Wallpaper Project: Part A

5 lessons

The elements and principles of design

The elements and principles of design are the building blocks of everything visual. It’s important to have a basic understanding of what they are and what they are for, before we begin to analyse and ‘unpack’ the works of other makers.

Lesson menu


  • Device
  • Internet
  • Camera
  • Copy of the quick reference sheets
  • Software to collate personal reference sheets (InDesign or Google Slides)

Guiding questions

  • What ARE the elements and principles of design?
  • Why are they important to understand as a student designer?
  • What should I aim to keep in mind moving forward?
  • Do the elements and principles exist ‘naturally’ (without human intervention)?
  • Why is it significant that designers understand and have CONTROL over their application of the elements and principles of design?

Lesson Content

  1. Everything that we can see can be described using the elements and principles of design  or ‘DE + P’.

    On one hand it’s important to understand WHAT the elements and principles are so you can DESCRIBE something that is visual (translating something visual into words is a skill in itself). On the other hand - understanding the DE + P helps us analyse and judge the QUALITY of designed outcomes. Ultimately you have to know what they are if you’re going to actually use them, let alone use them to extend your ideas.

    So what are they?


    Elements: aspect of something; ‘colour’ - the cat has black and white stripes

    Principles: how the elements relate to each other - the coloured stripes make a repeated pattern

    In fields of design there are rules and practices around how to use the DE + P. Understanding what they are and how to apply them is important because it means you are in control of the affect your design will have. It’s also important to know the rules so you can decide to intelligently break them.

    Block One

    Paper Leaf's reference sheet

  2. Most people notice when something is ‘badly’ designed. We’ve all seen a ‘bad’ website or poster. Often things that are well designed are taken for granted; you just like it and don’t realise that it is the result of a skilled designer. At this stage we want you to start noticing the design elements in the world around you. Next lesson we will start to examine the use of DE + P in the work of other makers. We love these reference posters from Paper Leaf because they show the DE + P in simple graphic form.

    This lesson is all about creating your own reference sheets by looking closely at the world around you.

    It doesn’t matter if you have just started your journey as a maker - slowing down and studying the fundamentals keeps it real. We challenge you not to skip ahead if you think you already know this stuff.

    Block Two

    Paper Leaf's reference sheet

Let's do something!

  1. 1

    Check you understand

    • Have a quick look at this reference sheet - this is the kind of thing you’re about to make, except yours will be labeled correctly
    • You should be able to match up the element/ principle with the image, you may even notice that more than one DE + P suits the image
    Check you understand

    Anjuli's reference sheet - match the word with the image

  2. 2

    Take some carefully considered photos

    • Head out to capture an example of EACH design element and principle
    • Try and photograph one example that is human made and one that is naturally occuring for each element and principle
    • Use the shot types from last lesson to help you compose good images
    • Use the link at the bottom for examples of photographic design principles for a bit of extra help
  3. 3

    Store and sort your images

    • As with last lesson - digital housekeeping is key
    • We suggest using Google Drive and starting a ‘Design Elements’ folder
    • Delete anything blurry or that you don’t want
  4. 4

    Collate into reference sheets

    • This can be done quick and easy using free software such as Google Docs or Google Slides (both can be exported as PDFs)
    • Or … this could be a great opportunity to use Adobe InDesign to layout your reference sheets. Check out the tutorials at the bottom if you’re keen
    • Send them to us! If you’re proud of your sheets we will gladly use them as examples if you would like - send them in!
  5. 5

    Review your reference sheets

    • This is the perfect time to look at your natural design ‘bias’ or ‘designer voice’ because there would have been hundreds of photos you could have taken
    • Look at the ones you have taken - is there anything that they have in common? A certain type of object? A shot type? A certain colour palette? 
    • If you notice anything note it down - this will be gold later
    • Lesson 2 of the Art in Isolation Project has a little more info

Anjuli's Reference Sheet

  1. Anjuli's Reference Sheet

Intro to InDesign

We love Daniel Scott. This is a long tutorial but you'll get what you need if you're new to (or fearful of) Adobe InDesign.

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