How The Heck do you Actually Incorporate Design Principles into Scrapbooking?

Bridge to Canyon Lake

Karen is a long-time Paperclipping Member and I remember conversations we had a handful of years ago where she was struggling to understand how it works to actually incorporate the design principles she was learning from the tutorials.

Despite her confusion and frustration, she kept learning and working on it and has come a long way!

This concept can be confusing at first, so I wanted to share with you a very recent conversation Karen and I had in the comments of a blog post last week, now that she’s beyond that initial period of struggle. So below is that conversation and then more of my own thoughts regarding the balance between working intuitively and thinking consciously about the principles of design.

How to Incorporate Design Principles Into Our Scrapbooking

It’s not mechanic. It’s an art. In this conversation you’ll get a great idea on how many of us actually use those principles.

Karen: I am one of those people who learn something, internalize it, and then follow my gut. It doesn’t work for me to sit down and take a logical, linear approach to design. I allow the design principles to work through me so I can stay “in the flow,” and then go back and tweak as necessary. :)

Me: It’s a kind of organic thing for me. Much of the time I’m doing things from my gut, but because of my position, I need to explain it, so I go back and analyze why it was that I wanted to do something. Then I go — “Oh yeah, it used such-and-such principle!”

Other times it’s an intentional decision — I want to accomplish z, and I know the principle that says x+y=z, so I’ll choose to do x+y if it feels good to me.

And then there are the times when I’m trying to make a decision. I loved the first journaling block that I showed in this video for my Swingset layout but something was keeping me from committing to it. I happened to be working on my design course at the time that I was making that page and I was thinking about the principle of repetition, when suddenly it occurred to me that the other journal block (the one I ultimately used) would accomplish repetition. So I tried it and it made the page feel complete for me, so I did it!

I think I go from my gut a little more often than starting from a specific principle.

Swings & Slides

Noell–your response to me was so helpful to know–thank you. I always knew I loved learning the design principles in isolation because I wanted to know WHY a page or layout worked. That said, as a non-linear thinker and creator, I wasn’t always sure HOW to put them together.

Remember how I’ve posted over the years about not trusting myself to create and then getting stressed? Well, it wasn’t just getting overloaded with ideas from magazines–it was also starting a page by thinking, “Okay–I need to have balance and unity…hmmmm…is there flow? Did I do the rule of thirds?” I’d just get bogged down in sequencing design principles and that didn’t let itself to any sort of creativity.

Now I TRUST that I really have internalized them after a few years of studying them. I asked myself, “What works for me to start a layout? What’s my process?” Once I figured out my starting point, which is where to place the photos, that made a big difference because other decisions flowed from there. I just am so excited to create from this place–this place of trusting myself and knowing that I can tweak along the way.

So when you asked on your blog, “What do you know want to know about design?” I wasn’t sure how to answer. I was thinking, “I want to know how to put it all together….without thinking about it too much and stifling my creativity but still being mindful.” But that seemed a bit jumbled. I am really aiming for mindfulness in my scrapbooking–paying attention to the process without being attached to the outcome. I’m on my way….:)

Me: The more you practice and internalize design, the more certain things become a part of your gut instinct, too.

Also, I can’t emphasize enough the one most important thing — know what your story is before you start making any choices. Just knowing the story — including the mood, feelings, tone — is all you need to do to be in the frame of mind to choose design principles that will help you tell the story.

Internalizing the Principles

The more you use a principle, the more it becomes something you do from the gut without having to think about it consciously. For example, when I see a blank canvas, layout, or when I’m framing a picture, I naturally see the lines and intersections of the Rule of Thirds, which is framework for placing focal points and lines in a way humans naturally find most visually pleasing.




I don’t consciously visualize the lines, but I intuitively know where those lines are and I naturally want to put things in those places. And yet, there was an actual time when that was not natural to me. There was specific day when I learned this principle (I think I learned it through photography) and I began to try it.

And I began to see it in other photos and good designs.

And it wasn’t long before it was just a part of how I see things.

Don’t Use All the Principles All the Time

You don’t need to. You don’t want to. I consciously turn to my knowledge of design mainly when things aren’t working right and I need to figure out why. The answer comes to me. But this takes practice, so be patient!

Analyze other good visual designs until you can identify the principles that make them work and what the design is communicating.

Much in design will come naturally over time as you…

  • Learn
  • Analyze other good designs (photos, layouts, art, etc)
  • Practice
  • Trust yourself, as Karen said!

Ready to Learn?

I dig deep into design for the Paperclipping Video Tutorials, much deeper than what you typically find for scrapbookers. It’s all right here, waiting for you!

  • Karen Bierdeman

    Hey, Noell–

    So cool to see our conversation used to support others! Yeah! LOVE this post for a couple of reasons. One, reading it makes me see how far I’ve come in learning design principles and using them. Two, that creative tension between learning powerful information and then trusting yourself, over time, to internalize it and use it (all the while knowing that you can tweak along the way and that such tweaking is actually an integral and fun part of creativity) is actually something that I teach as a parent coach. The irony of “teaching what we need to know” does not escape me, by the way! ANY time I focus on “getting it right” or doing something “perfectly” I get stuck in emotional quicksand. “Playing” with my “stuff” for short bursts of time suits my ADD-like brain and keeps me “in the flow.”

    Anyway, great content is what has kept me being a member all these years–that, and your no b.s., authentic way of teaching.

    Very cool.

    Karen :)

  • This post definitely “hits the spot” for me where I am in my learning process. I literally have been asking myself, “How do I incorporate these principles into my pages while not having it be a mechanical exercise?” For right now, I am still at a point of emulating others’ designs (through looking at blogs, or taking BPC classes), but I am also a non-schmo Paperclipping member learning the principles of design through your videos. I’ll get there! :-) ~ Laura

  • Karen Bierdeman

    Yay, Laura! You’re on your way!


  • Jana_NJ

    I agree with you Noell I think the more we do it and exercise the principles and study them intuitively we start to use them almost like riding a bicycle you never forget.

  • Thank you, Karen! It’s been awesome having you around and sharing your
    insights! You make me think more deeply — like just now with your comment
    about creative tension of learning and trusting yourself, applying,
    internalizing, etc. That’s good stuff and so true. It’s scary while we’re
    going through it so it’s nice to know that it’s an important part of the

  • Thank you for your non-schmo-ness, lol! You’ll get there!