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What are the Elements of Graphic Design?

In the early days of a Graphic Designer’s career, there are an overwhelming number of things that are crucial to grasp like the Difference between DPI & PPI and How Pixel Graphics are different from Vector Graphics. Among all of them, is Basic Elements of Graphic Design. Read along to discover what the complete list of Basic Elements of Design includes, understand their definitions, and grasp why it is essential for you to comprehend them.

As far as the definition of Basic Elements of Design is concerned, it is the collection of elements that contribute to the making and formulation of Visual Design. They are the basic building blocks, ingredients of a recipe, and small driving gears of a big machinery. In other words, if for some reason you need to disassemble a piece of Visual Design, these are the things that you’ll get after the disassembly.

The Basic Elements of Design can be broken down into the following:

  • Dot
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Space
  • Pattern
  • Texture
  • Color

Basic Elements of Design: Dot

What shape are Dots? The simplest way to define a Dot or a Point is to reference it from a dictionary. According to the dictionary definition, a Dot is a small round mark on a surface or any piece of paper. In terms of a Design Element, a Dot can be considered as the origin of every other design element. It is the starting point to expand to every other Element of Design. Designers often intentionally use simple circular marks in visual composition. They can strategically place Dots to create Patterns, Textures, Emphasize Points of Interest, or serve as connectors in design layouts.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
Colored background with a white dot in the center.

Basic Elements of Design: Line

When we discuss a Line as an Element of Design, most of the time it simply gets overlooked just because it feels a little counterintuitive to research what a Line is in Graphic Design. Trust me on this; you need to understand what a Line is. What are the characteristics and properties of a Line in design? For starters, we already understood what we mean by a dot as an Element of Design.

Imagine a dot goes for a walk, you get a Line. When you place a pencil or a pen on a piece of paper or any surface, the first thing you’ll get is a Dot. Move your pen in any direction regardless of the distance you travel; you’ll be creating a Line. This is how simple a Line is.

How many types of Lines are there?

Honestly, there could be almost an infinite number of types of Lines. The concept of a line is so simple to grasp that every mind can not only understand it very well but can create its own version of it and still be correct, at least by definition.

The common and probably the most used type of Line is a Straight Line. It can be defined as a Line with a continuous stroke whose direction remains unchanged, not even the slightest. This can be varied in thickness to create different visual impacts and hierarchies.

A not-very-distant cousin of a Straight Line is a Dotted Straight Line. It is a combination of small pieces of strokes and gaps, still following a straight path.

Another type of Line is a Wavy Line. This type of Line can be defined as a continuous stroke that has a high point and a low point, just like a wave. This line propagates in a smooth formation.

Similar to a Wavy Line, there is another type of Line that also has a high point and a low point, but instead of smooth propagation, this Line has points at its highs and lows. This type of Line is called a Zigzag Line.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
Colored background with different types of white colored lines on top.

Basic Elements of Design: Space

This is probably the most understood phenomenon of them all. From the early days of our education, when we were kids in school, our teachers first taught us shapes. From then on, we all have encountered Shapes in our lives more than once. We use and interact with Shapes almost every day. So, what Shapes are, how Shapes are made, and what are they used for? Today, in the context of Elements of Design, we will be redefining Shapes.

Shapes are made when we use lines repeatedly in specific Orientations, Arrangements, and Angles in correspondence to the previous one. Let me explain; you already know Shapes are objects in the 2D plan. You also know that to make Shapes you need to use Lines in different ways. Join the endpoint of a Line Segment to the starting point of the other one. Repeat this process until you get the desired Shape. Circle, Oval, Triangle, Square, Rectangle, Rhombus, Trapezoid, Pentagon, Hexagon, and Octagon are the names of a few commonly used Shapes.

Types of Shapes

From the Elements of Design standpoint, there can be two types of Shapes.

These are the ones that can be easily called Geometric Shapes, ones that obey Geometric Rules like the number of sides, number of angles, number of corners, etc. Circles, Triangles, and Squares are examples of Geometric Shapes.

