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Composition in Design

composition in design

Composition is one of the most important aspects of design and it refers to the way that elements are arranged within a photograph or design. Using one or more of these compositional techniques will help take your designs to the next level. We will be talking about rule of thirds, leading lines, and hierarchy.

Rule of Thirds


The rule of thirds is one of the most used composition techniques because it is simple and shifting an element to one side or the other will make the design feel much more natural. In my opinion, properly implementing the rule of thirds will help you improve your design the most. In this Japanese painting “The Great Wave” the wave is directly on the left third. The size of the wave and its positioning helps make it the main focus. If the wave would have been in the center of the painting it wouldn’t have had the same impact. This also has leading lines that draws your eye across the painting to the wave.

Leading Lines


Leading lines can be either real or implied. A leading line will draw your eye through a design and point you towards the most important element. In the JAWS poster the head of the shark points you right at the title of the movie. The nose of the shakr directs your eye. If they would have flipped the shark while leaving everything else the same then your eye would have been drawn to the co-star information. In this case it is an implied line because the nose of the shark doesn’t extend all the way up.



Hierarchy is the organization of elements by importance. It most often refers to typography, but it applies to every element within a design. You can use size, color, and weight to distinguish the importance. This poster for the movie “I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO” masterfully handles the hierarchy. The first and most important element is the name of the movie. On the poster it is emphasized because of the contrast with the white text on a black background, but it is also much larger than everything else. After the name we have the writer’s credits. It uses red to emphasize the name of the writer, director,  narrator, and review. Each element is slightly smaller or larger depending on importance. They also use test to distinguish the names from each other, but that is smaller white text. By using smaller white text they make it so that it is still easy to read the information, but you don’t focus on the word “writer”.  Instead, you focus on the name of the writer.

Using compositional techniques doesn’t have to be complicated. Even on simple designs, knowing how to properly use the techniques will take your work to the next level. I used print designs and photographs for the examples, but these can be translated to every medium including motion graphics, web design, magazine layouts, etc. If you want to see some more examples, and a break down of a poster that uses multiple techniques at the same time then please watch the youtube video I posted this week on the topic.