“What is design? A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.” – Charles Eames

The purpose of visual design is communication.

Design is both a noun and a verb – it describes the thing created as well as the process of creating it.

A design is created with elements – line, shape, color, value and texture – that are put together using principles – unity, variety, emphasis, balance and space.

Although design can be divided into elements and principles for the sake of discussion, it is only when these elements and principles work together to form a whole that a design is considered successful.

The credit for analyzing forms and structuring design theory goes to the Bauhaus, a school founded in Germany in 1919. The Bauhaus developed a fundamental grammar of the visual, of which the central elements – the ABCs, so to speak – were the trio of primary colored shapes yellow triangle red square blue circle.

The metaphor the Bauhaus used is fitting; the elements of design can be compared to the elements of writing – words and punctuation – and the principles of design can be compared to the rules of grammar.

Design, like writing, involves problem solving, planning and organizing. In verbal communication, we choose which words to use and how to put them together to best communicate our thoughts and ideas. In visual communication we choose which elements to use and how to put them together to best communicate our thoughts and ideas.

We would not randomly throw words and punctuation on a page and expect them to communicate.

Should we do the same with images?

Most people do not think writing a sentence is anything extraordinary, yet they feel designing is something that only artists and designers can do. What they overlook is the fact that we have been taught verbal communication in school (year after year), but most people have had little, if any, training in visual communication.

We all learned to write sentences, to put together the elements of writing using the principles of grammar, to communicate verbally. We can learn to design in the same way, by putting together the elements of design using the principles of design, to communicate visually. If we can learn to write a sentence, we can also learn to design. It’s as simple as a b c.