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Elements of Design:-Identifying Africa Landscapes and Motifs in Wax Print

Graphic designers dip into all areas of life for inspiration when working on design projects. Most of them are guided by the principles of design and therefore use the elements of design as the tool with which they manifest their inspiration.

Design and print in Africa is enormously weighted by symbols, African landscapes, proverbs, folklore, locally occurring events and celebrated people. Most often than not wax prints are characterized by symbols that are visual expressions of a society’s culture; its philosophies, beliefs and histories and are bountiful in proverbial meaning that often signify the collective wisdom of a particular ethnic group. These concepts are artistically imposed on design works such as textiles, guided by design principles and expressed by elements of design. They can communicate knowledge, feelings and values and therefore play an important role in the concept of reality. The interesting feature in all of this is in discovering how designs on wax prints as made. What informs the designer? How are shapes, objects laid out on fabric? How does a textile company or a designer for that matter, decide on colour, hues and form?  Principles of design, but most especially, elements of design seem to be the guiding light here.

What are the elements of design?

In the world of design, the elements of design characterize the scope or structure of the design piece in question. This in turn becomes the basis of the work which then translates through the design and carries tone, messages and pleasure to the consumer. The elements are many; among them Point, Line, Form, Shape and space, Movement, Color, Pattern and Texture.

Coming up with the inspiration for a design or a piece of art is half of the job done; employing the elements of the subject, to develop a design concept is also equally important. The elements of design are tools a designer uses to craft meaning and bring clarity to a muddled mess of ideas. They will make sure a design is as powerful as it can be.


Lines depict direction, seriousness, character and thought.  They can be used as enclosures in design or can be used in various forms to mean various things. As much as lines are visible in designs, they also communicate form and substance. In everyday life, we see lines in buildings and in trees or telephone poles doing what they do best – providing structure. We also see lines in repetitive nature forming patterns and direction. Lines in design can be represented singularly or in groups to connote depth, value, movement and order. Lines can offer structure in the form of frames to draw attention to a particular area.


Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. The same can roughly be said of the choice of colour. Color is one of the most important elements of design that must be thought of and applied to a design carefully. Even a design in black and white must be configured purposefully to present a beautiful piece. Therefore, all the conventions of colour must be planned and apportioned correctly to avoid distorting an entire project.  Consequently, saturation, hues, brightness, contrast, graduation and value etc. are colour characteristics that need the full skill of the designer to bring a design piece to life.

There is much that can be said and attributed to colour. In fact, colour is intrinsically linked to culture where some colours connote life or death; fun or solemnities; deity or man. In Africa, various cultures have informed the design of textiles, prints and art because of the way culture is ingrained in everyday life. Most commonly, the colour black signifies death and therefore textile companies devote a sizeable quantity of production time to producing funeral cloths. In Ghana, one cannot deny the importance of getting the right shade of black, brown or red to be chosen as an official funeral garb. The colour cum culture analogy can also be witnessed in Western cultures. The psychology of colour is used as a phenomenal marketing tool for textile companies as it speaks to the emotions of the consumer.

Again, the importance of colour in the textile and fashion industry cannot be overlooked. It is fashion fodder for the industry!  Colour determines and or sets trends. In Ghana for example, textile companies such as GTP have set trends with the production of particular sets of cloured wax prints under one a separate production line which has become popular with the youth, spurring on a wave of brightly coloured wax print ambassadors.

For companies like these, colour forecasting is extremely crucial in the design planning process as consumer preferences; common traits, situational events and much more are indicators that inform the decision of the company in the choice and application of colour to a particular design.


Shapes can be found everywhere. The use of shapes in textile design is repetitive, enhanced, used as illusions and is applied in many other ways. Shapes range from basic geometric form, to alphabets to unconventional forms such as everyday items like lipstick, pencil, a fist etc.). Local markets stalls are flooded with heavily shape-themed wax prints, with some looking quite comical.


Pattern can be described as a repeating unit of shape or form. There are only so many ways of creating patterns in design. Patterns also bring order to a seemingly disheveled looking design. African wax prints are famous for the use of patterns in repetitive order. The important thing to remember is that they are constantly evolving and new influences in current societies are reflected in new motifs.

Pattern exists in nature as well as in designed objects; however, there are only a limited number of ways patterns can be used for design. Textiles from the colonial days had a limited number of patterns which were revamped with different colours to increase the menu of choice.  Currently, things have gotten better on the aggregate with new patterns making an entrance on the market.


Texture is experienced by the use of some of the human sensory organs. How a piece of fabric feels or how it looks is an important element of design. Textures speak to the consumers with clarity and certainty. The choice of a wax print, in this instance, will undoubtedly be based on how a designer has been able to appeal to the taste, pleasure and delight of a consumer. Textures range from rough surfaces to silky, reptilian, softness and even to glitter or what is popularly referred to in Ghana as “shine-shine -bɔbɔ”. Textures can capture nostalgia and bring fond memories of past events ignited in the brain simply through touch or sight.

There are other elements of design that have not been graciously captured in this editorial, but they are by no means irrelevant. In all intents and purposes, African wax prints and especially textile companies in Ghana have livened up the act of choosing fabrics for consumers with these tools.

A lot can be said for the way design informs our lives. In as much as we are bombarded with the mundane activities that keep us busy, taking the time to actually look at and appreciate a design on wax prints, taking into account the amount of work and detail that went into it, we might be pleasantly surprised to find the beginnings of burgeoning intrigue in looking forward to what designs textile companies will produce next.

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