Design Principles: Rhythm

Alternating occurrence of form and space is known in the design world as rhythm, one of the secondary principles of design. Often confused as a pattern, rhythm can be established using any element of the design. To create rhythm using text, a designer can alternate color every other line. With graphics, a designer can alternate shapes throughout. Rhythm is used in design to create unity as well as movement.

As explained in the previous Design Principles post, I have made a layout to give my audience a real-world example of each principle. In the layout below, you will see how the shapes use rhythm to create a sense of movement. The alternating colors within the the emphasized text is also using rhythm.

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Design Principles: Movement

Movement can be defined as the choreography of graphic design, created by rhythm with visual elements. Within a layout, movement directs the audience’s eye flow – it shows them where to look next.

For this mini-series, I created a few layouts to show my audience how each principle is used in real life. The purpose of the giant arrow in this design is not only a fun play off of the word “fall” but also directing your eyes downward to the remainder of the quote. The smaller arrows which make up the the giant arrow are what creates the rhythm in this design.

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“Putting Stuff Into Space”


Space, the unlimited or incalculably great three-dimensional realm or expanse in which all material objects are located and all events occur. Surprisingly similar to Space, the just-as-great two-dimensional ground or field of a design composition. Space is what creates order in a composition, and what makes the occupying forms flow together. It is vital in conveying both literal and conceptual messages. Although it is not defined until a form appears, much like outer space, it should never be considered “empty.”

    When the relationships between forms are clear and compatible, space is being accurately used. To do this successfully, many factors need to be considered. Is the layout dynamic? Is it sad and symmetrical? Or, exciting and asymmetrical? Is it proportional? Does it have rhythm? Can I follow the movement?

A static layout is easy to spot, it will look flat, with an active foreground and a restful background. A dynamic layout will entertain longer, and most likely have varying intervals of space between forms, sometimes appearing three-dimensional. Symmetry is similar to static in the sense that it feels boring in a layout. A layout that is symmetrical will stick to strict order, whereas an asymmetrical layout is complex, dramatic, and different. Combining asymmetry and symmetry is not something to attempt in a design, as symmetrical elements will appear as if they have no relationship with the asymmetrical elements and vice versa.

A combination that will greatly improve a layout, however, is the combination of either an orthogonal structure or a diagonal structure with any one of the many secondary structures. It is important to put a focus on the structure of a layout as it imparts many meanings, whether that be rigid, fluid, repetitive, or irregular. Another factor to keep in mind is the proportional relationship between form and shape. The most common proportional relationship is the rule of thirds, where the layout is divided into three sections from left to right or top to bottom. The next is musical logic, which is more rhythmic and less generic. After is the mathematical logic which refers to any numeric progressional or fractional relationship within a composition. Similar to that is the golden section, which expresses the relationship between a rectangle and square.

Dimensional space is a factor that gives the illusion of whether a form is near or far, in the foreground, background, or someplace in-between. A designer can use negative space to push the appearance of the form into the background, they could make an object larger to appear closer, or smaller to appear further away. Movement also fights flatness in a layout. The center of a page is often presumed as the point to focus on, but a designer could shift the focus to one side or the other to create motion. Movement is often paired with rhythm is a design. Think of rhythm as repetition, it is obvious and distinct. Rhythm determines how much space should be present and how often a form should appear.

    Space is activated when all the factors mentioned above come together harmoniously with the forms within the design. Form and space should be contrasting but still complementing. There are many ways to activate space, clustering is when a majority of the activity in the design is focused into one area which emphasizes the space around the cluster. Implementing color into a design will activate space without overwhelming form. A designer should not be afraid to cross boundary lines set by forms. Set text over a corner of a photograph, or add a splash of color, even aligning text in an unusual way creates an interesting design.