Balance. We’re not talking roller-skates or horseback riding. We’re taking visual balance. It’s what subtly calms the subconscious when one looks at a scene or picture. Oftentimes it goes unnoticed - which is the best kind.
Visual balance is very important, whether designing a professional billboard, a website, or a flyer to hand out at church. Those seeing it will probably not say, “Oh that balance is very attractive.” But they won’t say, “Ew,” either. And that’s the goal. Most people might not even be able to say why they dislike an imbalanced piece - they just know they don’t like it. That’s what we all want to avoid.
There are several different kinds of balance: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. Symmetrical is what most people think of when envisioning balance - like a set of same-sized picture frames on either side of a fireplace, creating equal “weight” on both sides of an invisible, vertical center. Asymmetrical is a little more creative - the shapes and sizes of objects are not the same, but arranged correctly, it still gives the sense of balance. Radial is quite different - think of a sunflower, and how the seeds and petals form a pattern from the inside out.
When dealing with the layout of printed or digital media, balance is crucial. Following are two examples of balance that are acceptable, and two that are bad. (These examples are not more detailed because each and every project designed is different. You may be able to mathematically divide a letter-sized flyer and fit each graphic in where it supposedly belongs, but still miss out on a more creative form of balance. There is no magic formula.)
This piece is balanced relatively well. The eyes bounce in a zig-zag pattern, and even though there are two graphics on the left, the righthand graphic, centered, helps create an adequate amount of balance.
This shows a lefthand balance. If this were in a book, it would (should) appear on a lefthand page so the the weight lies on the outside of the bound material. In this example, the text itself helps balance out the entire piece, and the weight on the left is acceptable.
Here, the balance is off. You’ll notice the graphic sizes have changed as well. There is a lot to think about when considering balance, and the shapes and sizes of graphics are no exception. This is top heavy towards the right. The left graphic doesn’t have enough weight to balance out the piece, nor is it close enough to the bottom, where it could potentially keep the bottom left weighted enough.
This last one is also imbalanced. The graphics hang off the right, kind of, with a too-small graphic thrown in towards the bottom left. If the graphics were made into objects and placed on a teeter-totter, the playground equipment wouldn’t know what to do.
These are NOT be-all end-all examples. These were put together in about five minutes, to illustrate, very crudely, the effects of balance or imbalance. Under the right circumstances, these illustrations might actually become acceptable.
Again, there is no magic formula to visual balance within graphic design. Each project must be dealt with individually and judged by the designer, who, hopefully has an eye for balance. Without such an eye, the piece really should be looked at by someone who can judge it accordingly.
When considering balance, all elements must be analyzed - not just the graphics’ shapes and sizes, but the font, type size, spacing, etc. The piece must be viewed as a whole. Zoom out. View the whole thing. Print it out.
No matter what you’re designing, always keep balance in the forefront of your mind. It can make or break a project.