
- Natural Motifs
- Stylized Motifs
- Abstract Motifs
Patterns can establish a rhythm in a room, and add visual interest. That said, pattern mixing is not always easy. If you are looking for more information regarding patterns and how to mix patterns, you can check out this post on pattern mixing. There, I discuss the factors that go into pattern mixing, including color, scale, and proportion.
Element of Design #8: Light
There are two types of light you should be aware of when designing: natural light and artificial light.
Natural light is generally the most desirable. Natural light can filter into a room through windows or skylights. However, because it is natural, you will likely have to include some form of screening to reduce the amount of light in a room. Curtains, drapery, and screens solve most issues related to glare and excessive heat.
We use artificial light when natural light is not enough. Artificial light can be either incandescent or fluorescent.
Light is a very important element of design to consider when designing because it can severely alter how we experience a space. A beautiful room that has lackluster lighting is pointless if you cannot see its details. Additionally, good lighting can make a space appear bigger.
How to Use the Elements of Design
You Want a Bit of Everything
The best designs incorporate most – if not all – of the elements of design. Now, you may not use all of the types of lines, or you may not use all of the different kinds of patterns. But, you should use the best lines and patterns for the mood and atmosphere you wish to convey.
As you begin to conceptualize your design, you can keep a list of the elements nearby to reference. Go down the list and ask yourself: Have I consciously considered the light in the space I am designing? Are there any challenges I will have to address? Do this for every element.
Again, you may not have to consider all of the elements, but at least consider some.
Know When It’s Too Much
Sometimes, when we consider the overall composition of a design, we find that our space just doesn’t look right.
The common cause of this issue is that there’s just too much going on. And it could be coming from various places. Maybe there are too many types of lines, too many textures, or many forms.
To address this, you can play around with subtracting some aspects of your design. Maybe you have a pattern on your wallpaper and a different pattern on a couch. Remove one and reevaluate your space.
Sometimes, the best way to analyze where your design is failing is through a photo or rendering. You can markup an image and take notes. Make note of all of the colors you are using, where you are using textures, and what kinds, etc.
Don’t Forget Function
If there’s one rule you ought not to ever forget about interior design, it’s that function comes first.
Real estate is pricey and a space that has no function is effectively useless regardless of its beauty.
How we intend to use a space determines its function. A hospital is designed differently from a kitchen because we use them in vastly different ways. Likewise, the ways we think about light, color, texture, and more will depend on the context in which we intend to use them.
So, as you design, ask yourself whether the choices you are making are appropriate for the function of your space. This will help increase your chances of creating a successful design.
Understanding the elements of design is essential for creating visually stunning and effective designs. The elements of design – line, shape/form, space, mass, texture, color, pattern, and light – are the building blocks of any interior, and by mastering them, you can elevate your design work to a new level.
The key to success in design is practice and experimentation. Keep learning and experimenting with different combinations of elements, and you’ll be surprised at how much your design skills will improve. Remember, design is a continuous learning process, and the more you learn, the better you become.