Principles of Design – Part I: Balance

Design Principles header image

Welcome to Part One of this six part series here on Alison Day Designs!

Some of you may know that once upon a time I went to Interior Design school. Yep. Slogged my way through one course at a time while juggling babies, toddlers, and more babies! Nothing like coming into a class massively pregnant with #3 to see the same teacher who saw you massively pregnant three years earlier with #2!

Ah, the good ol’ days!

Despite a left turn into the wonderful world of scrapbooks and card making, my heart still dreams of designing beautiful interiors. So, I thought I’d create this little series to marry both my passions. The lessons I learned all those years ago influence what I do now, greatly. For example, I live in a metric country and I swear I did learn metric as a child, but now I think in feet and inches. Twelve by twelve inches to be precise!

Whether you are creating an elegant living room, or a scrapbook layout, there are six basic principles that guide the placement of elements. Most likely you follow some if not all of these without even thinking about it, but knowing the reasons behind can help you take your designs to another level. I’m not saying I’m an expert – even I mess up ALL. THE. TIME. But I have a text book and I’m not afraid to use it!

Over the next six weeks we’ll break down these concepts together.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Principle #1 – Balance

I am not referring to physical balance. Being able to stay upright on a bicycle has no bearing whatsoever on creating a balanced layout!

The type of balance we need to concern ourselves with is visual balance.

Everything you place on a page or in a room has a perceived visual weight depending on the psychological impact it makes on the individual experiencing it – in this case, you. This can make it difficult to know when something is balanced as your eyes can play tricks on you depending on your mood, the lighting in your crafting space, and your attachment to the pieces you’re placing on your page. While you may know that the scrap of paper with the rain drops on it represents the tears you shed when you heard a particular bit of news, someone else might say the colour is too dark and therefore throws the whole layout off balance.

Since there is a fair bit of subjectivity in this, let’s break it down even further and give you some examples. Nothing beats seeing someone else’s layout along with what makes it balanced or not! My hope is that you can take these lessons and apply it to the your own process the next time you sit down to create a layout.

Symmetrical Balance

This is an easy one. Whatever you do to one side of the layout, you do to the other. Think of your page as having a line running through it that cuts it in half and along that line you place a mirror – either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. (That last one is a perhaps a bit advanced, and I’m not sure I’ve ever created a layout using that kind of line of symmetry, but it is possible. Challenge accepted?)

LOAD9 - Miniature Trains by Alison Day Designs

In this example the line of symmetry is easy to spot – it’s the divide between the pages of this double page spread. That makes it a vertical line. Each side has two stacked landscape 4×6″ photos on either side of that vertical line. As we progress further out, we see a bit of asymmetry too. On the left we have the title block and a busy patterned paper. On the right we have the journaling block and a photo. Since each takes up the same amount of physical space on the layout, and has the same visual weight, the asymmetry is negligible and over all, this reads as symmetrical.

Here is a single page example using a vertical line of symmetry.

Grade 2 by Alison Day

Layouts like this can feel quite static and so therefore tend to be the exception in an album rather than the norm. With the double page layout, the slight asymmetry keeps the layout from feeling too rigid. Here the same principle is at work but to a lesser degree of success. The placement of the black enamel dots at the top left of the photo block and the bottom right are really the only non-mirrored items on this page.

Let’s have a look at a page where the line of symmetry is a horizontal one instead of vertical.

Caution Ahead by Alison Day Designs

The argument could be made that this also has a vertical line of symmetry but I think the horizontal one is stronger – thanks in a large part to that horizontal strip of patterned paper across the middle. The photo placement top and bottom is identical and the placement of the two other pieces of patterned paper are mirror images of each other. In fact, looking a bit more closely at this layout, you could almost argue that there is also a diagonal line of symmetry! Guess I was wrong about never doing one of those!

Again, the tiny bits of asymmetry keep the layout from feeling static and boring but the overall feel of this, is one of symmetry.

If symmetrical layouts are so easy to create – really, it’s a matter of making sure you do the exact same thing on both sides of your page – why do we not make more of them? Because they can start to feel too static and boring. If every page in your album was like my Grade 2 layout above, your album would start to feel very predictable very quickly. And I’d bet you’d lose interest in creating any more layouts just as quickly!

So how do we shake things up a bit?

Asymmetrical Balance

In asymmetrical balance the mirror down the centre of the page has been removed. There are still the same lines of symmetry but instead of using identical elements on either side of it, we use elements with the same perceived weight. Brightly coloured objects can balance the use of a dull colour, and a large embellishment can balance a grouping of several smaller embellishments.

This leads to layouts with more energy. While symmetrical designs feel formal, asymmetrical ones are generally more relaxed and informal. Not all the time, but generally.

Time for some examples …

LOAD14 - Snack Time by Alison Day Designs

At first glance you might be tempted to say this is a symmetrical layout – with a horizontal line of symmetry – but you’d be wrong. It is in fact asymmetrical.

The line of symmetry is a horizontal one and is emphasized by the placement of all the horizontal strips of paper across the centre of the page. Above the centre line there is a photo – the item with the largest visual weight – and two areas of embellishment. As well as journaling. To balance all that visual weight there is a large, bold, white title on a dark piece of paper, another photo which is placed off centre, and ink splatters. I know there are also ink splatters in the top left corner, but they don’t affect the symmetry to any great degree. They are there to draw your eye down to the photo of my husband.