The other one can be Organic Shapes; these are the ones that are Shapes by definition, meaning they are made up of repeated use of Lines but do not obey Geometric Rules. Organic Shapes are Irregular and Imperfect. These shapes are often curved and free-flowing and often seem unpredictable. These Organic Shapes are usually found in the natural environment. Leaves, Clouds, Ocean Waves, Flower Petals, Human Figures, Rocks, and Pebbles are examples of Organic Shapes.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
Colored background with White colored Geometric and Organic Shapes on top.

Basic Elements of Design: Form

You might have already guessed by now where this is going. We started with the Dot, then we defined the Line as the repeated use of Dots. In the case of Shapes, it is the repeated use of Lines on a 2D plan. Now, Forms are repeated use of Shapes in 3D space. To understand Form as an Element of Design, you need to grasp the concept of 3D space. In the 2D plan, there are 2 Axes, the X-axis & Y-axis, meaning you have a value for Length and a value for Width.

You can plot a 2D shape within this plan with the available information. Easy, right? Well in 3D space things get a little more complex. In 3D space, you have to deal with 3 Axes, the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis. Each of them corresponds to any one of the Length, Width, and Height or Depth values. It is a configuration of 2D objects in such a way that it pertains to a 3D object on a 2D surface by using Lights, Shadows, Contours, Negative Space, and its Surrounding Objects.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
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Basic Elements of Design: Space

The equally significant Element of Design is Space. The concept of Space refers to one of the fundamental Elements of Design alongside elements like Dots, Lines, Shapes, Patterns, Texture, and Color. Space, in this context, isn’t merely the absence of other elements; it’s a crucial and intentional design element that plays a pivotal role in creating visual compositions. Space in design is the area within and around elements in a composition. It is the available area to produce the artwork on any piece of paper or canvas. It’s the empty or unmarked area that gives objects and elements in the design room to Breathe, Interact, and be Perceived by the Viewer.

Types of Space

There are two major types of Space, that are Positive Space and Negative Space.

Positive Space: This is the type of space that is easier to spot within a piece of design. It is mostly occupied by the subjects or objects in a design. It’s the area where the primary visual elements, such as images, text, or shapes, exist. Positive Space is crucial for creating a focal point for the primary message or the Element of the Design. Designers often manipulate Positive Space to create emphasis and guide the viewer’s attention.

Negative Space: It is often referred to as “White Space”. It is the area surrounding the main subjects or objects in the design. It’s the blank space between and around elements. Negative Space is equally important as Positive Space; it contributes to the overall composition’s Balance and Harmony. Crafty use of Negative Space can enhance Readability, create Visual Interest, and establish a sense of Flow within a design.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
Colored background with different samples of a few visual designs demonstrating use of positive and negative spaces.

Basic Elements of Design: Pattern

Pattern as an Element of Design refers to the deliberate repetition of visual elements in a structured and harmonious way. These elements can include Dots, Lines, Shapes, Colors, or Motifs. This repetition of elements creates Patterns and is used to enhance the Aesthetics of a design, create Visual Interest, and establish a sense of Order and Coherence.

Types of Patterns

There can be as many types of Patterns as there are minds that can create and manifest them based on usage and preferences. A few commonly used types are:

Seamless Patterns: They repeat themselves perfectly across all edges, creating a continuous design. There are no visible seams or interruptions in the pattern, making it ideal for backgrounds and textiles.

Symmetric Patterns: They exhibit balance and harmony through mirror-image repetition. They often have a central axis with identical elements on either side, creating a pleasing and stable design.

Asymmetric Patterns: This type of pattern lacks perfect symmetry. Elements are arranged in a way that doesn’t mirror each other, resulting in a dynamic and less predictable design.

Geometric Patterns: These patterns feature regular, repeated shapes and lines, such as squares, triangles, or hexagons. They create a sense of order and structure.

Organic Patterns: These mimic natural forms, like Leaves, Flowers, or Organic Shapes. They offer a softer and more fluid aesthetic.

