Using the Elements and Principles of Design: Introduction

People seldom look for evidence of a figure fault or variation. Consciously or unconsciously they seek an attractive and appropriate appearance. Such an appearance can be achieved when all elements of clothing design are selected to present the individual harmoniously. The value judgments that determine what is attractive, appropriate, and harmonious are subject to social and cultural influences.

They form the frame of reference through which the figure and the garment are evaluated.

On the following pages the effects of the elements of design are approached in terms of what you can do as opposed to what you should do. Too often it's assumed that the short person should appear taller and the larger person should appear smaller; this may not be true.

Larger individuals may enjoy the sense of presence created by their size; they may choose to emphasize this presence with textured fabrics, bright colors, and bold lines. Small individuals, on the other hand, may choose to emphasize their petite figure through delicate fabrics in small-scale pastel prints.

Categorical generalizations, such as Use versus Avoid or Do versus Don’t, dictate rather than instruct. The choice of how the elements of design will be used is left to the individual. This choice carries with it the responsibility of evaluating the design elements separately and in combination to achieve a total harmony.

The elements of design are the basic, essential components of the art of design. Traditionally, they include line, shape, color, and texture. Each element may be manipulated to help create the desired effect in any given garment on any specific figure.

The principles of design are those goals that have become accepted—even expected—over time. They act as guides for the selection and use of the elements of design. The principles of design include balance, proportion, scale, rhythm, emphasis, and harmony. Effective use of the elements and principles of design can alter visual perception to create good design on the individual figure.

The two most effective ways of controlling visual effects are repetition and contrast. Repeating an element in garment design may reinforce or emphasize a desired figure trait. For example, narrow vertical lines and spaces may be used to reinforce and emphasize height. Contrasting an element in garment design with an undesired trait may camouflage or minimize the trait. For example, slightly curved lines and shapes can be used to camouflage the angularity of a very thin figure. If carried to extreme, however, the effectiveness may be lost. Basic differences become accentuated when the degree of contrast is too extreme. For example, very thin legs will be emphasized by a wide, bouffant skirt.

Individuals with extremes of height, weight, or shape are wise to avoid exact repetition or complete contrast of a feature they consider undesirable, for they will emphasize rather than counteract. The very lightness of thin, clingy fabrics may emphasize the contrasting heaviness of a full figure while at the same time revealing the body contours. Conversely, the opposite extreme of heavy, bulky, or stiff fabrics emphasizes the heaviness of the full figure by repetition. An intermediate degree of a specific design element can create a more flattering effect.

Both repetition and contrast may be employed in a single garment to focus attention on the area where it's desired and away from the area where it's not desired. Wise selection of clothing design can minimize the need for alteration by creating illusion, diverting attention, or effectively camouflaging an undesired figure trait.






…are manipulated to create…







…to achieve…



Each design element or principle is individual and can be studied separately, yet when incorporated into a design, each is interdependent on every other.

For example, a traditionally feminine, floral print may become bold and assertive when seen in very bright colors on a dark background; large-scale pleats may cause a small figure to look unbalanced; a row of buttons down one side of a garment may create asymmetrical balance; a rough texture may dull an otherwise intense color.

Because of the interrelationship of the elements and principles of design, traditionally hard and fast rules may not remain valid in all cases. Careful consideration must be given to selection, combination, and arrangement of each element; the figure on which the design elements are placed; and the setting in which they are viewed. Apparent height, weight, and shape are relative to each of the factors discussed above. No element or principle of design can be evaluated as an isolated entity. No matter how lovely any one part may be, the whole must also be considered in determining the end result.

PREV: Intro to Using the Elements and Principles of Design NEXT: The Elements of Design Home

Friday, 2009-10-16 17:55