Design Element: Variety and Repetition

February 15, 2010

Design is something to always be studying when you’re an artist.  It’s a fluid thing because it changes with the times, can be more sophisticated  or rustic and either carries the day of a piece or destroys it.

I just got an e-letter that got me thinking about variety and repetition in design.  Variety indicates multiple elements used but without repetition, there isn’t any real design.  You can have lots of stuff, in other words, but chaos is not actually design.

The way we see, our “visualness”, if you will, requires some sort of order.  Order can be achieved through the use of symmetry (way easy), or the repetition of a design element whether it’s a color, shape or figure.  Symmetry is easy.  It’s sort of the cheap “go-to” and indicates that the designer didn’t know how to create order in a more interesting way; symmetry is predictable and can be kind of ho-hum.  Using repetition takes constant study to get right because each piece of art is different so the balance, design elements and everything will be different.  This is where it gets interesting for the artist and hopefully, for the viewer of the art, too.

Abstract wallpaper for desktop computer from

Abstract wallpaper from

The simplest repetition is to use a shape again and again.  A little more difficult is to use color.  Unusual color combinations  that are unpredictable tell the viewer a different visual story.  Challenge yourself to create a design that not only tells a story but is unpredictable and uses color as the repeated design element.

A good thing to check out for looking at design is abstract wallpaper for your computer.  Go ahead: Google it.  Are the designs that you see using 15 different colors? 20 different shapes?  2 different shapes?  Of course they don’t want to compete with all the little icons on your desktop so this art has a very specialized purpose.More abstract wallpaper from

Some of the designs are soothing, some are not.  What floats your boat?


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