Abstract Patterns: They use non-representational shapes and forms to create visually exciting designs. They can be highly creative and open to interpretation.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
Colored background with three different white colored patterns on top.

Basic Elements of Design: Texture

One of the most overlooked Elements of Design is Textures. You might be asking, what is Texture? So, here is an answer for you. Textures are the visual and sometimes tactile quality of a surface, characterized by the arrangement and variation of elements like Lines, Shapes, Colors, and Patterns. From a Design perspective, it adds Depth, Dimension, and Richness to visual art and design, creating a sense of how a surface would feel if touched.

Major types of Textures

Based on their properties and characteristics, Textures are classified into the following types:

Tactile or Physical Texture: This refers to the Actual Physical Texture that can be felt by touching a surface. Examples include the roughness of a stone wall, the smoothness of glass, or the softness of a plush fabric.

Visual Texture: It is the illusion of texture created by artistic techniques in two-dimensional works. It gives the appearance of texture without the physical feel. For instance, a painting may depict the texture of fur through skillful brushwork.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
Colored background with paper, leather and wood texture on top.

Basic Elements of Design: Color

It is one of the fundamental Elements of Design, and it plays a vital role in the world of art, design, and visual communication. Color refers to the visual sensation produced by the different wavelengths of light. It is characterized by properties such as Hue, Value, and Saturation. Color has a profound impact on Aesthetics, Emotions, and the overall Perception of an Artwork or Design.

8 Basic Elements of Design; Master the Design Excellence
A segmented color wheel in the background.

How Colors are made?

The interaction of light with our eyes and objects creates colors. We can explain this process through two primary systems: Additive Color Mixing and Subtractive Color Mixing.

Additive Color Mixing: This type of color mixing occurs in systems that emit light, such as digital screens and stage lighting. It starts with darkness or the absence of light (black) and adds different wavelengths of light to create colors. The primary colors in Additive Color Mixing are Red, Green, and Blue (RGB). Combining all three primary colors at full intensity creates White Light. Varying the intensity of each primary color creates a wide range of colors.

Subtractive Color Mixing: Subtractive Mixing occurs in systems that work by selectively absorbing and reflecting light, such as printing and painting. It starts with a white surface or substrate (which reflects all light) and subtracts or absorbs certain wavelengths of light to create colors. The primary colors in subtractive color mixing are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (CMYK).

Basic Color Terminologies.

Color can be overwhelming at first, but you don’t have to worry. I have put together a short list and their brief definitions to walk you through the hard part.

Hue: Hue refers to the pure, dominant color of an object on the color wheel. Examples of hues include Red, Blue, and Green.

Saturation: Saturation, also known as chroma or intensity, describes the purity or vividness of a color. Highly saturated colors appear vibrant, while desaturated colors are more muted.

Value: Value represents the Lightness or Darkness of a color. It’s often described on a scale from black (low value) to white (high value). Changing the value of a color can create shades and tints.

Shade: A shade is a color created by adding black to it, making it darker while maintaining its hue.

Tint: A tint is a color created by adding white to it, making it lighter while preserving its hue.

Tone: A tone is a color created by adding both black and white to it, altering its brightness and maintaining its hue.

Complementary Colors: Complementary colors are pairs of colors that are opposite to each other on the color wheel. When placed next to each other, they create contrast and can enhance each other’s intensity.

Analogous Colors: Analogous colors are colors that are adjacent to each other on the Color Wheel. They share similar undertones and often create harmonious color schemes.


In conclusion, designers build every visual masterpiece on the foundation provided by the Basic Elements of Design. From the humble Dot to the vibrant world of Color, these elements are the essential tools in a Designer’s Arsenal. Understanding their Definitions, Properties, and Applications is not just a matter of theory; it’s the key to creating compelling and impactful visual compositions.

These elements, like pieces of a puzzle, come together to craft the stories, emotions, and messages that captivate our senses. They are the Artist’s Palette, the Architect’s Blueprints, and the Writer’s Words, all translated into a language that speaks directly to our eyes and hearts.

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