A balanced composition feels right. It feels stable and aesthetically pleasing. While some of its elements might be focal points and attract your eye, no one area of the composition draws your eye so much that you can’t see the other areas.
Balancing a composition involves arranging both positive elements and negative space in such a way that no one area of the design overpowers other areas. Everything works together and fits together in a seamless whole. The individual parts contribute to their sum but don’t try to become the sum.
When someone lands on a page of your site what do you want that person to do? Where do you want them to look? What information do you want your visitors to notice and in what order? Ideally, you want people to see your most important information first and your next most important information second.
You want potential customers to see the copy that will convince them to buy before they see the "Buy Now" button. You want people to be presented with the right information at the right time, and one way to do that is to control the flow of your composition. Compositional flow determines how the eye is led through a design: where it looks first, where it looks next, where the eye pauses, and how long it stays.
Has a client ever asked you to make the logo bigger? Maybe they asked that just after you completed their request to make a heading bigger. The new heading stands out, but now the logo is too small in comparison and isn’t getting noticed. The clients wants to make the logo bigger.
Of course, now that the logo and heading are bigger, both are going to attract more attention than the main call-to-action button, which will need to be made bigger. And once the button is bigger, the heading is going to start looking small again.
Every element on a web page exerts a visual force that attracts the eye of the viewer. The greater the force, the more the eye is attracted. These forces also appear to act on other elements, imparting a visual direction to their potential movement and suggesting where you should look next.
We refer to this force as visual weight and to the perceived direction of visual forces as visual direction. Both are important concepts to understand if you want to create hierarchy, flow, rhythm and balance in your composition.
Similarity and contrast, connection and separation, grouped and ungrouped are all ways to describe the varying sameness and difference between elements. Based on the information they carry, we’ll want some elements to look similar, to indicate that they are related in some way. We’ll also want to show that some elements are different and belong to different groups.
Key to showing both is the visual characteristics of elements and their relationships. If two elements are related in some way, then they should show similar visual characteristics. If the elements are different, then they should look different.
If you see graphic design as a process of arranging shapes on a canvas, then you’re only seeing half of what you work with. The negative space of the canvas is just as important as the positive elements that we place on the canvas.
Design is an arrangement of both shapes and space. To work more effectively with space, you must first become aware of it and learn to see it — learn to see the shapes that space forms and how space communicates. This is second part of a series on design principles for beginners. The first part covered an introduction to gestalt; the rest of the series (including this post) will build on those gestalt principles and show how many of the fundamental principles we work with as designers have their origin there.
This article is part of a new series about design principles that can serve both as a refresher for seasoned designers and reference for newcomers to the industry. Hopefully, the content covered here isn't too obvious and self-explanatory, but it's always great to have a nice quick refresher every now and again, isn't it? — Ed.
In 1910, psychologist Max Wertheimer had an insight when he observed a series of lights flashing on and off at a railroad crossing. It was similar to how the lights encircling a movie theater marquee flash on and off.
One of the issues we need to be concerned with in responsive design is how to maintain hierarchy as elements on the screen are resized and reflowed. Trent Walton first called attention to the issue with his post “Content Choreography,” which showed how visual hierarchy gets lost when columns are dropped below one another.
While techniques exist to help with part of the problem, the solution also requires conscious thought in how you structure blocks of content in your HTML. You need to think about how you’ll want to rearrange blocks of content as your design moves from single to multiple columns.