What is Balance?

The word “balance” is used in many different contexts. Whether it’s used to describe your diet, the justice system, or standing up on your own two feet; balance is normally considered a very good thing. In the vast majority of cases, nobody wants to lack balance in anything. 

Balance in Art & Design is the distribution of visual elements based on their perceived weight, or more simply put, Balance is how we arrange things based on their visual weight.

Balance is one of the key principles that can decide whether a project is visually appealing or not. Artists & Designers use balance to ensure that the various elements of a design or composition are arranged in a visually pleasing way, making the work easier to look at and less overwhelming. 

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What is Visual Weight?

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Visual weight is the amount of visual impact an object has or the amount an object catches the viewer's attention. For example, darker objects generally have more visual weight than lighter ones. Some of it is guesswork and if you feel something looks 'heavier' than something else then you are probably right. 

In real life, we can feel the physical weight of an object but in Art & Design, we are limited to what we can see. If we look at the image below, we know that some of these objects are physically heavier than others, but the image is still visually balanced because each of the objects competes for our attention equally.

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"Balance is how we arrange things based on their visual weight"

Why Balance is important?

If artwork or design is balanced and the visual weight is evenly distributed, it will not only look stable but will give a comfortable feeling to the person who views it.

On the other hand, if it is not balanced, the viewer will feel uneasy and it will create tension for them.

If your designs have no sense of balance, the viewer may not know where to look and may miss the message you're trying to convey.

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How to use Balance

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Some of the things you may need to balance in you work include:

Types of Balance

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Symmetrical Balance

Symmetrical balance means that the visual weight is evenly distributed and both sides match, a little like a mirror image. If you draw a straight line through the design the visual weight should be the same on each side of the line. 

Designs that are evenly balanced appear more orderly and stable, making it easier for the person looking at the design to understand the message. By keeping the weight the same but varying the design on each side you can make your design more captivating. The Taj Mahal in India is an excellent example of symmetrical balance in architecture.

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Taj Mahal (1653) Ustad Ahmad Lahauri
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Asymmetrical Balance

Asymmetrical balance means that the visual weight is evenly distributed but the two sides don't match. For example, you can have several small objects that balance out one large object. 

Designs do not always need to be symmetrical to be effective. Designers sometimes deliberately use asymmetrical balance to create tension or give a sense of movement. It must be done carefully if the designer makes one side too heavy or too light the balance is lost.

In Starry Night, Van Gogh carefully balanced the shapes of the trees, stars, and hills to create an asymmetrical balance.

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Starry Night (1889) Vincent Van Gogh
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Mosaic Balance

Mosaic balance is a type of organized chaos. It may look like “noise” at first because there is no single focal point. It all works together because all of the elements in the design are treated as equally important and are carefully placed and sized to keep them all evenly balanced.  Graphic designer Jon Burgerman often uses mosaic balance in his work, contributing to the feeling of chaotic fun.

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Discordant Balance

Discordant is a fancy word for 'not balanced'. It means that the designer has deliberately broken the rules and created imbalance in their work. Designers sometimes do this to make their viewers feel uncomfortable, perhaps to make them stop and look, think or take action.

Another excellent example of discordant balance design is this Cadburys Advert.  A collaboration between Cadburys and Age Uk, this advert creates a sense of motion that causes viewers to stop and think.