Composition in Design – 15 Things You Can’t Afford NOT to Know

The composition is one of the six crucial elements of design. Without a strong and solid design composition, everything starts falling apart.

In this article, we will give you 15 tips on how to strengthen your composition – no matter if it’s photography, illustration or any graphic design project.

We also prepared a beautiful collection of designs in the end, for your inspiration. Enjoy!

 

1. Direct the eye with leading lines

design poster composition with guiding lineUsually, when you look at any visual, your eye falls first on a particular object. In this case, this is the car and it is the focal point of the poster. We will talk a little bit more in our second point of the article. But if your eyes are immediately attracted to a certain part of visual, where do you look next? That is a tough question to start with, but a simple answer would be – you look where your eyes lead you. And your eyes lead you, where the designer uses leading lines to direct you through the layout. In this case, a leading line is the way to go. It also nicely frames the text on the left side and leads your eye back to the focal point of the poster.

Often lines can be more obvious than here, directly using arrows, flowcharts and are a very useful method for explaining information and sequences.

 

 

2. Create focus in your design composition

focal point in compositionA key element to design composition is having a strong focal point. No matter how many elements you have in your design, you have to stress and show the viewer, which is the most important part of your piece. In this case, the artist used color, contrast, and scale to organize the space and create a focal point. Keep in mind that the most important role of design is to communicate. Therefore, your focal point would be also your most important statement and message to your audience!

 

3. Use hierarchy

hierachy in design compositionOnce that you’ve created your focal point, you have to figure out what to do with the rest of the elements of your design composition. Of course, you have to structure these elements, as well, and set a priority to them. In this example, the focal point is the man in the picture. Then, we have to look for a name of the event, i.e. what is the whole thing about. Only after that, we can keep looking for additional info, such as subheadings, dates, numbers, etc.

All this organization of the information with the help of size, color, weight is called hierarchy.

 

 

 

 

4. Use complementing elements

complementing imagery in composition

Always seek to create a unified look throughout your entire design. It is not a good idea to mix and match images from different sources, with no similarities in style between them. This will only tire the eyes of the viewer and confuse him/her.

This website design is a great example of cohesiveness between the images – they all have simple, one color background and the object are placed in the center. Of course, your design solution would depend on the specific project need.

In this case, you want the viewer to recognize and focus easily on the item to be bought, without any other distraction. The overall feel of the top image and color scheme is also repeated in the backgrounds of the products, so this is one more nice connection between the different parts of the design!

 

 

 

5. Repeat elements

repeating elements composition Often your projects will consist of more than one page. If you repeat specific elements from one section of your design to another, you will help the viewer to orientate himself/ herself easier across the design.

Repeating elements are often used to create a certain theme as well and again, help the design composition to “stick together”.

Some of the repeating elements you could use are graphic motifs, type, certain layout reused in the different pages/parts of your project.

 

 

 

 

6. Balance elements

balance in compositionThere are two types of balance in design composition – symmetrical and asymmetrical. The first uses similar elements, mirrored (distributed equally) on both sides of an axis (visible or non-visible line). Symmetrical balance is very clean and elegant, but sometimes it can get a bit boring, so then, designers prefer asymmetrical balance instead. Obviously, in this scenario, we won’t have equal in size elements, placed in a similar way.

Here, we look at the different sizes of the elements, the textures and so on. It helps to think of design elements, as they have “weight”. Larger elements would be “heavier”. For example, if you have a big, “heavy”, vertically pointing pumpkin, you can “balance” it out by using several horizontal lines and smaller objects on the opposite side of the “heavy” object.

 

 

 

7. Align elements

alignment in design exampleAlignment is another important tool to use in design composition and organize your elements. It often comes handy when you have a lot of types, colors, images, headings, and subheadings. There are many tools on the web, which can help you to snap and align elements to each other, leaving no room for floating pieces and messy design. Alignment brings an elegant vibe to a design. Even the most asymmetric designs have some sorts of alignment and structuring of similar blocks of content.

It is a general rule, that when you have long blocks of texts, the left alignment would help the eye to scan more easily the content. This poster is a great visualization of this concept.

 

 

 

8. Use contrast

contrast in compositionContrast is used for drawing attention. If you boost the contrast of an element, this will make it pop. On the contrary, using elements with lower contrast will make them fade and “disappear”.

Here, the contrast underlines the strong, geometric, bold architectural forms and the play of light and shadow. Not on the last place, the small figure might be with lower contrast, compared to other elements, but it is still visible and nicely balances out the big, dark shape at the opposite, top left corner.

 

 

 

 

9. Use white space

white space in composition White space is a unreplacable tool in bringing clarity into your design composition. White space is not an “empty space”, but a necessary element, allowing your design to breathe. It also helps to emphasize the subject of interest.

