Idea flows

Principles of Design

What is Beautiful? Easiest way to explain is; something that gives us pleasure. In fashion something it has tobe something that gives us aesthetic pleasure. Another way to explain is things that cause us to spend the least amount of effort to see, we call those beautiful.  Based on the amount of pleasure we derive when we look at things, there are degrees of beautiful; nice, good, great, fantastic, fabulous, amazing, awesome,…

Beauty is created in stages, after a lot of practice, perseverance and sometimes after a lot of trial and errors. Translating a thought in to a product sometimes happens very quickly and sometimes takes quite a bit of time. 

Perception of beauty changes from one individual to another based on their upbringing, their culture, their environment, their individual beliefs, interests, their exposure to different things, their life experiences.

Each of us may not consider the same thing as beautiful. But there are a few things most people consider beautiful. When asked to define beautiful, most of us are at a loss for words, we can point out things we consider beautiful and things we consider ugly, but most times we cannot pinpoint the reason why we call things ugly or beautiful. We may be able to say what makes us feel it is beautiful(I smile when I look at it) or ugly(am uncomfortable or creepy when I look at it).

As fashion professionals, it is of utmost importance that we be able to create beautiful things. Things may make our customers uncomfortable but when they are unable to take their eyes off an object, they will still consider it beautiful. Only then they will accept something new and contribute to making it popular. (Remember fashion is something new and popular)

All those involved in designing follow a few guiding thoughts called Design Principles to create decorative designs using Elements of Design. Design Principles are not rules, they guide us. Design Principles are open to be given unique interpretations by individuals while utilizing Elements of Design in their creation. Design Principles are used either structurally (shapes of objects/garments) and/or aesthetically (visually or appearance of objects / fabric). Design Principles help us in using elements of design in a unique and harmonious way. Many times a creator is ok if their creations are not called beautiful, but they surely don’t want their creations tobe called ugly. Usually, some of the Principles of Design are used to create objects/products that won’t or can’t be considered ugly.

Generally there are 10 Principles of Design. They are:

  1. Repetition
  2. Gradation
  3. Radiation
  4. Contrast
  5. Dominance
  6. Proportion
  7. Balance 
  8. Rhythm
  9. Unity
  10. Harmony
  11. Functions of principles of design are:

• Radiation, Dominance and Contrast draw attention and highlight, create a focal point.

• Repetition, Gradation, Radiation and Rhythm lead the eye over the design in directional movement.

• Unity amongst design details is put together by use of Repetition, Gradation, Harmony and Balance.


Repetition occurs when any element of design is used more than once in a garment. As it makes the eye travel over the detail, it is directional. The movement unites the design.  Human body is symmetrical, that means repetition is inbuilt. Same way a garment has elements placed symmetrically – sleeves (2), pockets, collars, lapels. Buttons or other trims and embroidery on a garment can also be used symmetrically. Pleats, Gathers, Darts and Panels may also be repeated symmetrically. Designs on fabric have repeats.  Types of Repetitions:

• Irregular

• Regular

• Inverted

• Alternate 

• Parallel


When repeats are graded down or graded up, it is called gradation. Grading is the process of either enlarging (making big) or reducing (making small) versions of the same thing. The proportion and ratio of the structure is the same while enlarging or reducing.  Gradation helps in uniting shapes, colour, line and size. Gradation also helps in transition(moving)  from one to the other detail of design.


Radiation is a principle applied to line and shapes. When from a central point, movement spreads in numerous directions, it is called radiation. The movement creates interest on the central point from which the elements radiate outwards.  Radiation is directional in nature, it could be in same direction or in several directions or opposite directions or all directions at once.

DOMINANCE (Emphasis)

Dominance principle highlights by having a focal point in design or a point holding the design. Usually one single point sets the mood for the design. In absence of a focal point eyes are bored and restless.

Another way to explain…. When the eye is carried first to one prominent space/shape/colour/point in the design and then travels to other details of the design in the order of its prominence, then the principle of dominance or emphasis is achieved. 

Sharp, thick lines are more prominent than thin lines. Warm and bright colours, shiny textures are visually dominant. Combining unusual textures, shapes and colours can contribute to creating Dominance/Emphasis.

