Thursday, June 19, 2008

Design Guy, Episode 28, Balance On Balance

Download Episode 28

Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply.

We're in the midst of a discussion on balance, and in the previous episodes we discussed how elements act as optical weights within certain balancing schemes - and those schemes are typically classified as either symmetrical or asymmetrical. And we spoke about some of the implications and the effects - the feel that we get - out of those schemes.

Alex White, in his book, The Elements of Graphic Design, defines balance, and also sums up those balancing schemes as follows:

"Balance, or equilibrium, is the state of equalized tension. It is not necessarily a state of calm....Symmetrical, of formal, balance is vertically centered and is visually equivalent on both sides. Symmetrical designs are static and evoke feelings of classicism, fomality, and constancy.

Asymmetrical, or informal, balance attracts attention and is dynamic....(and it) requires a variety of sizes and careful distribution of white space. Asymmetrical designs evoke feelings of modernism, forcefulness, and vitality.'
(end of quotation.)

And that's more or less what we concluded, except that we emphasized the notion that if symmetry is essentially static, then asymmetry, on the other hand, suggests movement, because the equilibrium we've achieved is a dynamic one, made up of unequal parts, in an imperfectly resolved layout.

Now, before we get too conclusive about this distinction, I'd suggest that symmetrical designs can suggest motion also. Think of a paint spatter shape. Now if the splash radiates out pretty equally, we could call it an example of formal balance, or its close cousin, radial balance (to introduce a new term), nevertheless its shape is highly suggestive of action and movement. Not to mention the choice of color and and other elements that we could employ to further heighten our sense of dynamism. Like a tie-died t-shirt, symmetrical designs can be extremely dynamic if there are other things going on besides balance.

So, I wanted to provide my own counterpoint to the general truisms that we outlined before.

Now, finally, there's one more kind of balance we should touch on before moving on to another topic. This one is called "Crystallographic Balance" otherwise known as "Overall balance."

This describes those compositions that are set up in a mosaic or grid. If you're familiar with Mondrian, think of one of his grid compositions, consisting of primary colors and black grid lines. Or maybe Warhol's painting of Mao Tse Tung, where the same portrait appears in three rows of three. These can be done well, but in general they tend to lack any point of emphasis or distinct focal point, so graphic designers will want to create a better sense of hierarchy and order by staying away from the purest form of Overall balance, which tends to just have too many elements everywhere. By creating a compromised version of overall balance, with less elements, you stand a better chance of establishing focus and contrast and reading order.

I'll sum up by quoting White once more, when he says:

"Balance is an important route to achieving unity in design. If the various elements are seen to be in balance, the design will look unified. It will make a single impression. If a design is out of balance, its constituent parts will be more visible than the overall design."
(end of quotation.)

But that's it for now. Sorry for the delay on getting this one out, but my life has been a bit, out of balance with various commitments, so I'm happy to get another show out today.

Let me remind you that notes and a transcript are available at Music is by Well, I thank you again for listening, and I hope you'll join us next time.


Alex White, The Elements of Graphic Design, Allworth Press, 2002

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