Why Being Odd is Good: The Principle of Balance

By LaurenMarie


There are many ways to create balance in a design and using odd numbers of elements is an easy way.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a photography principle of composition. It also plays a large role in one of the principles of design: Balance.

If you think about how photographers have taken your portrait over the years, you’ll notice they always put your eyes about 1/3 of the way down the photo. Some photographers do place the top of the head here, which, in my opinion, is less interesting… who cares what the top of your head and the background above it look like! We want to see your face!

Odd Creates a Nice (A)symmetry

When you use odd numbers, both in grids and in visual elements on the canvas, you create a nice sort of symmetry with asymmetry; one object is directly in the middle, with an even number of objects on either side.

Odd Adds Visual Interest

I use odd numbers particularly when creating my grids for layouts. It makes placing elements much easier if you have nine spaces and four points where the weight of the composition should rest.

By dividing up the space of a composition before you start laying down elements (text, images) into three parts, both horizontally and vertically, you can better achieve a visually balanced layout.

To get you started with a grid, divide your page into three areas, both vertically and horizontally, then head over to Using the Grid and The Grid in Practice for further explanations on using the grid system in graphic design.
Triangle Composition

Triangle Composition

There is another way to use thirds and that is creating a triangle composition. Many movie posters use this concept and since writing on this subject, I’ve seen that it’s often used in cinematography. The idea is to either have three main focal points or to compose the layout in such a way that the main content is in a triangle. This example was pointed out by Soap on the GFXVoid forum and it’s an excellent one!


Balance in Layout

Take a look at this example (it animates, but sometimes it doesn’t work in FireFox, no clue why): On the left is an element place directly in the middle of the page, on the right, it is placed in the lower right hand corner. It looks ok in the middle, but doesn’t it look so much more balanced in the lower third of the composition? The white space is evened out by the opposing dark circle. This gives the layout a comfortable visual weight and makes a solid, yet pleasant statement.

Balance Your Photos

Most people take vacation shots with the people smack in the center. Next time, try putting the people off to the side in one of the thirds. For these particular types of shots, not only are they more visually appealing, you’re also allowing the people and the interesting landmark in the background to share the frame. Sometimes you’ll also get some cheek from your subject if you take too long to compose the perfect shot.

A List Apart Grid

Websites often make use of three and five column layouts. We’ve already looked at A List Apart before, which makes use of the five-column approach and many blogs use 3 column layouts. This blog (at the time of writing, I’m using the Cutline theme) uses a three column layout; this text you are reading occupies two of the three columns and the sidebar is the third.

Did I miss anything important? Share it with us in the comments!

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