Design principles

While being a designer for quite some time now, I follow some natural rules to create harmony within my designs. Therefore the most common patterns I use are as followed.


As in music, a rhythm is needed to follow. The same concept applies on design. Without a steady rhythm you and the observer will be lost in space. Therefore we use grids in both cases. In music terms we will speak about time signature, in design terms it is the grid: the division of the area your design is applied to.

One of the most recognizable examples of applying a grid within graphic design, can be found in the work of Wim Crouwel.

Design example
Music example


Working with a grid isn’t, can’t and shouldn’t be applied at all times. That is the reason I speak in the term of “Rhythm” in the first place. Rhythm is something you need to get the hang of it in the long run. Like a drummer needs to practice to play a steady beat, a designer should practice to divide elements over a certain amount of space while maintaining order and balance. In both cases you don’t need a visual cue to help you, instead you can rely on your natural sense to find the right “groove”.

In music, groove is the sense of an effect (“feel”) of changing pattern in a propulsive rhythm or sense of “swing”.


Lose the grid…

So what’s next, once you’ve picked a bpm range, or have set up all your guides? Well, then it’s time to play! And while playing you might want to get off the grid some times, my advice would be: do it! Nothing is as boring and predictable then drawing between the lines and follow the rules from which you know it will guide you to something nice and acceptable. When you bravely follow all the rules you’ve set for yourself, you won’t be able to surprise yourself with something new in the first place, let alone someone else.

Order by chaos

So even when I have chosen a certain type of bpm, grid, or tool. I like to experiment. Not once, not twice, but over and over again. Just to to go with the flow and to create a bunch of stuff. Very often I end up with a bunch of crap or even total chaos, but when looking back at all my steps, there is always a certain pattern emerging which defines what I am looking for, what I like and who I am as a designer and musician. It’s my signature which arises.

You’re in charge

Finding your own signature might be the toughest job for a musician and designer. While experimenting you will be left alone in the uncomfortable zone where nothing is certain and you can question everything whether it is wrong or right. Whenever feeling despirate, just remind that you are in charge! Block every impulse from the outside world and focus on your inner voice. Ask yourself if YOU would like it? You need to get comfortable by making decisions and to move on with it to follow the path and maintain a clear direction. As stated earlier, relying on your own senses is what you need to do.


So what are you waiting for? Have you already started that new project you are dreaming of? Hesitation is the #1 killer of creativity, leadership and success. When you don’t make choices you will get stuck, stand still and will never be able to follow the path towards your goal. While doing nothing no patterns will emerge, nothing will be learned because, yeah safely no mistakes will be made. But f*ck it, does it have to be perfect already? No! Everyone and everything has to start somehow, somewhere, someday. And that is one of the main principles I deal with everyday. Don’t procrastinate what you want to create, pick up that pencil, keyboard or drumstick and play!

Have fun for the long run and look back afterwards. Awesomeness awaits.


Marco van Zomeren is a designer on a audio visual journey. Currently working full time at a company with several subsidiaries in the financial sector. Besides his day job he spends most of his spare time on producing electronic music. More...


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