Chapter 3. Design Elements, Design Principles, and Compositional Organization

3.5 Summary

Alex Hass

Exploring the design possibilities that the organizational systems discussed in this chapter possess is an endless undertaking. Once these systems are innately understood individually, a designer can begin to play with layering two systems within one design project. Combining contrasting systems often works well. For instance, an axial system combined with a radial system tempers the axial system’s linear focus and anchors and diffuses the rays emanating from the radial shapes. A grid combined with a dilatation system gives the composition both vertical and horizontal structure that is softened by the rounded shapes. Organizational systems give the designer ways to distribute words or images within a structure while allowing negative space into the centre of the design space.

Compositional strategies are design constraints. The definition of a design constraint is to apply or impose limitations on the elements or design of a system. The compositional strategies (systems) discussed above are in fact design constraints, and they should be understood as parameters that assist the designer in the design process rather than as restraints that limit the designer’s creativity. Parameters are necessary in every visual system. Applying a visual organizational system also allows the designer to focus on the message and the details of a design project rather than on the structure of the composition that holds the work together. Visual systems create visual unity.


Questions to consider after completing this chapter:

  1. Name the design principle that distorts realistic relationships for visual effect and emphasis.
  2. Name the three building blocks of design that pertain to form.
  3. Describe the eight organizational systems that apply to typography.
  4. What are two typographic categories?
  5. How many levels of visual hierarchy are needed for hierarchy to exist?


Bartel, M. (2012). Principles of design and composition. In Some ideas about composition and design. Elements, principles, and visual effects. Retrieved from

Bradley, S. (2011, January 31). Counterpart and counterpoint in typographic hierarchy. Vanseo Design. Retrieved from

Bringhurst, R. (2004). The elements of typographic style (3rd ed.). Point Roberts, WA: Hartley and Marks Publishers.

Lupton, E., & Phillips, J. C. (2014). Graphic design: The new basics (2nd ed.). New York City, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.

Moholy-Nagy, L. (1947). The new vision and abstract of an artist. (1st ed.). New York City, NY: Wittenborn.

Porter, J. (2010, March 12). Visual hierarchy. 52 Weeks of UX, week 10. Retrieved from

Suggested Readings

Bradley, S. (2011, January 31). Counterpart and counterpoint in typographic hierarchy. Vanseo Design. Retrieved from

Elam, K. (2007). Typographic systems. New York City, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.

Sans Serif, The. (2011). Retrieved from

Taylor, K. (n.d.). The metaphysics of color. Philosophy talk. Retrieved from