Design Principles: Why Balance In Design Is So Important 

Any good designer knows that balance in a design counts for a lot. If you look at a design composition and feel that something is off kilter, chances are that there isn’t balance amongst the elements. As they each have different visual weights,  how they are placed is vital.

What exactly is balance in design?

As a design principle, balance refers to the distribution of elements in a specific artwork or design. Our eyes naturally seek out order and a sense of stability in any image that we see. This is also the psychological reason behind why people are more attracted to faces and objects that are symmetrical. 

A sense of balance or symmetry helps to relax the eye and also produces an appealing effect. When a designer assigns visual weight to the elements in a specific design, they can create a final product that produces the effects of balance and stability. 

There are two terms that it’s important to be familiar with when we talk about balance in design: 

  • Visual weight, which is the perceived weight of a design element. How much attention a specific element gets determines this. 
  • Visual direction refers to the direction in which a specific element in a design appears to be moving. 

Chances are you’ve heard of the most common type of balance which is symmetry. Symmetrical balance is achieved when images and elements are mirrored on both sides of a design. But there’s a lot more to balance than just symmetry.

Balance in design- a peek into its history 

The idea of balance has been observed for centuries. Even in prehistoric and early art forms. However, the concept gained formal recognition thanks to artists who worked in the Renaissance period. Leonardo da Vinci for instance is known the world over for his meticulous attention to balance. Especially in the infamous masterpieces such as the Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio – the namesake of the Vitruvian Man argued that a temple must be proportioned just like the human body. He said so, because he believed the human anatomy to be of perfect proportion. Da Vinci’s painting came to be under this premise.

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Why is balance in design important? 

When a design composition has balance, it just feels right. There is a sense of aesthetic appeal that the design would otherwise lack. Through balance in design, a few focal points can be created. But they will never attract your attention at the expense of the rest of the design.

For designers to achieve balance in design, they need to arrange positive and negative elements so that they do not compete with each other. Everything should just complement one another and come together to form a cohesive final result. In other words, the individual parts will contribute to make up the sum, but they do not try to become the sum all on their own. 

When there is no balance in a design, there can be a lot of friction. The elements then start to dominate the design individually and also compete for attention. As a result, the final composition becomes less than the sum of its parts. Now, as an exception to the rule, there may be some designs that intentionally do not have balance. This may be because of the particular message that needs to be conveyed. In general, though, most people prefer a well-balanced design. 

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What are the types of balance in design? 

There are several types of balance in design. Knowing each one of these and the purpose that they serve is the best way to use each to your advantage.

Symmetrical balance 

This is the most common type of balance that you will see in a design. The visual weight here will be distributed equally in all of the design. If you draw a line vertically or horizontally, you should see that the weight balances equally on both sides of the line. This is the prime example of a well-balanced composition. And for that reason it is extremely pleasing to the human eye. 

While it has such great appeal, symmetrical balance may not necessarily be the most interesting type of balance in design composition. In fact, it could become downright boring, because it does not offer the viewer one particular focal point. It is also quite interesting that a very small change, like adjusting colors can actually shift the balance of such a design. And to the extent that it seems like it is not evenly laid out symmetrically anymore. 

Have a look at the example below. The images perfectly balance each other out on both sides, with black on white and white on black. The design is appealing to the eye and feels rather calming and organized. 

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Asymmetrical balance 

This type of balance is used in a design or in photography to create movement or tension. This means that the focal points in the design, or the different elements in it, are not as evenly balanced as with symmetrical balance. 

That said, even though one side of the design or image will be visually heavier than the other, there is still a strong sense of balance and appeal that can be created with asymmetrical design. If we were to explain this in simpler terms, we’d say that asymmetrical balance is almost like multiple smaller elements on one side, balancing one big element on the other. While this is not actually perfectly balanced, our eyes treat it as if it is. The creativity here is more unanticipated and so, it also generates more interest than in the case of the simple symmetrical balance. Below is an example of a logo with asymmetrical balance. 

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Off-balance 

If a designer is really good at what they do, they can take balance to a whole new level. An off-balance effect is achieved when a design or image has visual appeal without balance. Many of these seemingly contradictory photographs and works of art, create a sense of movement and action. The viewer may feel a little uncomfortable, because there is a distinctive feeling of something being not quite right about the design. 

