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Principles of Design





Balance in design is similar to balance in physics. In design however, simple symmetrical balance can be monotonous and uninteresting unless a formal, static approach is called for.


The most visually satisfying solution is to have a dominant element balanced by a minor supporting element or elements.


Visual Balance 

The visual balance of a painting or design is one of its most important aspects. Always take an overall view of your work and ask yourself a few simple questions

  • Where is your eye being drawn?

  • Is there too much weight towards the edge?

  • Are there lines drawing your eye away from the center of interest?

  • Is there strong tonal contrast pulling your attention away from the center of interest?

  • Are there line junctions creating distractions towards the edge of the painting?

A large shape near the centre of a painting can be balanced by a small shape near the edge, just like a see-saw.

A large shape near the centre of a painting can be balanced by a small shape near the edge, just like a see-saw.

a small dark shape balances a light large shape

A small dark shape can balance a lighter toned large shape. The darker a shape the heavier it appears.

Renzo Piano - Columbus International

Lines meeting on the edge of a design, or even converging lines towards the edge, can throw a design off balance by drawing attention to the edge.

Avoid lines leading to the corners of a design

Lines leading to the corners of a design act as arrows, throwing the design off balance by pulling attention towards the corners.

Color Balance

For a balanced color arrangement, there should be a dominant color temperature. This will cause attention to go to the subordinate color, as it will stand out in the dominant field. An overall cool color temperature can be balanced by a small area of warm or vice versa.

Color Balance

Dominant color balance


Formal and Informal Balance

Formal balance is the safe, solid symmetrical balance used in much religious art. It is serious and predictable in keeping with the messages it delivers.
Informal balance is asymmetrical and dynamic, allowing the artist much more freedom of expression.

Illuminated Manuscript – The Book of Kells (8th Century), Shows formal, symmetrical balance used in much religious art of the time. Although incredibly beautiful in its intricate rendering, it appears rigid and formularised, showing little of the creators personality.

The Book Of Kells

Illuminated Manuscript “The Book Of Kells” (8th Cent.) Ireland

Two Horses One Rider from the Tang Dynasty (8th Century) China, shows a less formal approach to balance, where the weight of the dark horse and riders saddle cloth is offset by the riders beard and head gear. Notice how the mass of the dark horse is broken by the fine light lines of strapping and the white horse is similarly punctuated by fine dark lines.

Han Gan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



An important consideration when balancing a design is the use of empty space. Packing too much information into a small area creates confusion and hinders understanding.

Try to arrange elements to allow the eye to comfortably travel around the design. Break up busy elements with areas of relief.

This letter demonstrates the importance of balancing empty space

The letter above is clean and simple looking due to the careful arrangement of surrounding space, slightly weighted towards the bottom and with generous margin space. The reader is given the impression that the kitchen, food preparation and service are equally clean and elegant.

There is no right or wrong way to achieve balance in a design, painting, photograph etc. It is something that comes through practice and observation. Critical analysis of all variety of visual art helps sharpen your ability to juggle and shift elements to achieve visual balance.

Author: John Lovett

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