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Elements of Visual Design
Pages and Files
Composition and Layout
Emphasis or Focal Point
Format & Orientation
is often referred to as “the most basic element of design”. Yet this simple element functions in complex ways. Used effectively, line expresses a variety of verbal and visual concepts. Line works either by itself or in conjunction with other lines to communicate messages and impact audience.
A line is a series of marks, or points. The closeness of these points causes them to “lose their individual identity and form a new identity“. The
of line convey many different states and emotions.
Vertical lines suggest strength and power. An example on line direction is this grouping of tall buildings, or a single tall building - lines going upwards, visually pulling your eye up:
Notice that these lines also create perspective suggesting height or distance.
Horizontal lines symbolize tranquility and rest. According to Jirousek, this state reflects objects parallel to the earth that are “at rest in relation to gravity." Examples of horizontal lines are those in ocean waves or in Jirousek’s image of a horizontal building:
Diagonal lines convey a feeling of action or direction:
The weight of a line conveys meaning as well. Thinner lines suggest weakness, while thicker lines convey power. The following example shows differences in strength, from weakest to strongest:
Line is a powerful tool for revealing feelings. At
University Laboratory High School in Urbana
, Illinois, teacher
encourages students to illustrate recent emotions that they have experienced through line:
The illustration expressing fatigue shows an infinite series of squiggles. Drawing a curly squiggle requires more effort than drawing a simple line, suggesting that the artist expends energy. The few squiggles that appear out of proportion to the others convey a loss of control, as if the artist succumbs to severe exhaustion at times.
The illustration showing content communicates a carefree, relaxed message. The long curvy lines suggest looseness, and the general pattern of these lines--each ending in a swirl--actually looks like a smile. The inconsistency in the weight of these lines shows that the artist can be expressive without having to follow strict design conventions.
The illustration conveying frustration appears to be part maze. In this maze, the artist cannot move from one point to another without hitting an obstacle. The black background adds to this sense of doom. In contrast, the open white space on the right demonstrates freedom and optimism. An interpretation of this dual image may be the artist's split emotions. The artist may long for complete fulfillment but cannot resolve the part of life that is preventing it.
A line draws the audience's attention to a specific object. An example is an arrow pointing to one man in a crowd. A more subtle example is a path leading to an abandoned house.
Lines separate chunks of information logically. A table, for instance, contains lines that act as borders between concepts.
Lines provide contour by following the edges of objects. An example is this hand.
Lines need not edge the entire figure in order to illustrate it. Sometimes lines are implied, allowing the audience to "fill in" the picture. This drawing by Saul Steinberg appears simple in form, yet it communicates effectively.
People tend to think of lines as straight. However, curved lines help illustrate many forms, including waves, balls, and the human body.
Finally, many lines work together to form texture, providing images with more depth. The illustration at right shows a variety of patterns achieved through line.
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