Our bodies need a balance of nutrients to keep us healthy but every now and then it's OK to feast on chocolate, ice cream, and an entire supersize bag of potato chips. Balance in design is much the same. For most of our reading our eyes and minds are most comfortable with evenly balanced layouts where the graphics don't overpower the text and the page doesn't seem to tilt to one side or the other.


Other times we crave the teetering and tottering of a page that's just a little of out of kilter or totally lopsided. But before we indulge our tastebuds, we need a good foundation in the basics of balance what it is and how to achieve it.


The Principle of Balance
Primarily there are three types of balance in page design:




Additionally, we'll discuss:

        the rule of thirds

        the visual center of a page

        the use of grids



Symmetrical balance is easiest to see in perfectly centered compositions or those with mirror images. In a design with only two elements they would be almost identical or have nearly the same visual mass. If one element was replaced by a smaller one, it could throw the page out of symmetry. To reclaim perfect symmetrical balance you might need to add or subtract or rearrange the elements so that they evenly divide the page such as a centered alignment or one that divides the page in even segments (halves, quarters, etc.).


When a design can be centered or evenly divided both vertically and horizontally it has the most complete symmetry possible. Symmetrical balance generally lends itself to more formal, orderly layouts. They often convey a sense of tranquility or familiarity or elegance or serious contemplation.



Vertical Symmetry Each vertical half (excluding text) of the brochure is a near mirror image of the other, emphasized with the reverse in colors. Even the perfectly centered text picks up the color reversal here. This symmetrically balanced layout is very formal in appearance.

Vertical & Horizontal Symmetry This poster design divides the page into four equal sections. Although not mirror images the overall look is very symmetrical and balanced. Each of the line drawings are more or less centered within their section. The graphic (text and image) in the upper center of the page is the focal point tying all the parts together.



Asymmetrical design is typically off-center or created with an odd or mismatched number of disparate elements. However, you can still have an interesting design without perfect symmetry.


With asymmetrical balance you are evenly distributing the elements within the format which may mean balancing a large photo with several small graphics. Or, you can create tension by intentionally avoiding balance.


Uneven elements present us with more possibilities for arranging the page and creating interesting designs than perfectly symmetrical objects. Asymmetrical layouts are generally more dynamic and by intentionally ignoring balance the designer can create tension, express movement, or convey a mood such as anger, excitement, joy, or casual amusement.



Asymmetrical Balance

This page uses a 3 column format to create a neatly organized asymmetrical layout. The two columns of text are balanced by the blocks of color in the lower left topped by a large block of white space. In this case, because the white space is in a block shaped much like the text columns, it becomes an element of the design in its own right.



Asymmetrical/All Over Balance

It can't be neatly sliced in half like a symmetrical design but most of the elements have only small differences in shape and mass. This page achieves an overall balance by use of an underlying grid that spreads the many pieces out over the entire page, more or less evenly.





Asymmetrical Tension

Like a wild, unruly garden, the elements of this brochure cover are barely contained on the page. The plants spring up primarily along the left side but with a few stems escaping and arching across the page. The text, although randomly placed, follows the lines of the plants keeping them anchored to the overall design. The off-balance design creates a sense of freedom and movement.






On square and rectangular pages we generally place elements in orderly rows and columns. With radial designs the elements radiate from or swirl around in a circular or spiral path.


Parts of the design must still be arranged so that they are balanced across the width and length of the page unless you're intentionally aiming for a lack of balance.



Here we have an example of radial balance in a rectangular space. The year represents the center of the design with the subtle color sections radiating from that center. The calendar month grids and their corresponding astrological symbols are arrayed around the year in a circular fashion





Colors and text radiate out from the apple in the middle of this CD cover design. The effect is almost one of spiralling down into the center of the apple. The apple itself looks nearly symmetrical but the curving text and the outlines edging off the page to the top and right throws it all slightly off-balance.