Behind any great design lies fundamental components that hold everything together. Each shape, color, line, or compositional arrangement is there for a reason and each of those components have their own function. Outside of two-dimensional creations, design principles can be applied to motion design or motion graphics. Think of motion graphics as an animated-version of graphic design; take a look at the designs and patterns in the objects around you and imagine what they would look like in-motion.

That being said, we’re going to break down some key design elements and how they can improve your creative projects as a whole.

The Basics: Points, Lines, and Planes

Points, lines, and planes are what make up the structure of design theory. From these elements, you can create a number of projects ranging from icons, layouts, patterns, animations, to text.


A point is a single position in space. Graphically, a point takes form as a dot or circle in both digital and physical spaces. Points can grab a viewer’s attention based on their size and placement. In motion design, all shapes can be formed from a group of points, and also serve as a focal point to guide the viewer’s eye.


A line is the simplest and most versatile elements of design. It can be defined as a point in motion, a series of adjacent points, a connection between points, or an implied connection between points. Lines visually exist in many weights and styles: they can be straight or curved, continuous or broken. Adding a line into a composition will help to guide the viewer’s attention to different parts of a piece. A series or collection lines can also indicate movement and speed when placed near an object.

The width and orientation of a line can also influence how a design is interpreted. A thicker line signifies weight and structure, while a thinner line is fragile and delicate. Also, horizontal lines can suggest stability, and diagonal or vertical lines suggest action and unbalance.


A plane is a flat surface, extending in height and width. Shapes are essentially planes with edges. In a vector-based software, every shape consists of a line and a fill. In a physical space, it can be referenced to architectural structures like walls, floors, or windows. Incorporating planes in a piece can create depth and the illusion of three-dimensional spaces in a two-dimensional presentation.

Principles of Graphic Design

Graphic design principles, when used purposefully, help to create aesthetically-pleasing designs.

In the case of motion design, think of graphic principles in the context of films and animations. How do certain elements create harmony and structure within a frame? How can one object be more pronounced than another? Overall, understanding these basic principles helps you to create projects with intentional themes.


Alignment can be expressed when objects fall under the same axis, and the negative space between those objects is consistently the same. This creates a strong sense of balance and order within a composition. If a composition lacks alignment, it can cause a design to appear random and chaotic.


Proximity is the grouping of similar or related elements. You can have similar shapes appear one by one in close proximity to another which helps to create visual organization. The more closely the elements are placed together, the more connected they appear. A careful use of proximity can reduce clutter, increase clarity, and can allow for an interesting use of negative space in your design.


Using a variety of shapes help to emphasize one object over another.


Scale is a common principle used by many designers. It can be used to create contrast, depth, and movement. Incorporating similar objects with varying sizes produce active compositions.

Scale in a motion design can be applied in various ways from interacting with surrounding objects to integrating with a soundtrack.


Use color, tint or opacity to create emphasis in your composition.

No matter what approach you choose to work on your motion design projects, implementing these design principles will elevate the quality of your work. Applying even just a handful of these principles can make a big difference to the overall presentation of your animation and its appeal to your audience.

This content comes from the course Motion Design: Time and Technology, part of the Program Introduction to Motion Design, offered by Ringling College of Art and Design. Enroll in the Program below:

Introduction to Motion Design

Ringling College of Art and Design