Design shares a lot of similarities with Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A healthy dose of experimentation takes place, some lines are crossed, and most importantly, it involves finding a balance that’s “just right.”
Some prefer their porridge scalding hot or simply don’t mind that their bed was purchased at PetCo, and that’s okay, too. But if your goal is to please the majority of your audience with a strong, balanced presentation, remembering the C.O.R.E. principles of design is something you can’t afford to miss.
C.O.R.E.: Contrast, Orientation, Repetition, Experience.
Simply put, contrast measures the amount of separation between elements. Contrast is not limited to color – it also includes size, shape, typography, and positioning. This difference in appearance allows for a strong command of hierarchy on a page, from emphasis of headings to striking calls to action.
Too many contrasting pieces overwhelm and confuse, while too few can limit the impact of a message. Exercising a certain sense of balance is key.
Orientation is concerned with the visual arrangement of elements. This is one of the more commonly overlooked principles on this list, yet it plays a surprisingly important role in design.
Consider this: You’ve likely used graph paper at some point in your life. The grid was probably comprised of squares of equal width and height, allowing you to create lines and shapes with precision. Designers actively use grids to align or “anchor” stuff in accordance with other stuff. This grid-based design approach is very pleasing to the eye and offers a sense of organization and tidiness.
Proximity between elements should also be considered when looking at orientation. By grouping like objects together and separating them from other bits and pieces, you can create a sense of breathing room that makes it easier to take in information, further supporting a visual hierarchy. Think of design proximity like bears — when in doubt, keep your distance.
Repetition keeps your interactions consistent and predictable. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, it can mean using uniform margins, padding, and design features like color and shape throughout a story.
Behaviorally speaking, it’s the reason you expect to find navigation menus at the top of a webpage, or a footer with contact information at the bottom. It also aids significantly in brand strategy in much the same way a catchy song is arranged — repeating beats and distinct sound profiles support a continuous message that yield recognition.
Repetition creates patterns that act as the building blocks for just about everything designers create. Looking at ZocDoc’s recent rebranding effort, can you see how repetition played a role in the design process?
No, I’m not talking about that slightly-exaggerated part of your coworker’s resume, nor that time she allegedly broke her tibia leaping out the window of a bear dwelling. I’m talking about experience in design terms — how something you create affects the perceptions, behaviors, and expectations of an audience.
Experience can be viewed as two separate but interdependent categories: Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX). Design should inherently solve problems, not simply act as ornamental in their own sphere. Though this intentional way of thinking is nothing new, a variety of disciplines have emerged from this idea.
Something may be visually appealing but difficult to use, or it may be easy and intuitive but look downright bleak (sorry, Craigslist). Both of these scenarios have the potential to be successful in their own right, so ideally a diligent amount of research and testing should be conducted to find the best solution.
Your Next Design
Well, there you have it: The C.O.R.E. principles of design explained, or at least a solid introduction. The next time you need to design anything, use this handy acronym as an internal checklist!