Understanding the Importance of Balance in Graphic Design
Balance in design covers how the visual weight of elements are balanced with each other on both sides of a design to create cohesiveness, completion, and satisfaction. To achieve optimal balance, your composition should be balanced vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or background versus foreground. If you don’t have a sense of balance with your designs, then the viewer’s eye won’t know where to look and what you’re trying to communicate may not get across because areas of less interest can easily go unnoticed.
The elements that must be balanced to achieve your desired outcome include:
Colors (value, hue, saturation, transparency)
Textures (smooth versus rough)
Still versus moving
With any design you create, you should be thinking about the many principles of graphic design, whether contrast, unity, emphasis, or in the case of this article, balance.
The five types of balance covered here are:
But first, a word about visual weight and how it relates to balance in graphic design.
Considering Visual Weight
Balance in graphic design is the placement of the above elements, of which each has a visual weight. To illustrate what is meant by “visual weight,” imagine seeing a building leaning over to one side. You would most likely feel a little concerned, and probably wouldn’t go in it. While not as extreme, the same concept is true for your designs because it’s human nature for people to like some type of balance for the stability and structure it provides. If you place a dark color next to a light color, the dark element would naturally feel heavier in the design.
You may be wondering how you can have balance in design if you also need to have contrast and a focal point, since those graphic design principles can seem to be the opposite of balance. Having balance doesn’t mean you can’t have contrast or a focal point. However, you should consider how to distribute and manipulate the other design elements to maintain proper visual balance.
1. Symmetrical Balance
With symmetrical balance, the visual weight is distributed evenly. You can draw a straight line through the middle of the design in any direction and the visual balance would be evenly distributed. This makes the composition appear stable and creates a more orderly look.
You can see a great example of this in the image below. Both sides of the composition carry the same visual rate. Neither side feels heavier than the other. This is a perfectly balanced design.
However, look at the image below. As soon as you change the color of one of the sides to a light value while the other side remains a dark value, notice what happens. Doesn’t the dark value side feel heavier than the other side?
It’s important to keep in mind that while symmetrical balance is great and allows for the viewer’s eye to get a stronger sense of what is being communicated, it doesn’t always relay an interesting design. Finding the center of the design and mirroring the weight on each side with various techniques will keep your design from being boring.
2. Asymmetrical Balance
Visual balance doesn’t mean that every element has to be distributed with perfect symmetry. Balance can be achieved through asymmetry as well. You can think of it like the seesaw you might have played on when you were young, or as a beam balance scale. You can have different weights on each side, but can remain balanced by how the heavier and lighter elements are positioned and stacked.
An asymmetrical composition is intended to create a deliberate imbalance of the elements in the design. Asymmetricality can create tension and give your composition a sense of movement. To get this effect, one side can feel heavier than the other as long as it is still balanced.
For instance, you can have several small elements that balance out one large element. Or, you can have smaller elements positioned further away from the center of the composition. In either case, the elements are not the same size and not positioned evenly like with symmetrical balance. However, your composition still has a sense of balance while creating visual interest.
You can see a great example of asymmetrical balance in the image below. The elements on the top feel a bit heavier than the bottom, but it helps to create tension and lead the viewer’s eye toward the focus of the composition, which is the “Character Design” text.
It can be more challenging to design in an asymmetrical way because you can’t just perfectly match each side’s visual weight. You will have to experiment with different ways to balance the elements to give it the right feel.
3. Radial Balance
Rather than balancing both sides of a centered line, you can also choose to use radial balance around a single point (like a snowflake). Usually, this is done from the center, but not always.
Balance can be attained through placing objects, colors, or textures at equal distances from the center, or in the same way as balancing a seesaw.
4. Mosaic Balance
Sometimes called crystallographic balance, mosaic balance is a type of organized chaos. It may look like “noise” at first because of a distinct lack of focal point, but upon closer inspection you will find that it all works together when the elements share some type of uniform emphasis.
An example of mosaic balance is a painting by Jackson Pollock.
5. Discordant (or Off-Balance)
Now that you know the rules, you can learn how and when to break them. There are times when you want to make your design uncomfortable to your viewers. Maybe you want them to stop and think, or move and take action.
An example of this being used is in typography. If the designer wants you to focus on something specific, like a brand name, discordant design can do the trick.
4 Other Ways to Achieve Balance in Design
Four other ways you can achieve balance in design are with:
Color: You can incorporate small areas in your design with vibrant colors to balance out larger areas of neutral colors.
Shapes: You can use varying shapes to balance out a design or the position of elements within a composition.
Pattern: Repeating an object or symbol creates a sense of satisfaction and order.
Movement: If one side of the composition has more visual weight, using lines and edges on the more empty side will fill in some extra space while still emphasizing and directing the eye to the heavier side.
Having these four options in your tool belt will give you a variety of ways to make your design look “right.”
Learn More About Design Balance
Now that you have a stronger understanding of how balance in graphic design plays a key role in the success of your compositions, make sure to consider this principle for your next project. Whether it’s symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, mosaic, discordant, or other ways of balancing, think about which way will work best for your design.
If you want to learn more, you need to get a more in-depth look at balance and how it can be used alongside other essential graphic design principles. To do that, read articles and take courses in graphic design from Pluralsight!