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The Elements Of Design Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2891 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The elements of design are the building blocks used to generate a work of design. The elements form basic vocabulary of the design, while the principles constitute the broader structural grammatical rules of the composition. The principles of design can be considered as what we perform with the elements of design.

The elements of design are point, line, shape, form, space, colour, texture and type.

Point is the most basic element of the design. It is an element which has position, but no extension. It is a lone mark in space with an exact, but restricted, location. Alone it can form a prevailing relation between positive and negative space.

Even though there is a single point or one spot on a blank page, there is something formed into the brain that will bring meaning to it.

If there are two points, the eye will make a visual link instantaneously and ‘see’ a line. If there are three points, it is obvious to read them as a triangle; the mind provides the links. This impulse to associate parts is explained as grouping, or gestalt. It is the fundamental tool the designer adopts to develop an illusion (Figure 2.1).

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Line is the most important element of the design. When several points are joined together, a line is formed. It refers to an elongated mark that connects two or more points. It defines the shape in a picture and creates a sort of visual path in the picture. It also separates one shape from another and all the shapes from the background of the design. Some ways that you might use lines in your design are to:

Separate shapes

Create movement

Provide texture

Convey a mood or emotion

Define shape

Provide emphasis

Provide a framework

Types of line

Straight Line


Straight line denotes rigidity, force, strength, hardness, muscularity, robustness, crispiness, stiffness, etc. It reinforces body lines and angles. It also counters curved lines and rounded body areas.


Figure 2.2 illustrates how straight lines can be used in the form of structural, functional and decorative aspects of design. Structural applications of a straight line are found in the following forms.

Square & V necklines



Seam lines




Curvy Line


Curvy line denotes flexibility, liveliness, rhythm, energy, speed, weakness, delicacy, softness, feminine, grace, sensuality, etc. It holds attention of viewer for a long time. It reinforces round body curves. It also counters straight lines and angular body areas. Curved images like circles, semi circles, arcs, etc. make the curves of the body more dynamic (Figure 2.3).


Figure 2.4 illustrates applications of curvy lines in the form of structural, functional and decorative aspects of design. Structural applications of a curvy line include

Round neckline



Round neckline


Seam lines

Directions of line

Vertical line


Vertical line denotes stability, dignity, majesty, stiffness, rigidity, intellectuality, formality, strength, stately, conventional, efficient character etc. It reinforces length & height by dividing the body. It emphasizes thinness and adds slimming effect by countering horizontal line. When several vertical lines are repeated at very close intervals, they carry the eye across the body, thus creating illusion of increased width.


Figure 2.5 shows applications of vertical lines in the form of structural, functional and decorative aspects of design. Applications of a vertical line include

Deep square neckline

Pointed collar

Warp stripes







Row of buttons


Long sleeves

high heels

Illusion created by vertical lines:

The judicious choice of line in fashion design can generate optical illusions to flatter the look. Usually, vertical lines which draw the eye up the body without disruption will present taller and slimmer illusion. Lines which prevent the eye from moving upward will produce a shorter illusion.

The application of a horizontal or vertical line within both rectangles creates a false impression of varied size. When more vertical or horizontal lines are used in the design, the distance between the lines will affect the illusion formed.

The figure with the horizontal stripes looks shorter and fatter, whereas the figure with the vertical stripes appears tall, slim and slender. This is because the vertical lines direct our eyes upward, whereas the horizontal lines produce widening or spreading effect.

If one wears a top hat, the other a flat straw hat, the man with the top hat appears heighted, though he is of precisely the equal height as the other figure. The basis for this false impression is simple: we see the total length, or height, counting the upside down arrows, and the top hat, as an alternative of seeing the lines or figures themselves (Figure 2.6).

Figure 2.7 demonstrates various illusions and effects created by vertical lines. The single vertical line carries the eye up without any interruption to its movement. The ‘Y’-magic produce a sense of tallness as the eye is directed upward with nothing to restrict its upward motion. Two vertical lines spaced far apart move the eye across the figure. Two vertical lines spaced very close together shape a fine panel which draws the eye up the body. A vertical illusion is transformed into a horizontal illusion when a vertical line is crowned with a horizontal line letting the eye to move from side to side. A vertical line abruptly seems shorter when the eye is compelled downward. Figure 2.8 shows how use of vertical lines and long dresses create illusion of slimming effects.

