Design Elements and Principles: Cierra Haken

Design elements and principles are the basics that make up what art and design are. Included in this is comics, or Graphics Novels, such as our class readings, “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud. As an artist, Scott McCloud is very intentional in the way in which he creates the images to portray exactly what he wants. He does this by using design elements and principle, which can individually be defined by John Lovett. Lovett, describing what each of the elements and principle look like and how they intertwine with one another.

In Understanding Comics, each and every page can be analyzed and contains at least 1 design principle or element, but most likely has many more, as design principles are used in terms of elements. To keep it simple, I will analyze “Understanding Comics,” paged 118-119. As this is the beginning of the chapter, McCloud poses the question of “can emotions be made visible?” He then goes on to illustrate many panels of sketches that show specific emotions that are done so by combining elements and principles in an intentional way.


Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”, 118-119.

The first design element that I will point out is shape. Shape is shown on pages 118 and 119  in multiple ways. Each panel shows a different shape, as McCloud is suggesting emotions that go along with them. The one that stands out to me is the bottom, right panel on page 119. This would be considered an abstract shape. This, as McCloud suggests might provoke the emotion of anxiety, which goes along with Lovett, as he states in the reading that a shape like this might stand for ‘dangerous’, ‘unpredictable’, or ‘aggressive’

I will now look at the design principle of contrast. Simply put, Lovett states that contrast “is the juxtaposition of opposing elements,” such as color (orange and blue), texture (smooth and rough), etc. This is shown in Understanding Comics by the way in which McCloud uses all black and white (tonal difference) to make his work stand out and easily understandable.

Finally, I will look at the design principle of dominance, otherwise known to me as ‘emphasis’ or ‘hierarchy.’ Explained by Lovett, Dominance is created by intentionally using elements such as line, direction, color, texture, etc. in a way to create a focal point or sense of hierarchy. On page 119, McCloud creates a panel filled with a spiral/radial shape. The way in which McCloud places this spiral panel in the center of the page, with a fairly larch panel size makes it a focal point in the spread, the eye goes straight to it.

Each of these design elements and principles build the foundations of what we know as art. It also provides foundations for the artists of graphic novels to build upon to provoke emotion in their juxtaposed sequences.

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