It may seem a bit backward that the large white letters of that title would hold as much visual weight as the whole photo plus embellishment cluster that’s above it, but I promise you it does. And that’s because our eyes pick up that white detail much more quickly than the smaller details of the photo or embellishments. Our eyes are funny things, are they not!

Let’s look at another more obvious example.

LOAD6 - Snapshots of a Different World by Alison Day Designs

Again we are dealing with a horizontal line of symmetry – the row of photos basically. Above the photos there are lots of pieces of paper to keep your eyes busy. Since we read (in the West anyway) from top left to bottom right, your eyes will naturally go to this spot first. But the visual weight of all those details is balanced down below by another grouping. The dark colour of the title words is balanced at the bottom by all the journaling in black pen.

So you see, even though the items are different, they carry the same visual weight so overall, the layout is balanced.

Here’s an asymmetrical double page layout.

Dance! a double page layout by Alison Day Designs

For double page layouts, the line of symmetry is usually the break between the pages. Even though there is a strong horizontal element to this layout, we are still going to talk about the vertical symmetry here.

There’s a lot going on with the left side. We a large piece of patterned paper, larger embellishments, the title, and one single photo. Over on the right side we have more empty space (what designers call white space), three photos, and smaller embellishment areas. So how does it achieve balance? Do you remember the whole “one large element can be balanced by a grouping of smaller elements” thing? That’s what is creating the balance on this layout.

There are more details in those photos on the right which take your eye longer to discern so therefore have a stronger visual weight than the one photo on the left. To balance all that detail, they are set into all that lovely white space (literally white this time too!) Your eyes travel from the clusters of flowers at the left of the layout, over the bold title, take in the close up photo and then start to work on all the details on the left. As they are working on all that detail, they can drift into the white space for a little break every now and then.

Again, it might seem counter intuitive that all that white paper holds the same visual weight as the large block of bold pink paper, but it does.

Let’s look at one more example.

Best Friends layout for SWAT Drill #18

I think it is fair to say that nothing is mirrored or repeated on this layout! The line of symmetry is a horizontal one even. But this is a balanced layout. The embellishment cluster at the top left is balanced by all the journaling to the bottom right of the title strip. the large die cut at the top right of the photo is balanced by the grouping of die cuts at the bottom left corner. The strong horizontal line of the title and washi tape, is balanced by an equally strong vertical line to the left of the photo.

There is one more type of balance we need to talk about.

Radial Balance

Think of a spiral staircase or rotunda in  fancy hotel lobby. This type of balance is similar to symmetrical balance but instead of there being a mirror placed along an axis, there is a mirrored cylinder placed in the centre of the space. Be that a room or a 12×12 piece of paper! This is the hub or central axis from which all the elements radiate outward. Like a wagon wheel or a daisy.

This is a far less common type of symmetry for the scrapbook page. But it does exist. Think of the sunburst patterns that were so popular not so long ago. That’s radial balance. I couldn’t find an example where I created a complete layout using a starburst, but here’s a partial one.

Can't Contain It by Alison Day Designs

The balance is arrived on this layout by keeping the non-sunburst side of the layout quite simple. All the busy-ness is contained within that sunburst. Your eyes will go back and forth between the sunburst and the photos as you take in the layout.

Another example of radial balance can be found in this layout.

Smile by Alison Day Designs

The central point from which everything radiates outward is roughly that central photo with the word ‘smile’ above it. The point of the heart literally points to that photo and from there your eyes will travel around and around the page taking in all the other circular embellishments and the supporting photos, until they rest on the journaling. This is perhaps one instance where that cluster up in the top left is NOT the first thing your eye focuses on when you look at this!

I have one more example of radial balance and then we’ll wrap things up for today.

OLW - Word Jumble for Practical Scrappers Scrapping Our Stash blog Hop Jan 30 2015

The central axis is easy to see on this one – it’s the two doilies under the word ‘ACTION’. There are no photos or embellishments on this layout, it’s all about the words. And those words purposefully radiate out from the centre like a crossword puzzle. Colour is balanced from one area to the other and the journaling doesn’t compete with the letter stickers because it is of a similar tone to the background paper.

To Recap:

Balance is about the visual weight of objects on the page and how they are perceived by our eyes as we view the page.

In Symmetrical Balance we think if each side being mirror images. Whatever you do or place on one side of the paper, you must remember to do or place of the other side or risk the layout being imbalanced.

In Asymmetrical Balance the mirror disappears and instead balance is achieved by keeping the visual weight of objects similar. Large elements can be balanced by groupings of smaller elements, bright colours balance dull, and so on.

In Radial Balance the deigns radiates from a central spoke. It is similar to symmetrical balance in that it is more formal but it can also create the most movement and energy out of the three types of balance.

Where do you go from here? Take a look at your recent layouts. Can you find the line of symmetry? Are your elements balanced on either side of this line? Refer back to my examples. Are you going for a mirror image or are you using similar visual weights to achieve balance? If something looks off, can you see why? Are you too heavy on one side over the other? How can you fix it? Adding more embellishments to the “lighter”side may help. Or more die cuts. Or removing a die cut even.

Next week we’ll tackle Rhythm and how it can be used to create movement on your pages.  If you are interested in learning more about the Design Principles and Balance in particular you can check out this article from The Daily Dig, or this article that deals more with balance in visuals rather than specifically scrapbook pages (but the principles are the same), or this article from Debbie Hodge. Until then, have fun and stay balanced!




If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it with your friends.
This entry was posted in Design Principles, layout, Scrapbook. Bookmark the permalink.