Learn how symmetry can be used as a modern and unexpected tool without appearing old-fashioned or stodgy.
- Symmetry often gets a bad rap. It seems old fashioned and stiff. Designers want to work with modern and dynamic asymmetrical compositions. Symmetrical layouts were beautiful for my grandmother's wedding invitation or a book of Mark Twain essays. But a website? Or a contemporary poster? Are you crazy? Of course, symmetry can be just as compelling as asymmetry. Consider George Tscherney's remarkable invitation to an art auction brunch.
It is unexpectedly symmetrical vertically. But the simple circular forms that echo each other and the contrast between the complex frame and simple egg shape make it fresh and modern. It's as far away as possible from my great grandmother's wedding invitation. Yet it relies on symmetry also. Like any asymmetrical solution, a page of text in one size and weight will be gray and dull. Since you don't have the luxury of position and symmetry, the scale is critical.
One of the elements, either typographic or an image, must take dominance. And as we discuss with scale, do this with a bold stroke. This catalog cover by Jennifer Morla for Design Within Reach could have been expected and not particularly engaging. With a bird and similar scale text below, the viewer wouldn't give it a second glance. But Morla expertly designed this scale to be surprising, adding negative space and reducing the size of the copy dramatically.
This gets the reader's attention who sees the bird and then is directed to the copy with the branch. By contrasting the size, the cover is dynamic. Symmetry communicates simplicity. The message is the priority. A designer didn't employ any design tricks to make it more attractive. This magazine cover by Herb Lubalin has a singular message centered on the page and a no-nonsense approach. The typography is still well crafted and chosen.
The message is bold enough to stand on its own. Anything else would minimize the importance of the text. In this instance, a bold black and white approach adds to the simplicity and confidence of the cover. Typically I advise avoiding what I term thermometer layouts. One big section of text in the middle of the page. But rules are made to be broken. If I'm creating tall column of typography or images, I need to exaggerate the form.
The composition should be unmistakably tall and narrow. The absence of other elements on the page activates the negative space. The long vertical screw here echoes the tall vertical shape of the wine bottle. The same holds true for doughnut layout. This is when all the elements are in the corners making a doughnut. For this album cover for Sergio Mendez, Roland Young purposely positioned the face in the center.
He then used the exploding stars and bars symmetrically to create a halo effect. This works because his commitment to symmetry layout was rigorous. Michael Vanderbyl's poster for a lecture purposely breaks the rules of dividing the space in half. But the relentless symmetry gives it power and a sense of graciousness. You can't give up halfway and start trying to fix the doughnut issue. The purposefulness of the layout makes it compelling.
You've heard me repeatedly mention the need to be bold during this course. This couldn't be more important with symmetrical layouts. The composition is so simple and expected that a bold sense of scale, color, content, and form is critical. Like all solutions, do it with a purpose and meaning to communicate an idea. There may be those who prefer a less dynamic approach, but your job isn't to do nice, it's to make something amazing.
- Creating meaning with complex shapes
- Using three-dimensional thinking
- Maximizing the power of scale
- How tension is created with dissimilar elements
- Alternative layout processes
- Minimalism and maximalism
- Rhythm in sequential design