Balance (and the lack of it) is just a natural way of how life works. We see it everywhere; in plants, trees, animals, and even some parts of our own bodies are near perfectly balanced.
So it just makes sense that designers apply it to graphic design as well.
In graphic design, balance is visually interpreted through symmetry. Symmetry and asymmetry (or imbalance) are some of the most important principles that designers can look into when arranging elements in graphic design.
It’s so important that symmetry is actually considered one of graphic design’s main principles.
In this article, we’ll talk about all the things you need to know about the differences between symmetry and asymmetry in graphic design. We’ll cover the definitions of symmetry and asymmetry so we can see their similarities and differences as well.
A graphic design is symmetrical when two or more of its elements are identical and happen to mirror each other from a central point (radial) or axis (bilateral). This brings balance and order to design.
Symmetry is often used in graphic design because of our natural instincts as humans see balance and stability as good things that help us in our survival.
Generally, an imbalance can mean unpredictability, which our primal instincts consider as a risk. In psychology, the imbalance is seen as disorderly and chaotic, triggering our fears and anxiety.
In contrast, symmetrical graphic designs are aesthetically pleasing to look at because they are easier for our eyes to understand at first glance. Because symmetrical designs are basically just repeated designs that reflect each other, they contain less information for our eyes and brains to process.
Another reason why symmetry is aesthetically pleasing to look at is because it balances out the visual weight in graphic designs. Because they are balanced, our eyes don’t need to shift focus from one side to another, making it also easier for us to look at the entire picture rather than just looking at a more prominent side.
Additionally, there are at least three different types of symmetry that are commonly used in graphic design:
1. Reflectional symmetry
Reflectional symmetry, also known as bilateral symmetry, occurs when a design element is reflected from a central axis, resulting in two identical and mirrored images. Axis just means imaginary straight line, so reflectional symmetry can be reflected vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.
An example of reflectional symmetry is how butterfly wings are shaped. Even though it’s not perfectly symmetrical, it appears as though that the left and right sides of a butterfly reflect each other almost identically.
2. Rotational symmetry
Rotational symmetry, also known as radial symmetry, occurs when a design element is reflected from a central point. If reflectional symmetry is reflected from any straight line, rotational symmetry is reflected from just a single point.
An example of rotational symmetry is how flower petals bloom from its center. Flower petals radiate outwards from its pistil or its central point with nearly perfect rotational symmetry.
3. Translational symmetry
Translational symmetry, also known as crystallographic symmetry, occurs when a design element is repeatedly used in the same orientation.
Unlike the first two types of symmetry, translational symmetry is not reflected and doesn’t need to be placed proportionally from the other image and the central point or axis. It can be placed anywhere in the graphic design as long as the orientation stays the same.
An example of translational symmetry is how footprints are formed when you walk in the sand. Our feet are shaped in a way that they appear to be mirroring each other and walking in the sand gives them distance.
In contrast to symmetrical design, a graphic design is asymmetrical when there’s no particular balance from any side of its central point or axis. Though imbalanced, asymmetry brings a more authentic and natural quality to design.
As mentioned earlier, symmetry is more predictable and easier to understand than asymmetry. While this can be a good thing, it can also mean that a symmetrical graphic design’s predictability and “easiness” can make it too simple and boring as well.
And since asymmetry’s imbalance makes it quite unpredictable and complex, it makes our brain more inclined to think harder, making it more interesting and attention-grabbing.
Asymmetrical graphic designs also tend to feel more natural because they have fewer rules that they need to follow than symmetrical designs. This also makes asymmetrical designs look more free, liberated, and expressionistic.
And unlike symmetrical designs, asymmetrical graphic designs don't necessarily have the visual balance to make the whole picture easy to understand at first glance. However, this makes the asymmetrical designs easier to focus on the details, rather than the whole picture.
To recap some of the points earlier, here are the differences between symmetry and asymmetry:
Symmetrical graphic designs and asymmetrical graphic designs each have their own strengths and weaknesses that make them special in their own unique way. No one is necessarily better than the other!
They are both great to incorporate in graphic design, it all just boils down to your design’s purpose, intent, and the message it wants to convey.
Graphics Zoo’s team of professional graphic designers are well-versed in graphic design symmetry and asymmetry. Get in touch with us firstname.lastname@example.org.