Horizontal line


Horizontal line denotes relaxation, rest, peace, weakness, calmness, stability, casual, lethargic attitude. It increases width, produces bulk and emphasizes shortness. It also counters vertical line.


Figure 2.9 shows applications of horizontal lines in the form of structural, functional and decorative aspects of design. Applications of a horizontal line include

Wide square necklines

Flat collars

Bow ties

Weft stripes



Flap pockets

Yoke lines

Wide double breasted closures

Wide brimmed hat

Figure 2.10 demonstrates illusions of width created by horizontal necklines. Off-the-shoulder neckline appears broadest compared to boat and round neckline.

Diagonal line


Diagonal line denotes restlessness, action, movement, excitement, vitality, liveliness, animation, etc. It reinforces the direction of the dominant angles. It counters both vertical and horizontal lines. It useful to create asymmetrical design.


Figure 2.11 shows applications of diagonal lines in the form of structural, functional and decorative aspects of design. Applications of a diagonal line include



Open collar

Raglan sleeve

French darts

Diagonal stripes

Herringbone pattern

Zigzag pattern

A-line skirt

Flared skirt

Crisscross straps


Diagonal lines create effect of slimness. In Figure 2.12 the left model seems to be slender and taller than the right model due to diagonal neck straps. In Figure 2.13, which figure seems to be slimmer or taller? You can observe that diagonal lines combined with vertical lines create more slendering effect. This effect is pronounced more on a long dress.

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Weight of line

The weight of a line is gauged in terms of points or fractions of points, which are units of measurement traditionally used in the printing industry. There are 72 points to an inch. The finest line that can be produced is a hairline, which has the weight of a quarter of a point. A newly created line has a 1-point weight. Figure 2.14 illustrates weight of lines.

Thick line:

Thick lines illustrate boldness, force, masculine, go-ahead, dashing and attention seeking nature.

Thin line

Thick lines illustrate delicacy, weakness, thinness, slimness, shy, introverted and feminine nature.

Style of line

Generally, the most popular style of line is solid & continuous line. There is, however, a dash and dot options that can be used to break up the body of the line. Dashes are short strokes with gaps in between. Figure 2.15 shows various styles of lines.

Guidelines to usage of lines

Fashion designers need to use appropriate size of lines. Too many lines are distracting. Thick lines overpower the other elements and lines that are too thin fade away into the background. Pay attention to the spacing. Use dots and dashes instead of solid lines to create interest in the design. Pair up thick and thin lines for double lines.


Shape can be defined as a flat two dimensional area enclosed by lines. Lines create outlines or edges of the interior area. Shapes create motifs. The motif can be identified as a ‘word’ of design language. Motif is defined as single shape or image.

Shapes or motifs are used to create patterns. Pattern is the repetition of shape or form. If motif is the ‘word’, then the pattern is the ‘sentence’ and the all over design is the ‘paragraph’ of the design language. Shapes used to create these patterns can be of different types like leaves, flowers, square, circles, etc.

Shapes can be classified into four categories: Natural, Geometrical, Stylized and Abstract.

Natural shapes

Natural shapes or motifs are those that find their source in nature. Flowers, birds, animals, fruits, bees, insects, stars, sun, moon, etc are sources for natural shapes. These shapes are easy to understand and easy to reproduce.

Many designers use basic outline of these shapes as source of inspiration for their structural and decorative designs. Figure 2.16 illustrates fashion garments inspired from inspiration of butterfly. Taking inspiration from shape and colour of the butterfly, decorative designs can be produced by various techniques like printing, embroidery, quilting, trimming materials, etc. Figure 2.17 demonstrates structural aspects of fashion dresses based on inspirational source of flower.

Geometrical shapes

Geometrical shapes, as the name suggests find their source in geometry. They are made with the help of geometrical instruments. These geometrical shapes are useful in making patterns and surface designs on the fabrics. Different compositions of the various geometrical shapes can be made for creating beautiful designs.

Regular geometric shapes like square, triangle etc. are not very much used in costume designing as they are static in nature. Geometrical shapes of unequal measure have a place in the structure costume e.g. oblong, ovoid (egg shaped) and the oval are interesting because of their dynamic nature. You can convert any natural shape into geometric shape by modifying & combining the following fundamental geometric shapes.

