The important elements of visual communication

Being familiar with the elements and principles of design and visual communication in general will enable you to create more effective visual messages whether you are a designer a photographer or an artist. It can help you even if you are not any those, but want to able to talk about what you see in the visual culture using the visual vocabulary. In this post, I’ll be discussing about the elements. (**updated on 27/8/13**)


  • Space
What do you see by wdj(0) on Flickr

photo by wdj(0) on Flickr

When we discuss space we usually make the separation and describe it either as negative or positive space.

Positive is the space filled with elements, whereas negative is the empty space. Sometimes which is what can be confusing especially in optical illusions. But both of them are crucial of effective visual communication.

Common design mistakes where space is concerned is totally ignoring the negative space and filling up everything, or trapping the negative space in the center of the layout, leaving holes in the composition.

Remember that our purpose in any form of art is to communicate a message and not fill the canvas or page with unnecessary clutter.


  • Line
Are you caught in between the patterns of life By Vinoth Chandar

photo by Vinoth Chandar

Line is our most essential tool in filling up the negative space. They come in many variations, like straight, angular or curvy. And also many flavors like thick, thin, dashed, dotted, etc.

Read Also:  Masters of Art: Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 - 1792)

Negative space can also form lines like the lines of the margins in a page, or even our computer screens edge. Lines are used to construct boxes and borders, and also even more sophisticated things like typography.

Additionally they can be used to align, or arrange items in a layout. And control the viewer’s eye’s movement through our composition.

Common design mistake is the use of really thick and bulky borders. Remember that most probably we need to focus the viewer’s eyes inside border, not the border itself!

  • Shape

Shapes or form if you like, can either be organic or inorganic. Inorganic shapes and forms are precisely geometric, such as perfect squares, or circles, polygons etc. We call them thus because they rarely appear in nature.

Organic shapes and forms on the other hand are more easily found in nature. Both can trigger instant recognition, and evoke emotions.

Red door in the sunshine by Steve-h on Flickr

Red door in the sunshine by Steve-h on Flickr

  • Size

Size of elements can be used to emphasize or de-emphasize items in a layout.  Size can either be relatively measured or be of exact size.

  • Patterns

Like shapes patterns can either be organic or inorganic. But unlike shapes patterns are all about repetition. Inorganic patterns are repeated without variation.

Read Also:  Life and Paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525 - 1569)

Organic patterns are looking more “random” and natural but still the same elements are getting repeated over and over, only this time might be having different sizes or appear in varying distances.

Patterns create order and familiarity in layouts, and depending their usage can communicate a tactile quality.

  • Texture

Mixed media art, acrylic paint, thickly applied oil; the paper we use to print or draw all can provide texture. Texture makes things appear more organic and natural. Designers and artists have some times to create the illusion of a texture to make things more realistic either on screen or on paper.

Textures are also very often misused and overused in the design world. For example while adding a bevel or emboss might seem a good idea for an on-screen mockup, considering it for a print solution is not the best way to go. There are special techniques to achieve this effect in post-production.

Common design mistake is the over abuse of textures literally everywhere .

Remember just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we *really* have to!

Abandoned Mansion, Beirut By craigfinlay on Flickr

Abandoned Mansion, Beirut By craigfinlay on Flickr

  • Value

Value refers to the tones of light and dark. Unlike most people opinions there isn’t just black and white, in between there is a spectacular range of varying shades of gray.

Read Also:  Masters of Art: Giovanni Lanfranco (1582 - 1647)

In black and white photography, pictures with very little gray value, lack in variation and seem flat. The same is true in color compositions as well, where tonal values there range from light to dark colors.

Value can create the sense of depth, and also create variation and visual interest. It can be used to emphasize, highlight things and de-emphasize others.


If you enjoyed and found useful this article, feel free to comment and also don’t be shy to ask if you have any questions.

Article publié pour la première fois le 27/08/2013