Design Principles in Everyday Life #1 – Dominance:

In my first year of college, I took a class called Intro to Design. In that class, emphasis was placed on learning 3 basic design principles: Dominance, Balance, & Movement. The Professor stated, repeated, and questioned us about these 3 ideas and required us to create a semester’s worth of projects that showcased each of them in different ways.

At the time, I thought he was investing a wild amount of time and attention for such basic principles.

It’s now been more than 15 years since that class, and I still find myself periodically coming back to think about those lessons. I have to admit that over time I’ve definitely seen their application in the context of my design work and also, unexpectedly, in the context of everyday life.

Repeat After Me: Dominance. Balance. Movement. Dominance. Balance. Movement.

In 2 future posts, I plan to talk a bit more about Balance & Movement.

For today, I want to focus on DOMINANCE. 

In art & design, DOMINANCE creates focal areas, places emphasis, and breaks up monotony. It’s where the action is, where you want the viewer to look. Similar ideas apply in other artistic forms, like music or dance where rhythms or dance moves draw attention in intentional ways. Skill and knowledge allow the artist to use specific tools to pull the viewer’s attention. This is probably common sense.

In our everyday lives, DOMINANCE is created in a similar way — our behaviors and words create focal points and reveal what is prominent in our lives. We choose what we want to emphasize and how we want to break up the monotony — or we allow those areas to be determined by default through inaction or apathy. We somewhat control where our ‘observers’ look when they see our lives, and there are some areas of accidental dominance of which we’d prefer no one took note. This is also probably common sense.


Let’s look at 2 quick examples:

As a simple artistic example, let’s talk about ballerinas:

  • If you paint a stage with a ballerina at a large size in the center, the dancer will naturally be a focal point.
  • If you paint a stage with the same dancer off to the side of the frame at a smaller size, it’s likely to be less of a focal point (unless you use some other tactics to draw attention to it).
  • If you paint 100 identical ballerinas, there will be no obvious focal point & it will be more likely that viewers will disengage more quickly than if you paint 100 dancers of all different colors, textures, and sizes — or 99 identical dancers and 1 unique neon ballerina panda bear.

As a simple human example, let’s talk about education:

  • If I’m passionate about the issue of education and dedicate a large amount of time to volunteering or donating resources to education-based charitable organizations, this is a clear focal point in my life.
  • If I feel strongly about the issue of education but rarely take any action in that area, it’s less of a focal point. I’m not saying this is good or bad, just noting the difference in dominance.
  • If I repeatedly talk about how important education is and provide an endless stream of “facts” about it to anyone within earshot but never put action behind my facts, my story will ring empty & it’s likely people will disengage from my message. My words may be “dominant” but their summary will be tiresome inconsistency.

What’s Your Story?

In your creative life and work, how do you use the principle of dominance? Do you consider this when you’re painting, illustrating, or any other creative outlet? If you’d like to learn more about the principle and ways to apply it artistically, a simple Google search yields dozens of results explaining more.

In your daily life, where do you see the principle of dominance in play? How do the things you say and do create focal points in your life that are observed by family members, co-workers, or friends? How can you continue to grow in wisdom so that your life increasingly reflects the things you most wish to emphasize?

I’d love to hear any thoughts about this that you might be willing to share. If you read this & think it might be of value to anyone you know, would you pass it along?

I’m wishing you a life that draws attention to & celebrates all the things that are most important to you.

❤ Nicole


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