Balance is the equal distribution of visual weight in a design. Visual balance occurs around a vertical axis; our eyes require the visual weight to be equal on the two sides of the axis. We are bilateral creatures and our sense of balance is innate. When elements are not balanced around a vertical axis, the effect is disturbing and makes us uncomfortable.
Symmetrical, or formal balance, is also known as bilateral symmetry. It is created by repeating the reverse of a design on the opposite side of the vertical axis; each side, in essence, becomes the mirror image of the other. Symmetrical balance is considered formal, ordered, stable and quiet. It can also be boring. Symmetrical balance is often used in architecture.
While symmetry achieves balance through repetition, asymmetry achieves balance through contrast. Asymmetrical, or informal balance, involves different elements that have equal visual weight; the weight is equal but the elements are not identical. Visual weight is influenced by:
- Position - the further out an element is from the center, the heavier it will feel; a large object placed near the center can be balanced by a smaller object placed near the edge
- Size - larger feels heavier
- Texture - an element with more complex texture is heavier visually than one with a simple texture or no texture at all
- Isolation - an isolated element has more visual weight
- Value - darker feels heavier
- Value contrast - the higher the value-contrast, the heavier the weight
- Quantity - multiple small objects can balance one larger object
- Orientation - a diagonal orientation carries more visual weight than a horizontal or vertical one
- Shape - elements that have more complex shapes feel heavier than those with simple shapes
- Color - the brighter and more intense its color, the heavier the element will feel
Asymmetrical balance is casual, interesting and more dynamic than symmetrical balance.
Radial balance occurs when all the elements radiate out from a central point and the visual weight is distributed equally. Radial balance creates a strong focal point in the center of the design. Clock faces and daisies are examples of radial balance.
Crystallographic balance, or an allover pattern, is created by repeating elements of equal weight everywhere. Emphasis is uniform; there is no distinct focal point. Quilts and chessboards are examples of crystallographic balance.