Core Principles of Style

by Luke Wroblewski March 18, 2004

Christopher Alexander authored A Pattern Language in 1977 and inspired a movement in software, interface design, and more. Alexander's The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe outlines the properties that underlie beauty in art, nature, and great buildings:

  1. Levels of Scale: A balanced range of sizes is pleasing and beautiful.
  2. Strong Centers: Good design offers areas of focus or weight.
  3. Boundaries: Outlines focus attention on the center.
  4. Alternating Repetition: Repeating various elements creates a sense of order and harmony.
  5. Positive Space: The background should reinforce rather than detract from the center.
  6. Good Shape: Simple forms create an intense, powerful center.
  7. Local Symmetries: Organic, small-scale symmetry works better than precise, overall symmetry.
  8. Deep Interlock and Ambiguity: Looping, connected elements promote unity and grace.
  9. Contrast: Unity is achieved with visible opposites.
  10. Gradients: The proportional use of space and pattern creates harmony.
  11. Roughness: Texture and imperfections convey uniqueness and life.
  12. Echoes: Similarities should repeat throughout a design.
  13. The Void: Empty spaces offer calm and contrast.
  14. Simplicity and Inner Calm: Use only essentials; avoid extraneous elements.
  15. Not-Separateness: Designs should be connected and complementary, not egocentric and isolated.