Design Principles (07)

Let’s move a little further along my list of what I consider The 10 Basic Principles of Design.

Remember this list?

Ten Building Blocks to Design-Design at it’s Most Primitive

7 physical and 3 Sensory Elements=The 10 Basics of  Design

Physical Elements:

  • Point: where everything starts.
  • Line: the connection of two points.
  • Plane: connection of several lines—2 dimensional.
  • Form: connection of several planes—3 dimensional.
  • Motion: movement/experience, planes/form.
  • Color: an added bonus to 3 dimensional space—courtesy of light.
  • Texture: as in manipulation of plane, form, and color.


  • Sound: Most powerful, out of sight, or irregular rhythm.
  • Touch/Tactile: human nature, drawn to . . .
  • Smell: kicks in memory, most powerful.


After discussing the 1st 4 in Design Principles(04), let me take a few minutes in discussing the idea of how I see the 5th of the first 7  physical elements which is motion.

Motion; a design principle, I’m sure most folks have a very preconceived notion of what motion is. As usual I see things a little differently let us now look at how we see, act, and live with motion in the garden.

Two Types

Static, let's sit still for awhile
Static, let's sit still for awhile
  1. Static: Where the observer looks at the landscape from one particular point of view. The landscape may be in motion but the observer is at rest.  Best example of this is one of those cool Japanese Gardens where the garden is very minimal and the observer as a great vantage point to view all before him.
  2. Dynamic: Here we are going through the garden and just having a great old time. We need ways to travel and most times it helps to have some sort of destination to look forward to or see off in the distance.
Movement through the designed landscape
Movement through the designed landscape

Know the rule, break the rule.

So is it only Japanese style gardens for static design? No, of course not. I would like you to consider the idea of the kitchen window, the den window, a 2nd story deck, the upper terrace, and the quickly fading fast-front porch.

Plus as many other ideas for those anchored spots that you can think of. That one singular spot where the observer spends a lot of time-that view . . . is the money view.

Static motion and observation in the designed landscape
Static motion and observation in the designed landscape

It really helps if there is some great focal point for the observer to focus on. Any focal should have a very dominating effect and the surrounding landscape should be very subordinate.

What else?

Now look at this for a moment. This focal can have motion, it can be dynamic(think waterfall), or something that may move with the wind, changes with the weather, etc.

Two other things. The foreground(the ground plane) should not distract from the focal just farther off in the distance. A background that helps the focal element(s) stand out also helps.

Dynamic Thoughts

The idea of moving through the designed space is where almost all American Designers spend their effort, or just take it for granted; as in, movement isn’t given much thought.

Considering most designed landscapes are a collection of mulched beds bound together by grass.

Movement, movement . . . we’ll just walk around the yard or step off the back patio onto the grass . . . then walk around the yard.

The dynamic observer moving through the designed landscape.
The dynamic observer moving through the designed landscape.


Look here, when a designer actually thinks about this design principle great things can-and usually do happen. There are a lot of ways good designers can move folks through their spaces.

Walkways, pathway, stepping stone, boardwalks, narrow strips of lawn, steps, landings, etc. With each of the previous examples the designer can even speed up and slow down the movement of the dynamic observer.

Interest here, a small wonder planted right down there, a piece of art off in the distance, a mysterious sound around the corner, and on , and on, and on.

Low plantings, high plantings, sun, shade, seating, change on the ground plane, elevation change, slight change left/right, texture, color(more to come on this), all sorts of techniques for the designer to use in keeping the dynamic observer interested and moving along.

Really Good

With real design forethought a good designer can even find ways to put static points in a real dynamic landscape.  A point in this dynamic landscape that is truly static, and follows the description above . . . is really, really good design.

Good design, where a designer is creating absolutely great spaces.

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. Rick, great drawings and concepts- it is enlightening to have elements of design which can be so easily taken for granted articulated.

    I am working on good design that also includes, wild zones with native plants for pollinators and bird food, as well as unstructured play – to reconnect children back to nature and away from screens!

    Also some food gardening for health, deep connection and food independence, beauty always , the sacred always, and here in dry getting drier California we must really conserve water more then ever. We will all be on rationing soon. Water catchment is important and gray water systems.

    Happy to re-connect and hear your thoughts.

    1. Liz;

      Awesome to hear from you. to have someone like you comment positively on my articulation skills really makes my day. My series is far from over and as always I am soliciting input on this issue . . . and the elusive “advanced design principles”

      Sounds like you are working on really interesting projects(no surprise there).

      Those of us that live in the Great Lakes region are truly blessed(and spoiled) by the amount of water we have, and have access to. I have been saying for 15 years that the wars at the end of the 21st ca., will be about water, and the control of fresh water . . . lookout Canada!

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