Writers Take Note: Principles of Design 101

Published: Jul 29, 2012

Being a freelance writer for many years now, I have worked on my fair share of projects with all sorts of people. My role may have been to produce the content of the piece, but that was only one piece of the puzzle. There were also web designers, graphic designers, strategists and more, all with their own say and expertise.

A repeated area of difficulty I noticed was whenever the designers and writers had to discus their creative visions and talk compromise. Perhaps a title had to be shortened or a paragraph condensed, all for the sake of formatting and appearance, well that just meant that the designer would have to confront the writer with edits to make it work.

Granted this shouldn’t be a big deal because writers are used to receiving edits all the time write? WRONG. Writers are used to receiving edits from their EDITORS, not the designers on site. These confrontations had a tendency to end in arguments, which would ultimately threaten the deadline of the project as a whole. And why? All because of a simple misunderstanding and lack of perception—the writers didn’t understand where the designers were coming from and vice versa. So, all this led to was an unending cycle of misunderstanding and—in some cases—even resentment.

Surely there had to be a better way; surely we could all take a step back and see the big picture and realize we’re on the same team—or can we? I’ve seen some great designer/writer partnerships flourish and create gorgeous works of art, but being few and far between, many wonder their secret. After seeing it first hand, and even being a part of some myself, I can honestly say it comes from two things—one, mutual respect and two, knowledge.

I’m not saying you need to go out and enroll in a class on the subjects, but just take some time to understand what it’s about, to allow yourself better insight and understanding of where your colleagues are coming from. Being a writer, I know firsthand that many of us struggle with the concept of any sort of design, so to help all of my brethren in the craft, I’ve outline just a few elements of design below that every writer should, at the very least, be aware of, so they might better understand where the designer perspective on things.


I once took a graphic design course and remember my professor constantly saying all of my projects left her feeling very “unbalanced.” As a less than visual person I had a hard time seeing and comprehending what she meant, but the truth is balance is one of the most basic parts of design. It has to do with the “weight” of objects that together make up a complete piece. Varying arrangements of them will in turn affect the piece’s overall look and feel.

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Both symmetrical and asymmetrical forms of balance are utilized by designers at different times, depending on the project and what they are striving to achieve. Words like even and normal typically describe a balance that is symmetrical, whereas asymmetrical balance is said to often create tension as elements are disproportionately arranged.


Another important building block of design is the concept of “unity.” Each and every detail in a project comes together to create a sense of unity. Sometimes this unity is palpable and other times it’s a bit lacking, but this is definitely an important detail to remember as your textual contribution plays a direct role in this.


Whether designers are creating websites, presentations, or even newsletters, they have to consider how all of the details will come together to form the whole they’ve envisioned. That being said, your work is subject to minor edits to help it better fit the whole—it’s not an attack on the quality of your work, but rather a compromise to ensure the piece portrays the desired amount of “unity.”


Establishing space and perspective, the “dominance” of a project helps guide the audiences’ eyes to what they needs to see. Designers assign primary and secondary emphasis to a project’s components in order to help them better convey importance and focal point. If it weren’t for dominance, most works would be a chaotic, jumbled mess of details that would do nothing but confuse those on the receiving end.

Learn More

Being a complex subject, design does encompass many more principles and elements than I have outlined here. If you’re interested and want to learn more, here is a great resource that outlines in detail other components you may be interested in understanding.


With so much involved when designing a new website, presentation or anything in between, it’s important for all parties to be somewhat aware of and sensitive to the other’s job duties, responsibilities and goals and ultimately what they hope to get out of the project. To facilitate this process, it’s good for each party to do a little outside homework to learn more about the subjects that are foreign to them. If copywriting makes no sense to you, change that. Have no idea what HTML code is, figure it out. Your projects as a whole depend on it.

Lauren Bailey is an education writer and freelance blogger. She frequently writes about BestCollegesOnline.com and courses and welcomes comments and questions via email at blauren 99 @gmail.com.