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Weekly workshop tasks, evidence and research 

Formal Elements

What are formal elements of graphic design? 

These are the building blocks of which all design is created. If we break any visual image down into its components, these will be known as the formal elements, they fall under categories such as; Colour, tone, composition, texture, mood, form, subject, style and size, to be but some.


In the workshop, we worked in groups to analyse a variety of examples of graphic design, such as posters, adverts and music album covers. Above are the outcomes of those group analysis.

I went on after the workshop to source and compile a more comprehensive list of formal elements.This is still a work in progress:


Natural, clear, compatible, distinctive, lively, stimulating, subtle, sympathetic

Artificial, clashing, depressing, discordant, garish, gaudy, jarring, unfriendly, violent

Bright, brilliant, deep, earthy, harmonious, intense, rich, saturated, strong, vibrant, vivid

Dull, flat, insipid, pale, mellow, muted, subdued, quiet, weak

Cool, cold, warm, hot, light, dark

Blended, broken, mixed, muddled, muddied, pure

Complementary, contrasting, harmonious



Dark, light, mid (middle)

Flat, uniform, unvarying, smooth, plain

Varied, broken

Constant, changing

Graduated, contrasting




Arrangement, layout, structure, position

Landscape format, portrait format, square format, circular, triangular

Horizontal, vertical, diagonal, angled

Foreground, background, middle ground

Centered, asymmetrical, symmetrical, balanced, unbalanced, lopsided, off-center, structured

Overlapping, cluttered, chaotic

Separate, spacious, empty

Free, flowing, fragmented

Formal, rigid, upright, confined

Negative space, positive space



Flat, polished, smooth

Raised, rough, coarse

Cut, incised, pitted, scratched, uneven

Hairy, sticky

Soft, hard

Shiny, glossy, reflective

Semigloss, satin, silk, frosted, matte


Mark Making

Visible, impasto, blended, smooth

Thick, thin

Bold, timid

Heavy, light

Edgy, smooth

Exhibiting glazes, washes, scumbling, dry brushing, stippling, hatching, splatters

Layered, flat

Precise, refined, regular, straight, systematic

Quick, sketchy, uneven, irregular, vigorous

Regular, patterned

Exhibiting marks made with a knife, brush


Mood or Atmosphere

Calm, content, peaceful, relaxed, tranquil

Cheerful, happy, joyful, romantic

Depressed, gloomy, miserable, sad, somber, tearful, unhappy

Aggressive, angry, chilling, dark, distressing, frightening, violent

Energetic, exciting, stimulating, thought-provoking

Boring, dull, lifeless, insipid


Form and Shape

2-D, flat, abstracted, simplified, stylized

3-D, realistic, natural sense of depth and space

Sharp, detailed

Blurred, obscured, overlapping, indistinct

Distorted, exaggerated, geometric

Linear, long, narrow

Hard-edged, soft-edged



Backlit, front lit, side lit, top lit

Having indirect light, reflected light, no directional light source



Cool, blue, gray

Warm, yellow, red

Dim, faint, gentle, gloomy, low, minimal, muted, soft

Clear, brilliant, bright, glowing, fiery, harsh, intense, sharp


Viewpoint and Pose

Front, side, three-quarters, profile, rear (from behind)

Close up, far away, life-size, bird's eye view

Upward, downward, sideways

Standing, sitting, lying down, bending

Gesturing, moving, resting, static


Subject Matter


Cityscape, buildings, man-made, urban, industrial

Fantasy, imaginary, invented, mythological

Figurative (figures), portraits

Interiors, domestic

Landscape, seascape

Still life


Still Life

Antique, battered, damaged, dusty, old, worn

New, clean, shiny

Functional, decorative, fancy

Domestic, humble

Commercial, industrial



Realism, photorealism

Cubism, surrealism


Modernism, expressionism

Chinese, Japanese, or Indian style

Plein air



Oil, tempera


Pastel, chalk, charcoal

Mixed media, collage

Watercolor, gouache



Spray paint

Wood panels, canvas, glass






We were then tasked with using the following basic shapes to create designs within a 13cm square, which we then analysed is the same manner as we had in our groups. Picking out the formal elements.

We then took a few of the squares and recreated them in Illustrator as vector images as accurately as we could. 

CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 1.png
CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 4.png
CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 2.png
Formal Elements Squares_1.png
CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 7.png
CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 3.png
CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 5.png
CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 8.png
Formal Elemnets Squares_2.jpg
CG-UFLOW-RPS_CG_3W8_Canon3HN00963_1543_001 6.jpg
Formal Elemnets Squares_2b.jpg

Light Bulb Workshop

Using only the shapes provided in the initial formal elements workshop we were tasked with designing lightbulb packaging. The idea being to give the illusion of illumination through the use of the shapes.

Alongside this project we looked into the work of Swiss designer Armin Hofmann, whose avant garde approach to typography and type as imagery feeds beautifully into our own work.

                                                             View my research here.

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