Search Menu


This site is available only to JEA members. Please log in below.

Principles of design basics


Students will receive vocabulary for foundational design principles: composition, components, concept, placement, harmony, balance, proportion, scale, unity, rhythm, divisions, grouping, emphasis, contrast, balance, direction, spatial relationship, alignment, proximity and flow. Students will analyze examples of designs that demonstrate strong and weak design based on these principles. They will use sample spreads to identify principles of design.

There is also a middle school version of this lesson.


  • Students will be able to recognize and understand design principles.
  • Students will be able to recall principles of design on an assessment.
  • Students will be able to find examples of design principles in a sample spread.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9 Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W-9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of a subject.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10 here.)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.


75 minutes


Handout: Principles of design vocabulary list or grouped list

Handout: Sample spread – Talisman newspaper

Handout: Blank spread labeling exercise

Handout: Combination notetaking

Slideshow: Design principles


Colored pencils


Lesson step-by-step

1. Introducing vocabulary — 40 minutes

Distribute the Principles of Design Vocabulary List handout and explain the definitions for the principles of design terms. To demonstrate the terms, project the Design Principles slideshow to visualize each design principle. Distribute Combination Notetaking worksheet so students can write a list of the design principles and draw images for those they need/want to better help them remember the terms later.

2. Application — 25 minutes

After explaining the design principles handout and covering all vocabulary, distribute Handout 2.1c (Blank Spread Labeling Exercise). Students will label the different elements based on the components of a spread. As students are labeling the handout, walk around and discuss their labels. A student may justify his/her answers if he/she has marked something that is different than the key. For this activity, you may choose to give students stickers or small adhesive labels to use to label parts of the spread.

3. Closure — 5 minutes

At the end of the allotted time, students will submit their completed work. If time permits, discuss as a class and compare the finished labeling, or consider hanging the spreads on the board for students to analyze similarities and differences, if any.


Does not meet expectations (5 points) Meets expectations (10 points) Exceeds expectations (15 points) Total points
Identification The student mislabeled elements on the spread, and/or did not label all terms. The student labeled most of the spread correctly, including most of the terms. The student has a clear grasp of design and labeled all portions of the spread correctly to fit each term. ____ / 15
Justification The student could not justify labeling an elements that did not match the key. The student justified most of his/her labeling if it varied from the key. The student justified all choices for labeling terms that did not match the key. ____ / 15
Total points ____ / 30