Principles of Design

Session 2: Principles of Design


This indicates the relative visual size and weight of particular graphical elements in a design composition.

Proportion in art is the comparative harmonious relationship between two or more elements in a composition with respect to size, colour, quantity, degree, setting, etc.; i.e. ratio. A relationship is created when two or more elements are put together in a composition. This relationship is said to be harmonious when a correct or desirable relationship exists between the elements. This refers to the correct sizing and distribution of an element or object, which creates good proportion. Good proportion adds harmony and symmetry, or balance, among the parts of a design as a whole.

Check out this short video which looks at scale and proportion:

When the principle of proportion is applied to a composition it is usually to the relationship of size. That is, the size of one element of the composition as compared to the size of another related element. In the instance of a relationship of size a comparison is made between the:


Height, width and depth of one element to that of another.


Size of one area to the size of another area.


Size of one element to the size of another element.


Amount of space between two or more elements.

Proportion is usually not even noticed until something is out of proportion. When the relative size of two elements being compared seems wrong, or out of balance, it is said to be "out of proportion". For example if a person has a head larger than their entire body, then we would say that they were out of proportion.

In the "Bad Proportion" examples on the right of the illustration above, the top row, which uses equal division of the shapes, creates monotony, and in the bottom row the very unequal division creates a lack of harmony.

There are times when proportion is exaggerated to convey a message. (see the examples below.) It is impossible to hold the world in your hand yet this composition does exactly that. White out can be used to cover all sorts of things but it is unlikely you would paint cross-walks with it.

Good Proportion

There are several ways for achieving good proportion:


Place together elements which are similar in character or have some feature in common.


Create major and minor areas in the design since equal parts can quickly become monotonous and boring. However, the differences in size must not be so great as to make the parts appear unrelated and therefore out of harmony with each other.


Arrangement of space should be in such a way that the eye does not perceive a standard mathematical relationship. Dividing up the composition in halves, quarters and thirds should be avoided. A subtle relationship creates a more dynamic design.


Create harmony in the composition. Harmony is an agreement between the shapes that stresses the similarities of all parts. In other words, the shape of one part should "fit" the shape of the adjoining elements. Shapes should "fit" properly in their positions and spaces.

Try This:

While no one but you may see this hands on exercise, take the time to do it just as if you were turning it in for a grade. It will help reinforce what you have learned.

1. Look for poor examples of proportion from a media of your choosing. Explain why they are poor examples in your own words. Then suggest ways in which you would improve them.

2. Find 3 examples of exaggerated proportion and explain how it helps to visually communicate what the designer wanted. In your opinion, were they successful and why? Would you have changed anything?