At the same time, they also find the design attractive, because it is unique and unusual. Designers who tread on this territory, are the ones who know the rules so well, that they dare to challenge conventional norms. They want to create designs that not just catch the eye, but also stimulate the human mind.

It should be noted that this is one of the trickiest things to achieve in design. It’s a very fine line between a design being interesting and then just looking like a hot mess. The photograph below, is a great example of something being completely off-balance, and yet still appealing to the eye.

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Radial balance 

In this kind of balance, visual elements will radiate from a center point. A good example would be the rays of sunshine radiating out from the sun. We often see radial balance in our surroundings – in nature. The ripple in water, whirlpools, the rings in a tree trunk and the arrangement of flower petals are all examples of radial balance. 

When it comes to design, spirals are perhaps the most common method of getting that perfect amount of radial balance. Most sales flyers and posters for events use the principle of radial balance. They use borders and frames that are circular so that they guide the eye of the reader to the most important information – typically the time and the date of event.  

With photography, the close up shots of flowers and plants show examples of radial balance. They are soothing to the eye and very satisfying as a result. Some illustrators take the principle of radial balance and go on to create optical illusions in the form, which in turn creates a rather hypnotic effect.

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Mosaic or Crystallographic balance 

Have you ever heard of the term, organized chaos? Mosaic balance is exactly that. It may feel like there is actually a lot of noise in the design, but once all the elements come together, it creates a sense of balance. 

This balance is created because these kinds of designs do not have a distinguishable point of focus. The crystallographic or mosaic balance pattern below embodies all of these qualities. It does feel like there’s a lot going on, but there is order to the chaos. There is also a lack of a focal point and so, the eye is not stressed out by all of the elements.

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Mosaic balance can be achieved in a design or in a photograph by adding many different elements to a layout. If the layout is sparsely populated with elements, the effect will lose its potency, because the eye will start to focus on individual elements.

Since our eyes automatically read such designs as background noise, they make for really good backgrounds on which you can feature either your main graphics or typography. 

With mosaic balance, designers can also play with proportion and scale. Even though some elements may be small and some enlarged, they will not come across as overpowering, when placed together in a busy layout. The combination of various proportions can actually make the design more lively and appealing. Using colors that are complementary is also a great way to incorporate a sense of balance into this kind of layout.

Other ways to achieve balance in design 

While the concepts above are the main forms of balance in design, there are also other ways in which balance can be achieved.

Balance from color 

Designers can achieve balance through colors when they bring together small areas of bright colors with a large area of a darker color. However, to get this done just right it’s important to understand the ideas behind color psychology and how different colors work together. It is also crucial that the designer knows about the dos and don’ts in picking colors for designs. And they’ll need to factor all this in alongside your brand colors and style guide.

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Balance from position 

Another great way to create a balanced feeling design is by positioning the elements in the design just right. This is also one of the prime examples of asymmetrical balance, where many little elements on one side of the design, can balance out one large element on the other.

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Balance from texture 

Texture can also have an impact on the balance in a design. The same rules that apply to shapes apply here too. Designers can combine a small area consisting of an interesting texture with a large area that is just flat and has no texture to create balance.

Balance from eye direction 

Balance can be brought into a design when the reader’s eyes are directed to the main content. The elements used in the design in this case, act as tools that help guide the eyes of the viewer. The best way to explain this would be with an example. This poster design has a balance based on color that gives direction. Essentially, the combination and distribution of colors helps your eyes go to the main content that is displayed within a small area.

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Balance from value 

Value can also contribute to adding or taking away visual weight. And in turn this can contribute to adding or taking away a sense of balance in design. For instance, if a lighter shade is used, there will be much less visual weight. And if a darker shade is used, the visual weight also increases. 

Balance from lines

The size of lines that are used in a design can also play a role in balance. Thicker lines usually feel heavier and have more visual weight than the thinner lines. So a designer would need to carefully calculate the right mix of thick and thin lines that they need to have in a design, to achieve the perfect balance. 

Balance from size 

Another way to achieve balance is to increase or decrease the size of the design elements. The larger the size of the design elements, the heavier the visual weight will be. 

Finding the perfect balance in design

The importance of finding the right balance in design cannot be understated. It doesn’t matter how amazing a design concept may be or how vibrant the colors used. If there is no visual appeal, everything just falls apart. The key to creating amazing marketing creatives that engage customers, is striking the right amount of balance. And symmetrical balance is just the starting point. So have fun working with your designer to discover how balance can make your designs even better.