Principles of Good Design: Balance

design principle balanceThe first basic principle of good design is balance. It is a significant design element because without it a composition will look off. In two dimensional art, balance is all about the visual weightiness of a composition and not the physical weight.

Defining balance

Balance in art can be defined as a sense of equilibrium and is achieved when the visual weight of objects are distributed equally within a composition. When no single part of the design overpowers or looks heavier than another part a sense of visual balance is created.

Certain other elements within a painting can also effect the degree of visual lightness or heaviness. For example:

  • Light colors will appear lighter in weight than dark colors
  • Brilliant colors appear to weigh more than neutral colors
  • Warm colors, such as yellow tend to enlarge or expand an area in size, while cool colors like blue tend to contract or shrink an area
  • Transparent areas seem to visually weigh less than opaque areas

Horizontal, Vertical and Radial Balance

Balancing the components of a painting can best be illustrated by weighing scales or a child’s playground see-saw. Visually the scale can be pictured as an apparatus for weighing or a see-saw which has a beam poised on a central pivot or fulcrum. In using this scale or see-saw, balance is not achieved through an actual physical weighing process, but through visual judgment on the part of the observer. In this respect, visual balance refers to a “felt” optical equilibrium between all parts of the painting.

horizontal balance





To balance a composition is to distribute its parts in such a way that the viewer is satisfied that the piece is not about to pull itself over. When components are balanced left and right of a central axis they are balanced horizontally. When they are balanced above and below they are said to be balanced vertically. And when components are distributed around the center point, or spring out from a central line, this is referred to as radial balance.

vertical balanceradial balance






Types of balance

There are two different types of balance — symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is also sometimes referred to as symmetry or formal balance. And asymmetrical balance also known as asymmetry or informal balance. Of these two types, symmetrical balance is the most stable visually.

Symmetrical Balance

symmetrical balanceSymmetrical balance is when the weight is equally distributed on both sides of the central axis. Symmetry is the simplest and most obvious type of balance. It creates a secure, safe feeling and a sense of solidity. Symmetrical balance can be achieved in two ways. One way is by “pure symmetry,” and the other way is by “approximate symmetry.”

In pure symmetry identical parts are equally distributed on either side of the central axis in mirror-like repetition. A good example of pure symmetry is the human face. It is the same on both the right side and the left side of the nose. Pure symmetry has its place in certain art works, however, because of its identical repetition, pure symmetry for a composition can easily become too monotonous and uninteresting to look at.

Approximate symmetry on the other hand has greater appeal and interest for the viewer. The two sides of a composition are varied and are more interesting to view. Even though they are varied somewhat, they are still similar enough to make their repetitious relationship symmetrically balanced.

Asymmetrical Balance

asymmetrical balanceAsymmetrical balance is when both sides of the central axis are not identical, yet appear to leave the same visual weight. It is a “felt” equilibrium or balance between the parts of a composition rather than actual. If the artist can feel, judge or estimate the various elements and visual weight, this should allow him/her to balance them as a whole. As a result, a more interesting composition will occur in the work.

The use of asymmetry in design allows for more freedom of creativity, because there are unlimited arrangements that may be devised using asymmetrical balance. The way to use asymmetry is by balancing two or more unequal components on either side of the fulcrum by varying their size, value or distance from the center.

Examples of the Effective Use of Balance

Radial Balance

example of radial balanceradial balance sample This flower resting a tea cup on the left is a good example of radial balance. The pedals radiate out from a central point.

On the right radial balance is created by the flowers which spring out of the center of the vase.

Horizontal Balance

horizontal balance, sample ofexample of horizontal balance




Vertical Balance

example of vertical balancevertical balance, sample ofDo you see the vertical balance suggested in the painting on the left? Look at where the foreground ends and you will quickly see how it is balanced by the building in the background.

The painting on the right is a little more obvious in it’s vertical balance. Notice how the three objects in the top part of the painting balance the apparent heaviness of the one object (the plate of pancakes) in the lower part of the painting.


Why is balance so important in a good composition?

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