Chap. 1 : Design Elements

This page is part of our Display Workshop learning module.

This workshop is about creating effective displays in a retail setting or for a craft fair. In this chapter, we will look at basic design elements and how they apply to creating displays.

There are elements of design we can use to help us focus the buyer’s attention on our products. We can use them to focus attention to specific displays or specific areas of a retail shop. We can also use them to bring elements together to make a pleasing arrangement of products in a display.

These design elements include: Colour, Contrast, Repetition, Harmony, Emphasis and Balance.

Colour

Grouping similar colours is not the only way to use colour in display. Understanding colour is important, and our How to Work with Colour page will help you understand how colour works. Colour can be used to continue the theme of your logo, or your shop, or to create a theme for specific displays. You can use colour to create an ambiance or feeling, or to mark the seasons or a holiday.

Silver shows up better on the contrasting black velvet than it does on the glass shelves. Photo: CCNL
Silver shows up better on the contrasting black velvet than it does on the glass shelves. Photo: CCNL

Contrast

You can create contrast by placing opposite elements next to each other. The colors white and black provide the greatest degree of contrast. Complementary colors also contrast with one another. Contrast can be used to create visual interest and to direct the viewer’s attention to a particular point of interest, the focal point of a design.

You can also create contrast with texture (rough & smooth) or shape (large & small, or simple & complex). Contrasting textures are useful for making objects stand out. A smooth silver bracelet will stand out on a textured surface like burlap or velvet. It won’t stand out if it is placed on a smooth mirror.

Repetition

Repetition not only attracts the eye, it also creates a sense of order in the display. It can also create rhythm, gently guiding the viewer through the space, or through the items in a display.

Harmony

Harmony can be created by bringing together elements that are similar in some way. It could be a similar theme, colour scheme, or material, or the items could be grouped by similar use.

Repetition carries the eye through the display to the focal point, the teapot at the top of the display
Repetition carries the eye through the display to the focal point, the teapot at top.

Emphasis or Focal Point

This is the spot you are guiding your customer to. You can use a number of display elements to create the focal point, the part of the display you want your visitor to stop at and take a look. The focal point can be highlighted by lighting, for example, or by being at the top of a display, or by being a contrasting colour.

Balance

The Term Balance refers to the equal distribution of visual weight in a design. What does that mean? It means that the objects we are viewing have the same impact left and right as we are viewing them. When something is balanced it gives a sense of order. When something is unbalanced it can make the viewer feel uncomfortable. There are different types of balance in display design – symmetrical balance, asymmetrical balance and radial balance.

Understanding Balance

Balance is an important concept in design and includes many elements.

Symmetrical balance is created when two sides of a display are the same, a mirror image of each other. Symmetrical balance is formal and very stable. It uses repetition to create visual interest. It can sometimes be a bit boring.

Asymmetrical balance in a display of work by artists from the Quidi Vidi Plantation. Photo: CCNL
Asymmetrical balance in a display of work by artists from the Quidi Vidi Plantation. Photo: CCNL

Asymmetrical balance is created when the two sides of a display are different, but the visual impact, or level of interest, is the same on each side. For example, one side of a display might have a large object and the other side a group of small objects. The group of objects can carry the same level of visual interest as the large object on the other side. Asymmetrical balance is useful in display because it keeps the viewer’s eye moving through the display. Asymmetrical balance can be more casual and more dynamic than symmetrical balance in a display.

Radial balance is created when there is a focal point in the centre and items of equal interest are placed around it, like the numbers on the face of a clock. In display, you might use radial balance on a round table where customers might be on any side of the table, and see the same thing. Radial balance, like symmetrical balance can sometimes be a bit boring. Visual interest can be created by varying the surrounding items slightly – using different colours, for example.

How Design Elements Create Balance in Our Displays

Size: Larger objects have more visual weight, or visual interest.

Position: Interestingly, the further an object is from the centre of a display, the more visual weight it has, so that a small object on the outer edge of a display can balance a large object at the centre of a display.

Quantity: A group of small objects carries more weight, or has more visual interest and can be used to balance a large object.

Negative Space is the shape created around the object by the space in the background
Negative Space is the shape created around the object by the space in the background

Isolation: An object displayed on its own has more visual interest. When we have a single object, or a simple group, a shape is created around the object by the negative space in the background. That shape contrasts with and balances the object on display.

Diagonals: Diagonal arrangements pull the viewer’s eye through the display. Horizontal and vertical orientations have less visual impact than diagonals.

Colour and Value: Brighter colours have more visual weight than lighter colours. Dark objects have more visual weight than lighter objects.

Shape: A complex shape has more visual interest than a simple shape. A small complex object can balance a large simple object.

Texture: a heavy texture has more visual interest than one with no texture. Textures can be used to contrast with the objects on display.

Experiment with different design elements to create balance in your displays. A balanced display is satisfying. Experimenting helps you to identify the design elements that do and don’t work for you.

Symmetrical Balance doesn't have to look boring. In this example, the dynamic energy of Urve Manuel's work carries the eye through the display. Photo: CCNL
Symmetrical Balance doesn’t have to look boring. In this example, the dynamic energy of Urve Manuel’s work carries the eye through the display. Photo: CCNL

Design Principles in Visual Merchandising

In a retail shop, how you lay out the shop and create displays is often called Visual Merchandising. We will look at some of the design principles that are useful in visual merchandising including grouping, placement and layout.

Odd Numbers and Groups of Three: When arranging flowers, it’s always easier to arrange odd numbers. The same principle applies when creating a display – odd numbers are easier to work with and it often helps to work in sets of three. It could be a group of three of the same item, or similar items, or a group of short medium and tall, or even three groups of three

The rule of three also works when you are setting up different levels – three levels often work really well. Odd numbers and asymmetrical designs help keep the viewer’s eye moving through the display.

design-pyramid
Pyramid design

Pyramid Shape: You can attract attention to a grouping by creating a display that is larger at the bottom and smaller at the top. This creates a triangle or pyramid shape that draws the eye to the top of the display, your focal point. The pyramid or triangle shape can be created by shelving, by stacking or even hanging items in a wall display. The customer’s eye will go to the top of the display.

Blocking: Blocking means using a group of the same item together to create an element of your display. For example, it could be a pile of folded linens, or a row of vases that are all the same colour.

Repetition: As we learned in the section about Balance, repetition can be used to create visual impact. Repetition can be used in different ways. It could be a colour or shape that repeats throughout the shop, or display, or it could be the same object in different sizes or colours, or a row of the same item displayed as a block.

Position: Position is important. The area between waist level and eye-height is the most effective part of the display. Products you want to draw attention to should be in this area.

Clutter or Space? In general, more expensive items shouldn’t be crowded because it makes them seem less valuable. Lower priced items, like your point of sale souvenirs can be crowded together, as customers will perceive them as lower priced.

Display Workshop – A Business of Crafts Learning Module: