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A compelling narrative script and storyboard are the foundation of an engaging video or animation. But even good stories can fall flat if the backgrounds, characters, colors, props, and scenes you use to tell your story are uninteresting. To keep the viewer engaged, the visual elements you choose must be as appealing as the story they are supporting. Design principles are basic rules that experts from the creative industry consider the foundation of great design.

Movie films, documentaries, and professional company videos follow one or sometimes all of the next six design principles to create captivating videos.

1. Contrast

Contrast means varying the shapes, sizes, and colors of the different elements of your scene.

When a scene is confusing or uninteresting, it may result from a lack of any differentiation between your video’s elements. If everything looks the same, viewers can’t distinguish where a character or prop starts and where it finishes. You can ensure that your viewers can appreciate every pixel of your video by adjusting the colors and size of each element.

An example of contrast use, one of our 6 Design Principles to Take Any Video From Average to Exceptional

The image on the left has two green values. While a long stare may help you distinguish between two people and a chart, it doesn’t benefit you to challenge the viewer. There are two ways to fix the left image’s contrast issue. You could stick to a monochromatic look but vary the shades, tints, and tones. Alternatively, you could follow a more audience-friendly approach and change the background, characters, and props’ colors to create clear boundaries between them, as you can see in the right image.v

The color wheel is an interactive, easy way to understand the relationships between colors. Depending on each color’s position inside the circular arrangement of colors, matching it with one hue or another can lead to an aesthetically pleasing scene or an unappealing one.

Color wheel, used for finding color combinations.

Image by StudioBinder

Colors opposite each other in the color wheel, known as complementary colors, stand out without clashing. Analogous colors and triadic colors are two other ways of combining color. To create contrast with analogous colors, stick to using three colors that are next to each other. Their closeness makes them share similar traits, so they complement each other. Amazon used a blue, light blue, and yellow hue to generate contrast in one of their Alexa tutorials. In the case of triadic colors, choose three colors that are evenly spaced across the color wheel. Wistia took advantage of triadic colors—pink, yellow, and blue—to develop a vibrant video to promote their brand.

Your ability to judge an image’s contrast levels will improve as you pick more colors for your videos and dive deeper into color theory. However, you can use color palettes to achieve perfect contrast from the moment you produce your next video. You can find 20 ready-to-use palettes, regardless of your company type, in this article.

2. Proportion

Proportion is the relative size of a character, prop, or background compared to other elements in the same scene. In its most basic form, proportion communicates relative measurement—a realistic shot would feature a golf ball smaller than a grapefruit, a grapefruit smaller than a soccer ball, etc. But proportion can also communicate levels of importance.

Hitchcock’s Rule, coined by Alfred Hitchcock, summarizes the principle of proportion by claiming that a visual element’s size should be proportional to its influence on the frame. If a chart, text, or character is crucial to understanding your story, it needs to have a size that makes it instantly recognizable.

In our Why Social Distancing Works template, we utilize the principle of proportion by featuring a header that is more than twice the size of the rest of the text. Your eye naturally goes to that element.

An example of Proportion. one of the 6 Design Principles to Take Any Video From Average to Exceptional

You can produce videos compliant with the proportion principle by writing down the most critical elements of your scenes before shooting. Then, you can direct the viewer’s eyes to them by increasing the size of the elements or zooming into them so they become more prominent.

3. Balance

Balance is a structure-based principle that encourages producers to create visual harmony by carefully choosing each element’s placement in relation to the entire composition.

All your design choices will affect how the viewers perceive your video’s scenes. Balance helps determine the exact position to place an element through grids and the concepts of symmetry and asymmetry.

Symmetrical and asymmetrical scenes are two ways to arrange your pieces to achieve balance. In symmetrical scenes, you envision an imaginary center line and evenly distribute all the elements from your composition across both sides. Layering symmetrically visual assets builds a sense of balance that helps viewers navigate your shot easily. Asymmetrical balance strives to reach the same level of balance but without placing the same elements on each side.

Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick are two film directors known for their excellent use of symmetry in their shots to maintain balance.

An example of balance. one of our 6 design principles for outstanding videos

Grids are a simple way to achieve balance through symmetry in your video. One of the most popular grids in filmmaking, design, and photography is the rule of thirds, where you divide the scene into a three-by-three format and place the most important elements at the crosspoint of the grid. Since the lines aren’t centered, you can’t achieve symmetrical balance. But you can still create an asymmetrical composition that’s easy for the viewer’s eyes to scan.

4. Emphasis

Emphasis means making sure that the vital elements of your scenes stand out. Without emphasis, viewers can’t tell where they should be spending the most attention. As a result, they will likely miss relevant scenes or visual cues, affecting the overall understanding of your video.

When it comes to emphasizing people, you can place the main subjects at the center of the frame to draw the viewer’s attention. You can also push back support characters and props to keep your protagonists in the spotlight.

An example of emphasis, one of the six design principles for outstanding videos

You can achieve emphasis through multiple actions depending on what you want the viewer to see. If you want to emphasize text, adding a box behind a statement or changing the headline’s font will help you achieve that. Those scenes filled with actors or animated characters can highlight their cast’s actions by blurring the rest of the stage or even dressing them in vibrant colors that nobody else is wearing.

5. Repetition

Repetition is the idea of replicating a pattern, color, body peculiarity, typeface, or detail across one or multiple scenes. Repetitively presenting the same visual detail helps video producers project a consistent level of importance and design so that viewers can navigate their video project easily.

Companies use the repetition principle whenever they follow a brand or video style guide. By using the same fonts, colors, animation style, or actors, their audience can associate visual elements with their brand. Repetition applies to maintaining a meaning or narrative, too. In the Harry Potter series, most members of the wizard school wear dark robes in nearly every movie. Repetition helps distinguish them as students and communicates when they’re in school versus the human world.

An example of repetition, one of the six design principles for video creation

Before you start your video, ask yourself which elements need to remain consistent or which ideas should be reinforced. Take these elements and show them multiple times across the same project or projects.

6. Whitespace

Whitespace is the visually empty portion of your video’s scene. These sections either don’t have any elements or feature a clean background: the sky, a wall, or a marble block. By leaving parts of your frame empty, viewers can easily navigate your video instead of being overwhelmed with a crowded space.

We used whitespace in our Greenhouse Gases template to limit the number of ducks to what was strictly necessary to share a message. As seen in the screenshot on the right, the result was a video that is easy to scan and comprehend. Alternatively, the image on the left tries to fill every corner of the piece, leading to an unbalanced, hard-to-understand frame.

an example of whitespace used on videos

Crafting an engaging frame is as much about removing elements as it is about adding the right ones. Whenever you are ideating your set or your animation project, question the number and distribution of the elements you use to convey an idea. Remove some, if necessary, so that the world can appreciate your scene.

Follow design principles to create outstanding videos

Whether your video will have a mix of real-life footage and animation or be fully animated, Vyond’s set of tools allows you to follow the pillars of great design easily. You can ensure repetition by sticking to one of our animation styles—contrast by choosing between millions of color values, symmetry by moving objects using our grids and margins, and more without previous experience.

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