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What are Design Fundamentals?

Chizurum Ibeawuchi


Design is everywhere, and it dates back to the dawn of time. We can see that everything in our surroundings, including nature, has been meticulously designed to meet our needs. The design varies from branch to branch. There is UI/UX design, industrial design, interior design, and fashion design, among other things. As a result, design can be defined as the process of constructing or making anything that is usable, accessible, and beautiful. To completely execute the functionality and purpose of a design, it must adhere to a set of basic principles known as design fundamentals.

What are Design Fundamentals?

Every interface/visual medium is built on the foundation of design fundamentals. These design fundamentals are essential for creating a sound and good design that maximizes the user experience. They are in charge of overseeing the product design process. Design fundamentals guide our decision-making about color blends, balance, spacing, structure, feel, and the overall visual of a product. As a result, these basics are the guiding principles for creating a functional, accessible, and appealing product.

Design Fundamentals are critical in today's environment because the designer's ability to comprehend and apply them affects how successful and usable a design will be. While these design fundamentals are extremely important in design, they are still within your control as a designer. Once you’ve learned to play by the rules, you’ll know how to deliberately break them without your design failing. 

This article primarily focuses on the fundamentals of user interface/user experience (UI/UX) design. Although there are several design fundamentals, there are six basic design fundamentals essential to UI/UX design. They are as follows:

  1. Hierarchy
  2. Contrast
  3. Whitespace
  4. Repetition
  5. Emphasis
  6. Balance

Focusing on hierarchy as a design fundamental:


Hierarchy which is implied as a visual hierarchy in UI design is the arrangement of UI elements in order of importance. Hierarchy creates visual organization and influences how the human eye scans information/UI elements in a design. 

Hierarchy of UI elements in a deisgnHierarchy of UI elements in a deisgn

When hierarchy is effectively shown in a design, it presents the focal points of the design to the viewers, hence helping the viewer to easily navigate and pick up the key message within seconds.

How To Achieve Hierarchy In UI/UX Design

There are many ways hierarchy is achieved in UI/UX design, although the use of headings, titles, and color is the most common way being used. Understanding the following attributes helps us to use them correctly in order to achieve hierarchy. Defining these attributes:

Size: This describes the dimension of a UI element, either big or small. In order to clearly display hierarchy in a design, the size attribute is used to either increase or decrease the visibility of a UI element.

Users’ attention is easily drawn to larger UI elements.

Color: This describes the light a UI element reflects, and can be determined by measuring the hue, saturation and brightness of the reflected light. Colors can be strategically used to present information or UI elements in order of importance. Therefore colors are used to achieve hierachy in a design.

Bright, vibrant colors stand out whenever they are used because they have more visual weight than muted colors. Users are therefore drawn to bright colors. We use bright colors to emphasize important details, while muted colors are used for minor details.

Alignment: This involves arranging UI elements in relation to the borders or edges of an allowable area. Alignment thus connects Ui elements spatially. When effectively used, alignment conveys structure, and a sense of order in a design.

When a particular UI element is out of alignment, it breaks the structure established by the other aligned UI elements, and as a result, it stands out. This therefore can be used to achieve hierachy in a design.

Typography: This involves the way text is arranged and presented, so it can be readable. Typography includes font styles (typefaces), point sizes, line-heights and line-spacing. The Strategic use of either of these typography elements achieves hierarchy. For example: Texts with greater font-weight easily get the attention of the users.

Generally, typography creates information hierarchy in a design.

Spacing: These two work together to achieve hierarchy. Spacing refers to the void areas, and can be seen in between and around UI elements in a design. It gives room for the UI elements to "breathe". Spacing guides the users' eye on how to scan information through a design. it gives the users' eyes a resting spot.

To achieve hierarchy in a design, more spacing could be accorded to an important UI element so that it stands out in the design. Hence easily getting the attention of the user. Spacing can be used to isolate or group UI elements.

Generally, spacing communicates hierarchy, simplicity and cleanliness.

Proximity: Proximity describes how UI elements are closely placed or grouped together. This aids in establishing sections of hierachy and organization of the UI elements. Closely placed UI elements are perceived as similiar. Therefore isolating a UI element from the related UI elements stands out.

The Need for Hierarchy in UI/UX Design

Hierarchy, in general, provides structure, organization, and balance to a design. It emphasizes the significance and order of UI elements in a design. As a result, it allows users to quickly identify the design’s key message and improves user comprehension. Highlighting some of the needs for hierarchy:

Accessible Design: The use of colors and typography strategically aids in creating an accessible design. UI elements are easily distinguishable and readable.Therefore hierarchy is helps to achieve accessible designs.

Harmonious Design: The effective use of hierarchy provides a connection between all the UI elements in the design, resulting in a cohesive visual theme. 

Usable Design: Hierarchy clearly presents details in a way that guides the users on how to easily use a designed product.


Understanding hierarchy as a design fundamental is a recipe for good design. The various attributes of hierarchy closely work with one another to achieve visual or information hierarchy in a design. As a result, there's a need to fully understand the psychology behind these attributes, to know when and how to use them while still maintaining a usable and accessible design.



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