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It's possible to vary in multiple channels, i.e. color, shape, angle, size, etc... AND there are multiple degrees of difference within each channel. So if you have more than a few items in a design, there are so many different possible combinations. For example, some items could only differ in size(in a particular difference in size), while some items can be different in color and shape(in particular difference of hue/sat/value and angles).

While design books and courses give you vague principles and leave it up to a designer's intuition, I figured there must be some more systematized and detailed guidelines based on recent cognitive and neuroscience research.

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It's art, not science.

If design were nothing more than calculable factors, there would be no need for the artist.

All you will find is what you've already discovered -- guidelines, suggestions, general principles. Design is wholly subjective in a great many areas and can't be quantified by specific rules most of the time.

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I'd say design is more like psychology, and as designers, our job is to help communicate visually, most of all. And there have be very insightful feedback from scientific studies to design. What come to mind at the moment are "Visual Thinking" by Collin Ware, and the user research studies in the web usability field. –  user115385 Jan 25 at 0:48
    
There are studies in the parts which may be used within a design. Such as color theory, typography, spacial relations, proximity, etc. However, I don't think you'll find anything "systematized and detailed" beyond a grid system which really only relates to placement or spacial relations. If a "design" can be systematically created, it's really not design, it's a template. –  Scott Jan 25 at 2:19

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