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The Elements and Principals of Design

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Visual Communication Advertising Brandgraphy

If I asked you, think about your favourite song, but don't sing it yet for me, show me visuals that make me hear the song!

What would you say? You'd call me crazy.

Unfortunately or fortunately design learners cannot say this in their very first class on visual design.

Yup! you got that right.

We need to do it, so how do we do it?

As Visual Communication professionals, our job is to paint the yet invisible picture present in the meaning of a written piece of literature, a song, a novel, a play, a poem or a brand brief.

Floral design Brandgraphy Visual Communication
Abstract Design Brandgraphy Visual Design

Just like a painting, which is the basis of all graphic arts, any visual is composed of individual layers that come together to give it a specific quality, a unique feel. It is what we refer to as Elements and Principles of Design, hence; Visual Communication is the art of converting feelings and emotions into visuals that take us into that emotion when perceived by our senses. Its that simple! We translate the meaning inherent in words into corresponding visuals. For example, if you take a brush in your hands, and run it slow and smooth across the canvas, it will leave a trail with soft edges, may be dripping paint and a gentle curve, as opposed to a high speed splash or a quick stroke. Emotionally, the soft trail suits gentle communication, and the harsh stroke can accompany feelings of anger, may be energy too.

So, visually, every pixel matters; how big, how small? Every line feels different, how thick, how thin? Every shape matters, it's circles, squares or triangles, or a combination of all? Every form matters, its a cylinder or a cube? The texture matters, grainy or smooth? And, the most powerful of all, the colour! Is it warm or cool? Is it a bright shade or a dark tint? You can learn more here from this wonderful video.

While what element you choose to use has a fundamental impact, the way we arrange these elements on a canvas is guided by the Principles of Design. We have to take care in how are the elements arranged, like old school balance or asymmetrically positioned? Where is the emphasis in the composition? Is there a feeling of movement in the elements? How is the proportion of all the elements when compared to each other? Does the visual feel harmonious or excited? You can learn more from this video on the applied principals of design.

Wow, I can't believe someone has read till here, but if you have, let's look at a famous Album Art and back work our thoughts on what is the album art endeavouring to convey through its visual communication. I am now going into a past most of you will find hard to believe, the rebellion, the humanity and the daringness of it all coloured the entire Design and Art landscape at the time, and that daringness went in to the Album Art representing the legends of those times, Pink Floyd. Still legends though!


The Album art for "The Wall" was created by Gerald Scarfe. The ideas proposed by this great political cartoonist were always peculiar in form and shape; twisted and stretched human beings depict a glance into the real personality, the real soul behind the smiling face of these people. Therefore; the politicians and figures of authority, greedy and corrupt; do not live inside beautiful bodies in Scarfe's version of the world, their soul inhabits a body befitting their real actions. He had been to Vietnam War as well, and the stupidity of war, the consequence of bad decisions engraved in him an illustration style that was looking to show justice and reality of what is hidden behind plastic words. Vietnam was hard, and he saw gory images of the war, with an article describing his experience of watching a war morgue hosting "bodies without torso, and torso without heads, and through all this, people whistling away in white coats cleaning the residual scene, because to them it was just a job, mopping the bits away"

Gerald Scarfe Brandgraphy blog

"We don't need no education

We don't need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teacher, leave them kids alone"

Gerald Scarfe interprets visuals with forms that are highly surreal, but the use of colour is as vibrant as any other style of art. Lines are thin and people are twisted, like how they are in real life, in this image, this is a Teacher figure, and shows Gerald Scarfe's exemplary disgust for authority that is draconian. With details like colour splashes for movement, and frenzy, flowing angry hair, sharp fingers, and a mood to destruct imprinted on the character, the artist is able to convey that teachers actually wanted to do the opposite of education, because to educate is to love, not bully. It is quite a literal Album Art. It is interesting to note how the head is inspired from a deep underwater fish that is ferocious in nature, without the body, it may even look like an independent creature. The simple brick wall sketched in the background represents the walls that people eventually build around themselves to protect their psyche and face this vicious world.

Gerald Scarfe Pink Floyd Brandgraphy advertising blog

The project went on to become a true multi-media project, with the illustrations going into animations forming a film, and even 30foot Puppet characters produced from this series for 'live' Pink Floyd shows.

The album art for "The Wall" is a great art-love story of all times. It was natural to choose Pink Floyd and make a compelling case of Visual Communication done right, for it is the act of turning feelings inherent in words into an apt visual. We will write more on the Elements and Principles of Design in our future editions. For now, we end this blog with a video we found on the man himself, Mr. Gerald Scarfe, talking about his life and inspirations.

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