" Design is thinking made visual. "

Saul Bass (1920-1996)

Principles of Design

Balance - An arrangement of parts achieving a state of equilibrium between opposing forces or influences.

In design, balance is best understood when compared to the physical world. Think of a physical object, such as a glass of water. When the glass is tipped or off balance, it falls over and spills. To keep a scale in balance it must have equal weight on both sides. Note that the weight does not have to be made up of identical objects. Similarly, if an object placed on a page fails to fulfill our “visual equilibrium” the designApproximate Symmetry will appear off balance. When a design has balance, all of the elements appear grounded. This can be achieved through symmetry or asymmetry.

Formal Balance

Symmetrical or Formal Balance is accomplished by distributing elements equally around a central vertical or horizontal axis. Although this assumes identical mirrored elements, balance can also be created using different element of an equal weight and placement. This is called approximate symmetry. Using symmetry in a design produces a sense of stability and a lack of tension that requires little work on the part of the viewer.

Asymmetrical or Informal Balance occurs when the weight of a composition is not evenly distributed around a central axis. One method in obtaining balance in an asymmetrical design is to offset a dominant element with a group of smaller elements. A large neutral colored object can be balanced with the use of a deeper hue elsewhere in the layout.  Asymmetry in a design creates visual tension while preventing the design from appearing static and superficial.

Informal Balance

Rhythm - The regular or ordered repetition of dominant and subordinate elements or units within a design.

Rhythm in visual art is achieved through the creating a sense of movement. The repeated placement of elements, lines, or color can move the viewers focus from one point to another.

Types of Rhythm

If one thinks of rhythm in conjunction with nature, it becomes apparent that humans rely on a universal sense of timing, from the change of seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, changes in temperature and the internal rhythms that let us know when it is time to eat, sleep, or become active. Applying this principle to art can achieve a sense of unity and progression that subconsciously feels right.

Proportion - The relation or adaptation of one portion to another, or to the whole, as respect magnitude, quantity, or degree; comparative relation; ratio; as, the proportion of the parts of a building, or of the body.

The proportion of elements provides weight or emphasis which draws the eye to a focal point of the design. Proportion works along with balance and rhythm to create a smooth flow beginning with the largest object or element and moving in a hierarchal pattern throughout the design. The use of grid systems can help an overall design retain proportion and balance.


Goodman, A. The 7 essentials of graphic design. Cincinnati, OH: HOW Design Books.

Lapow Toor, Marcellle, Graphic Design on the Desktop. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Leland, Nita, Exploring Color. Cincinnati, OH: Northern Light Books.