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Edition 04

Principles of design



By Sidhra KHALID

When starting the design process, the principles of design serve as the fundamental guidelines that should govern the elements of design (shape, space, form, mass, line, texture, pattern, light and colour).

 The right scale

This deals with the actual size, relative size and virtual weight. Scale is one of the most important principles of design, as the size of the furnishing you select could potentially destroy the dynamics of the interior you are trying to create.

In some cases, two objects of the same size may vary in scale because of their material. For example, a glass table seems visually lighter than a same sized wooden table. Similarly, heavy patterns and bright colours have more visual weight than plain patterns and lighter colours. If you are dealing with a small space, avoid visually heavy materials.

 Considering proportion

This is closely related to scale. Some schools of thought don’t recognize proportion as a principle of design because of its similarity to scale. It is expressed in terms of the relationship between one part and another of a “whole”.

For example, proportion is the relationship between the back of a chair to the seat or the legs. If the ratio is pleasing, the furniture piece looks well proportioned.  On average the human torso is proportionate to the legs. For this reason we judge the appropriateness of objects with our bodies.

Proportion can be toyed with to create a focal in a space. For example, a small scale chair with a bold printed fabric instantly catches the eye because the visual proportion is off.

 Understanding balance

In simple terms, it is equilibrium. We naturally seek balance in our interiors because of the balance we seek in our lives. Equilibrium can be achieved in two ways:- Symmetrical balance: can be described as the placements of items that create a mirror image through the central point. For example, placing two matching candle stands on either side of a fireplace mantle or by placing two identical tables on either side of a sofa. Symmetrical balance is predictable and adds a sense of steadiness and durability to interior design. Asymmetrical balance: is more complex and difficult to achieve. This can be achieved by placing objects of similar visual weight, equal distance apart. For example, placing a thin long candle stand of one side of a mantle piece and a short, wider vase on the other end would look extremely ideal.

 Rhythm dynamics

In interiors, it is similar to the rhythm we seek in music. In interior design, rhythm creates a visual flow/path from one space to another. Rhythm can be used to let the eye flow to the focal point in the room. This can be achieved by repetitive use of colour, patterns, textures or furniture styles. Alteration is the sequence of two or more components by which the eye can flow. Using two colours on a wall, thereby creating stripes, allows you to achieve rhythm through the alteration of colour.

 Emphasis is crucial

This is the art of creating a focal point, such as a fireplace, a view through a window or an art piece. It marks the location in a space that automatically draws the eye. Some interiors have more than one focal point with different levels of emphasis; progression from the most to the least dominant.

Smaller interiors can handle fewer focal points and vice versa. The elements of design can be manipulated to give the focal point more emphasis. Furniture can be placed to direct your eye to the focal point. Painting walls in bold colours draws your eye to the painting on the wall.

Feel the harmony

This is the combination of design elements, into a state of agreement or a feeling of rightness. Unity suggests oneness and can be achieved by carrying out similar colours or by keeping the style of the furniture and fittings consistent. Unity can also be achieved by selecting materials, accessories and fabrics with a similar feeling.

Variety is the absence of monotony. Variety can be achieved through the contrast of hard materials with soft materials. For example, combining traditional furniture with modern printed upholstery. Every interior should have an identity of unity with the interest of variety.


Sidhra Khalid is the managing partner of Urban Innovations. Their mission is to be an integral part of the Kenya’s Vision 2030 by taking commercial and residential interiors to a new height.