The Rule of Thirds & How It Relates to Graphic Design

There are so many rules in the graphic design space. There are rules for typography, balance, composition, negative space and just about everything else that you can think of. Today’s focus is on the rule of thirds in graphic design. You may have heard of the rule of thirds in photography, but you might not be familiar with how that rule applies to graphic design.

Just in case you’ve never heard of it, the rule of thirds simply means dividing your canvas or document into three equal sections. You’ll divide the canvas into three equal sections vertically and horizontally. This will create a 3 by 3 grid. Your grid won’t be 9 equal squares unless you’ve created a canvas that is a perfect square. You’ll most likely have equally sized rectangles.

Use the grid as a guide

Creating this grid allows you to create balance throughout your design. In photography, the rule of thirds is used to balance the picture while still creating an interesting focal point. Many photographers use the rule of thirds to make a traditional looking image to stand out and draw the viewer’s eye in a specific direction. This same idea exists in graphic design.

Lighthouse In Night

If you’ve been designing for a while, you should be familiar with the importance of balance and composition in graphic design. You may also know that balance and symmetry are not interchangeable words. Your design should be balanced, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be symmetrical. As a matter of fact, most humans gravitate towards things that are asymmetrical. You can use this to your advantage as a graphic designer.

The rule of thirds will assist you in creating a design that uses great composition and balance but is still visually interesting. Moving your key elements to the left or right side of the grid is a great starting point for an interesting yet balanced asymmetrical design. The grid is used as guidance for your design, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. You don’t have to align all of your elements to one side or another. A better approach is aligning elements to the general left or right side of the document.

Choose your focal point

Once you understand the basics of the rule of thirds, it’s time to take it to the next level. Start by choosing your focal point for the design. This is the main point of your design. It’s the thing you’d like the viewer to really pay attention to. After defining your focal point, it’s time to use supporting elements of the design to draw the eyes to your focal point. This can be done by using actual lines or visual lines. A great way to do this is aligning the text in your design to lead the viewer’s gaze in the direction of the focal point.

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A creative way to implement the rule of thirds in your designs is to invert the grid. Instead of aligning the elements to either side of the grid, you would align elements to each side of the canvas and leave the center blank. Alternatively, you can place the majority of your elements on one side or another to create a 2/3 style grid layout. Alignment is a key component of any good design. Taking a few moments to plan your design will give you the opportunity to arrange the elements in the most interesting way. Don’t forget that most design programs such as Photoshop have built-in alignment tools. Using the alignment tools in combination with the grid layout will keep your designs neat and tidy.

Graphic design is all about creativity. There are so many ways to add interest and versatility to your designs. Using the rule of thirds is just another tool to add to your toolkit. It’s not the holy grail of graphic design rules, but rather an alternative to the traditional center alignment of page elements. Play around with different placements of elements on the grid. You might find that everything looks great aligned to the top left or maybe the bottom center. The choice is up to you and what you think is best. Trust your instincts, but don’t be afraid to try something completely out there! Be flexible in your designs.


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