There are literally thousands of ways to approach graphic design, and each is as different as the designer applying them. However, to be most effective in design, there are still rules to consider. One of the most effective graphic design secrets is embracing the rule-of-thirds; a simple principle but sometimes difficult to grasp at first. Designers love to venture ahead relying on their creativity and ingenuity, rather than tried and true techniques. However, once a designer has this rule firmly embedded in their practice, bending and breaking the rule to their creativity can pack and give an equal punch.
How the Rule-of-Thirds Works – A Breakdown
Have you ever gone into your camera’s grid mode by accident and found horizontal and vertical lines popping up on the screen? In short, this is the framework for capturing an image utilizing the rule-of-thirds, and it’s one of the best-kept secrets of graphic design.
Divide the Grid into Three Sections
The rule-of-thirds is a grid in its simplest form – it works by dividing any canvas into three equally sized horizontal and vertical sections. This in turn, gives you a guideline on where important elements of your design should be placed (or where they should avoid being placed) for maximum impact.
Finding the Natural Focal Points
When utilizing the rule-of-thirds grid, the points where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect becomes the natural focal points for the eye – making those sections stand out to the viewer. However, we need to be careful not to overuse these focal points, as they can overshadow one another if we aren’t careful.
Aligning the Image According to the Focal Points
That’s where asymmetry comes in. Placing images asymmetrically creates a more engaging and dynamic piece because the human mind is tricked into gravitating toward elements that stand out. The grid allows a designer to do this effectively without having to simply rely on creative intuition.
Creating Effective Designs by Applying the Rule-of-Thirds
Getting started applying the rule-of-thirds is as simple as altering your design setup routine. Here’s a quick overview of how to set up your next design piece with this grid in mind:
- Select a canvas size – Don’t get hung up on a canvas size. You can literally apply the rule-of-thirds to any canvas size. The key is picking one out to get you started.
- Break the canvas into equal parts – Next, break apart the canvas into nine equal parts by placing two horizontal and two vertical guides down. Most design programs, such as Photoshop, should allow you to do this without a problem.
- Place the most important elements at intersections – Consider the elements you plan to use in your design, and then place the most important ones in the intersecting points. Don’t overpower the piece by balancing it out too much and having important elements fight for attention.
- Create asymmetry – The most effective way to create visual interest in design is to use the rule-of-thirds to create asymmetry in the design. While humans naturally crave symmetry, it doesn’t have the pulling power to get people’s attention. With this in mind, consider what element is most important, and try not to have anything else in its diagonal counterpart.
Examples of the Rule-of-Thirds in Play
Relying on a grid with the rule-of-thirds in mind applies to all the elements of graphic design. It can be as simple, or as complex as you’d like to take it. Let’s take a closer look at a few real-life examples:
Designing ads for print or the web can be made much simpler when leaning on this concept to increase their effectiveness. Designers can optimize the overall layout of an ad with the grid, or even dig down deeper, and optimize each of the elements with their own grid.
Eye contact is critical when including portraits either as a design element, or utilizing them on their own. Cropping an image of a person, so their eye is placed across one of the grid focal points will enhance the engagement of the image and increase its effectiveness. Another thing to keep in mind when using people; human nature will encourage us to follow the path of someone else’s eyes. If you’d like to emphasize type or some other element, have the person looking toward that direction of the design.
Whether in the background or used as the main component of design, applying the grid to landscapes can make a stronger connection. It’s also one of the easiest ways to apply the rule-of-thirds because you can line up your horizon with one of the horizontal lines to find which way is most visually interesting.
Even logos can be designed utilizing this rule. Placing illustrations of people, or the most critical components along intersections of the grid will make them pop and increase engagement.
By placing your subjects on the grid, you can emphasize the action of the scene and give a sense of motion/action. Playing with the white space either before or after the subject will also enhance this sensation. Try placing the image both ways to see what works best.
You can even apply the rule-of-thirds to websites. Eye tracking research suggests a number of interesting findings. For starters, web users view pages in an F formation, but also prioritize their scanning for the task at hand. Ensuring websites are designed with these concepts in mind, and utilizing the grid, you simply can’t lose out on any opportunity to convert your visitors to customers.
As you can see, the rule-of-thirds is applicable in a variety of forms, and in a variety of graphic design instances. Once a designer has mastered the concept, the grid itself is no longer necessary as a guide because it becomes your second nature of designing during the creation process. If you haven’t been utilizing it yet, start today and see how transformative it is with your next design.