To avoid Dominance from turning into bland or monotonous or boring, a designer must ask themselves a few questions: What to emphasise? (colour, texture, shape)How and how much to emphasise?(repetition, expanse of space, usual or unusual, vertical or horizontal or diagonal or radiate or random, goups, singular) Where to emphasise? (neck line, bust/chest area, hem lines, sleeves)


When 2 or more totally unrelated features (totally opposing ideas or characteristics) occur in a design, it results in contrast. Attention is drawn to the features, eyes travel from one feature to another without noticing much of what is between or around these features. Too much contrast can cause confusion (disharmony) instead of harmony.


Also referred to as ‘Law of Relationship’, proportion is the way in which all parts(spaces, details) within a design are related to each other. An important aspect of proportion is Scale. Scale means that the sizes of all elements making up the design have a consistent, pleasing relationship to eachother. The overall size of the design is related to the sum of the size of the elements used within a design. A small motif with bright colour in a design that is primarily of dark background creates the illusion of the motif and background being same in size.

All design areas being equal, may not appear pleasant. If there are equal parts in a design and they still look pleasant, then we consider it tobe proportional. By changing the proportions within the same space, different appearances can be created. Different proportions have different effects. By lowering the waistline of a gown up or down, appearance can be changed to long or short. The proportions of parts of a garment in their relation to each other will result in various looks.

Proportion can be created by following a few mathematical formulas or sequences but with every individual making their own interpretation. 

The Fibonacci Sequence (similar to sequences followed in ancient Indian art and architecture) is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21….goes on, add 2 consecutive numbers to arrive at the next number.

The Golden ratio of 1.618034 increasing or decreasing or dividing spaces/colours .

The π having a value of 22/7 or 3.14 is another formula used to create proportion in design. Using the π value, colours or spaces may be increased or decrease or divided.

Pareto Principle of 80:20 may also be used to divide/distribute spaces or colours.


In a design when visual weight of different elements is equally distributed, it creates balance. Balance gives stability to the whole design. Another way of explaining…. Balance is rest or repose. Restful effect is attained by grouping of shapes and colours to gain equal attention to each shape and colour.

In design Balance is achieved by symmetry(formal) or asymmetry(informal) or radiating, but with identical weight. Formal balance evokes sense of repose or dignity. Informal balance provides better opportunity for creating interesting arrangement of elements.

Balance in a garment can be adjusted by moving seams, yokes, panels and darts or by adding /subtracting fullness or by openings. Embroidery or trims such as Buttons or other surface ornamentation techniques all add their unique weights. Weights of each type of element should be considered before adding it to the design/garment.


Rhythm is achieved when elements placed in a particular manner cause the eye to move in a predetermined direction. Features of a design are arranged in such a way that the eye moves over the object (garment) in an orderly and predictable manner. 

Another way of explaining……. When movement is created in a design, Rhythm is achieved. Rhythm is a path for the eye to travel, easily connected by lines, colours, shapes, textures. Rhythm in design can be created by use of repletion, progression and continuum.

Rhythm may be achieved by use of gathers, pleats, frills, drapes, flowing hemlines, seams, laces or scalloped edges. 


Unity in design occurs when all elements placed together in a design appear as one complete piece of art. None of the elements are jarring to the eye, even if some areas attract more attention than others. Elements and Principles are used in such a way that complement each other rather than compete with each other. A completely united design is one where if even a minute element is removed, the design appears incomplete. All elements of that design are in perfect harmony with each other. Achieving UNITY in design is easier said than done. It’s always a thin line between Unity and chaos or clarity and confusion.


This principle fulfills the uniting function. Harmony occurs through consistent ideas that lead to right selection of elements, their right arrangement within a design. When one or more qualities of the design are similar, harmony occurs. Repetition may create harmony. Tones of same hue can contribute in achieving harmony, black and white become harmonious when grey is added. Lines making similar shapes create harmony. When design elements used in creating a garment are aligned with the mood of the garment harmony can be created. It’s very easy to arrive at disharmony while trying to achieve harmony.