For example, in this photo, all the white space (unoccupied by other elements) helps to focus all the attention on the woman figure and her posture. Do you think you would pay attention to this woman if the image was filled in with many other elements? To help you understand the importance of white space, think of your own room. How would you feel if you have only one small passage from the door to the bed and everything is piled up with objects? How would you feel, if your bed doesn’t fill the whole room and there are no objects all around the place? Yes, you get the idea – we all need space, even the design does.

 

 

10. Use of layout types

web-design-big-background-04-bell-epoque

The first one we are going to look at is the known as a big photo or a single visual layout which has been very popular for web designers in recent years. It gives an elegant, clean look, usually highlights a product or a service with the help of a single high-quality, engaging photo. This type of layout gives a sense of space. As you can suggest, it is not commonly used for news sites, where there is a lot of information to be presented. Here, the key phrase is quality over quantity. 

Key elements to this type of layout are white space and simple typo.

 

 

presentation-1Another type of layout is the Z layout. This is where the eye of the viewer is lead from one element of the design to another.

In this example, we naturally first look at the photo. Then, our eyes are drawn to the text on the right side of the visual. Then, we continue to scan down, jumping from visual to text. Z layouts create rhythm and are often used on websites with a lot of information, where you have to orientate the user and “guide” them.

 

 

Another way to keep things nice, neat and organized is to use the famous golden ratio or the rule of thirds. You can read more about it in our article for taking amazing photos, where the same principle applies to photography. In short, dividing your layout into thirds – both vertically and horizontally and placing the most important elements where these lines cross, will make your design more visually pleasing.

The example here is MailChimp’s website. Notice how the monkey character is slightly aligned to the left. It simply looks good! Oh, and one more thing – when you move a character across space, move it from left to right.

 

11. Create movement

movement in compositionMovement is the change of place or position, an effort. It can be actual motion or it can be implied — arranging parts of the image so that the viewer gets a sense of motion by using lines, shapes, forms, textures, etc.

Since ancient times, our eyes are more attracted to moving objects than still ones, and this was important for one’s survival – in hunting and protecting yourself from animals. That is why, people are very attracted to images that depict movement and respectively, a composition with a nice “flow” of elements is more intriguing.

 

 

 

 

12. People like triangles

triangles in compositionThe shape of a triangle creates interest, sets a direction and creates movement. Surely, it is a very strong shape. Designers and artists use it to organize their layout as well, not only as a visual element. In recent years, it has become hugely popular with the polygon design.

If you’d like to read more about the psychology of shapes and how they are used in character design, for example, then have a look at our article on Conveying Character Personality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

13. Simplification

simplicity compositionSimplification is the technique of reducing a composition only to the most essential elements that support the visual statement.

If every part is equally important, then every part is equally unimportant. Nathan Fowkes

It is natural for the eyes to look at details but it is very hard to see the design as a whole and how all elements work together. When in doubt, better remove elements from your design composition, rather than adding and trying to find a place for them. We know it’s a cliche but it is still legit “Less is more”!

 

 

 

14. See where your elements are in relation to edges

edges and compositionOften, you will see designers using blank space around the edges of the layout, giving the design room to breathe. Again it is natural to the eye to see elements receding around edges and fading out. If it is crowded around the edges in your design, the overall feel would be of something heavy and big. In result, it will take away from the attention of central elements.

In this case, the designer has used large, abstract shape to underline the typo – yeard and names. Because the shape is directing the eye, varied in thickness and has a sense of movement to it, it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer. Right on the contrary – it offers them aesthetic pleasure and simplicity.

 

 

 

 

15. Mind the transitions

transition in compositionTransition in design composition is a little bit harder to define. We’ve discussed repetition already, in comparison, transition handles the natural flow from one shape to another, leading the eye from one spot to another. Often, designers use curved lines and shapes to smoothen the transition from more angular shapes and blocks of content. Transition helps to relax the eye and “soften” the design.

 

 

 

 

Looking for some inspiration?

Now that we’ve learned some of the most important ingredients of good design composition, enjoy a small gallery with design compositions we find inspiring. Enjoy!

We hope this article was interesting for you and we encourage you to look for more inspiration on Pinterest – both for web and print layouts, it is an amazing source! Furthermore, you can look at Unsplash, Dribbble,  DesignInspiration – the visual pleasure is endless and these sites offer high-quality content, deserving your attention.

Let us know if the article was useful in the comment section below, or if you have any questions – we would be glad to answer them!

Cheers!

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Bilyana Nikolaeva

Bilyana is an inspiring content writer and illustrator at GraphicMama with years of experience in art and design. When she’s not busy writing for the blog, you will usually see her working hard on new illustrations and graphic resources.

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