Elements of Design: A Rundown of the Basics

Learning the basic elements of design is an important step for beginning graphic designers, and it's a helpful review for expert designers. The basics are the building blocks that create your design. Using them in a thoughtful, precise manner is key to conveying the exact image you want to portray. Knowing the basic elements of design also helps you look at a design and understand it better.

What are the elements of design?

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Type
  • Value
  • Space


You know what a line looks like, but do you know all the ways you can use them in your graphic design? A heavy line can represent strength. A diagonal line may guide your viewer's eyes to look in a certain direction. A zigzag line can lend an active structure to your design. As you use lines, think about their weight, length, and how they divide your composition. Even simple lines can completely change your message.


Enclose your lines to form a boundary, and you have just created a shape.

  • Geometric shapes follow precise structures, such as an isosceles triangle, circle, or a square.
  • Organic shapes look more like something you'd find in nature, with curves, smooth edges, and undefined structure.
  • Abstract shapes may represent a real thing, but do not exactly look like the objects they represent. For example, an abstract shape representing a bear might be a simple combination of circles and ovals to make the viewer think of a bear shape.


The use of color in any design is very powerful. A bright red circle will convey a different message than a light purple circle. Color studies show that our brains react to colors in certain ways. For example, blue has a more calming effect than orange. Color is a basic element of design, but you can dig deep into color theory to use colors effectively in your designs.


Using texture in a design adds depth and subtlety. Instead of incorporating a plain white background, you may opt to use a smooth, tan paper texture, which makes your design look like it has something to do with paper, books, or writing. A bubbly texture inside a raindrop shape can help emphasize the idea of water. Textures can be used throughout your entire design, or in just a small part of it.


Not all designs must include type, but when you do use it, you can change the lettering to make it more appropriate. You can use big, bold type for special emphasis, or small, curvy script for an elegant appeal. Some designs may be okay with more than one font, but usually, it's best to keep the type fairly consistent in style and size.


Let's say you use only the color green in your design, but you have a full range of value. That means you have light green, medium green, dark green, and all the greens in between. Value gives you the ability to add different contrasts in your design, and it helps you create items that are behind or in front of other items. Instead of portraying a flat, two-dimensional surface, you can use values of colors to portray a sense of three-dimensional space.


A crowded design without much space around the objects will feel busy and constricted, while a single design in the middle of a large space will feel open. You can think of space in terms of positive and negative. The positive space is the space your design covers. The negative space is the surrounding area. How you use up your available space is an important thing to consider as you create.


As you begin to create a design, be aware of the way you use line, shape, texture, and the rest of the basic elements of graphic design. They all add impact to your overall design. Some elements may be like a foundation for your design, so that if you take them away, your design would be gone. Other elements may be more decorative, adding a certain touch to the design that you like, but it could be removed if necessary.

As you work with CorelDRAW, experiment with the elements of design. You'll be surprised how a single change in one element can give you an amazing new idea!

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