Figure 2.18 illustrates fashion dresses based on inspirational source of geometrical shapes.

Geometrical shapes composed of straight line segments are square, rectangle, polygon, triangle, parallelogram, rhombus, trapezium and quadrilateral. Geometrical shapes composed of curved line segments are circle, ellipse, oval, semicircle, sphere and stadium.

Stylised shapes

Stylized shapes are basically naturalistic or geometric that has been modified or adopted to achieve different look. Here, natural elements are modified and represented in an unrealistic manner. Stylized motifs are usually used in nursery prints. Since they are not realistic representations they offer a lot of scope for creativity and imagination. Figure 2.19 points up designs based on stylised shapes.

Abstract shapes

Abstract shape is complex and difficult to understand. It does not show reality. Abstract design can be defined as the design which does not represent reality, rather, it takes its inspiration from the real world but uses patterns for inspiration. By abstraction we mean what is derived or disengaged from the nature. It has a very complex appearance. Figure 2.20 shows designs based on abstract shapes.

Form or silhouette

Form is referred to the physical structure of an object. It is the three-dimensional counterpart to shape. Form describe volume and mass. Cube, cylinder, cone, sphere are examples of the form. When light from a single direction hits an object, fraction of the object will be in shadow. Dark and light areas within an picture give contrast that can imply volume. Factors that can influence our approach towards an illustration comprise of the direction of the incident light, from below or above, and the abruptness or gentleness of the half tones.

Light coming from back side of a subject can produce a silhouette resulting in object that is totally dark in opposition to a lighter colored background. Silhouettes project as 2-D shapes missing form. There are two varieties of form: Illusionary form is developed by using concepts like perspective in order to illustrate form on a 2-D work, while the real form can be seen in sculpture and other 3-D design.


Space can be considered as the area between, around, within, below or above objects. Space is decided by objects, forms, and shapes along with their sizes. Nothing exists without it. Positive space in the design is occupied by objects. Negative space is the whitespace between objects. In other words, positive space is where objects, forms, and shapes exist; negative space is the empty space around them. For images to have a sense of balance, positive and negative space can be used to counter balance each other.

Two dimensional space:

The space in 2-D arts such as drawwings, sketching, photographs, paintings, and prints is basically limited to width and height. While there is no real distance and depth in such works, artists have developed techniques to illustrate the illusion of distance and depth on plane surfaces. The following describes some of those methods:

The most famous of these methods is the use of linear perspective. Perspective means putting together objects in distance. Objects seem large when they are close and small when they are placed at distant. The decisive factors of this space based upon the horizon line and disappearance points. Overlapping of objects on the canvas can develop space as demonstrated in Figure 2.21. The specific arrangement of objects can also develop the illusion of space. Remote shapes are higher and nearer shapes are lower in the picture plane. Figure 2.22 shows how linier perspective can be achieved by chaning the plane. Another more important techniques is atmospheric perspective. This application shows far-away objects and spaces with fewer detail and intensity than nearer objects.

Through the rendering of these techniques, the designer seems to nullify the flatness of the picture plane, driving the observer into what seems to be a world of actual space.

Three dimensional space:

Three dimensional space is identified as having width, height, depth, and is referred to as real space. This would include accessories, furniture, jewelry and ceramics. In the 3-D design the viewer can freely move around and through it. Three dimensional design may use both negative and positive space for revealing content and meaning. An easy way to understand difference between positive and negative space can be the presence of actual object (i.e. positive); or the lack of it (i.e. negative). The knowledge of how the designer employs both negative and positive space in the art work for expression is an important factor.


It’s known as typography, and it is considered an element in graphic design. Although it consists of elements of design, it is often an element in the form of visual communication. There are many aspects to typography, and just a concise study will be stated here based around some general terms like

Baseline: The line on which all letters rest.

Beardline: The line reached by the

descenders of lowercase letters.

Bowl: The round or elliptical parts of a letterform.

Cap line: The line reached by the top of uppercase letters.

Counter: The white space enclosed by a letterform, whether completely or partially.

Extenders: Extenders are the parts of letters that extend either below the baseline (descenders)/above the midline (ascenders).


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