The Seven Principles of Design: Balance

Written for ART.HOME.SOUL. in 2015

Playing around with balance is perhaps one of the most difficult endeavors of a designer. Just like a scale, it is easier than one might think to tip over, making a mess of visual elements that leave viewers agitated.

Balance is the equal distribution of visual weight in a design. When we look at a painting or a building or a room, there is an imaginary vertical axis that splits what we see in half. If the visual weight is the same on both sides of this imaginary line, than we have balance. Maintaining visual balance is key to Gestalt Theory, which demands a psychological sense of equilibrium in the viewer.

There are three main ways of maintaining balance: Symmetry, Asymmetry and Radial Balance.

  1. Symmetry (or Formal Balance)symmetry2

is what humans are naturally drawn to. It’s a mirror image; a formal, ordered and stable form of design that is often used in architecture and home decorating. Symmetry is fascinating because it is found in nature, but not always. Animals are usually symmetrical. Look at yourself in the mirror and imagine an invisible line going straight down your middle. You have two eyes, two ears, two arms, and everything is the same on both sides. Symmetry repeats the reverse of a design on the other side of the invisible vertical axis.

2. Radial Balance (or Radial Symmetry)radial

is when all the elements radiate out from a central focal point. The visual weight is distributed equally, and all the elements fan out from a center. Examples of Radial Balance in nature are a snowflake or a daisy.

3. Asymmetry (or Informal Balance)


is balance that is achieved through contrast, or other visual elements that are not identical to the other side of the invisible axis. Although asymmetry is more casual than symmetry, it is also more dynamic and more difficult to achieve effectively. Asymmetry uses different elements that have equal visual weight that is influenced by position, color, size, shape, or other elements that draw attention. For instance, the sweater in the picture to the left is asymmetrical, but maintains a sense of balance through the bright marigold that offsets the larger cream tone below it. The gold area is smaller, but brighter, which makes it balanced in contrast.

How can you maintain balance in your craft? Experiment with different ways of achieving balance. Perhaps walk around your neighborhood with a camera, taking pictures that show either symmetrical or asymmetrical balance. Which type of balance is more difficult to achieve? Visual equilibrium is a delightful challenge that many artists have yet to master.


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