Learn the 9 Principles of Design: contrast, emphasis, movement, repetition, proportion, rhythm, unity, balance, and variety.

Know the 9 Principles of Design

Know the 9 Principles of Design: Contrast, Emphasis, Movement, Repetition, Proportion, Rhythm, and Unity. This will help your students learn how to arrange the Elements of Art and make aesthetically-pleasing compositions.

Movement is the use of line, shape and color to suggest action or create a sense of motion in an artwork. It’s paired with the principle of Balance which is the visual distribution of weight to keep an artwork looking even and stable.


Contrast is the use of opposing elements in a composition to create a sense of depth and draw the viewer’s eye around the artwork. Contrast can be used with any of the art elements, including color, value, texture and shape.

Contrast can include paired colors that are chromatic opposites or can involve contrast in scale, such as the use of large and small shapes side by side to amplify their differences. Contrast also includes varying levels of detail in an artwork to emphasize certain areas or create a sense of movement.


Emphasis is the process of making a particular area or subject in an artwork noticeable. Artists use various art elements like size, value, color, texture, shape and line to create contrasting effects for emphasis.

For example, Michelangelo positioned the hands near the centre of the painting so that our eyes naturally gravitate towards this area. This is an example of emphasis.

Artists also use a visual hierarchy of the various elements to create a sense of focus in their work. Read our blog on unity to learn more about how artists create this effect.


Movement is a visual principle that helps artists capture dynamism and action in their works. It can be depicted through varying techniques and elements like line, color, shape, texture, space, and value.

Unlike video or dance art, which can show actual physical movement, artworks need to create the illusion of motion. There are four types of movement in art: physical, implied, rhythmic, and optical. Each has its own unique way of directing the viewer’s eye through the composition.


Repetition (re-peh-TIH-shun) is a common art principle that closely works with patterns and rhythm. Artists use repetition to create unity and a sense of consistency in their compositions.

Regular repetition is seen in Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup Cans painting. Each canvas features the same size, shape and subject matter to create uniformity and predictability.

Irregular repetition, on the other hand, is seen in Donald Judd’s Untitled (Stack) artwork. Each box contains different colored circles, but they are arranged in an irregular pattern.


Proportion is the comparison of the size of different elements within a composition. Artists use proportion to create depth and perspective, symmetry, and balance. They can also manipulate proportions to create stylized drawings. For example, a cartoonist may exaggerate the size of their subjects for a comical effect.

Proportion is a key element in creating aesthetically pleasing artworks. It can be found in a wide variety of art forms, from paintings to sculptures.


Rhythm describes the variety and repetition of elements in a piece of art that come together to create a visual beat or tempo. The movement of these elements can be regular, alternating, flowing, or progressive.

A simple example of rhythm is when artists use shades and lines that are portrayed in a regular pattern, such as the work of artist Piet Mondrian. However, if the rhythm becomes monotonous, it can become distracting to the viewer.


Symmetrical balance is one of the most common and technical forms of balance in art. It is when the same art elements are mirror images of each other on both sides of the work of art – also known as bilateral symmetry.

Asymmetrical balance and radial balance are other formal types of art balance that are more flexible and creative. These designs allow for more visual variety but still maintain the stability and equilibrium that is achieved with symmetrical balance.


Unity is a design principle that ties together different elements in a piece of art to create coherence. It can be achieved through repetition, proximity, consistency and continuity.

The most common methods of achieving unity in an artwork include using continuing edges, shapes and lines to connect areas of the composition. It can also be created with the use of similar values, shapes and colors to tie the pieces together.


Variety is the use of different techniques and elements to add complexity and interest to a piece of art. Whether it is color, line quality, shape language or brushwork, adding little twists to your design helps to keep it interesting for the viewer.

Artists use contrasting lines (bold against thin), textures, shapes (geometric against organic) and colors in limitless ways to create a sense of variety within a composition. It also balances unifying elements to help create or reinforce a visual theme in artwork.

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