CalArts: Funds. of Graphic Design-W4: 4.1 Principles of Composition

Composition is basically the arrangement and positioning of elements on a surface to form a piece of graphic design.

So this could be on screen, it could be in print, but basically it’s putting together any of those elements.

It could be typography, it could be shapes, it could be images.

And composition is a very powerful tool.

To begin with, it can really make the difference between things not making any sense, 
and exactly the same elements coming together and making sense.

But it can also, quite subtly affect how a viewer reads things and what kind of messages they’re getting from design,

so it’s not just about arranging all the elements.
 It’s about doing it with some kind of thoughtful intent as the designer and using composition as a tool really to help you to create messages as well as aesthetics.

So let’s start out with a blank piece of paper. 
Imagine we put an element, an object onto that piece of paper.

Being Centered

The chances are, that we’re gonna place that object pretty much in the middle of the paper. 
And that’s just our inclination, maybe it’s a reaction to symmetry in geometry.

But that’s kind of an even way to place an image on a piece of paper. 
And probably the most obvious as well.

And this is called being centered
And when you center an object in a composition, or a series of objects in a composition, 
it nearly always works okay, but it’s also very, very familiar and can lose a lot of its power.

So let’s imagine we have three different shapes to work with. And we’re gonna try and compose them in this page.

If we were to put them on a centered axis, it might get a little too clumsy and too awkward, so you might have to think of a different way to arrange those elements.

So, there are a couple of very familiar and very traditional ways of arranging elements.

So, one being centered
another being something called the rule of thirds.

Rule of Thirds.

And here you divide your page or your screen that you’re working on into a series of thirds, 
and where the thirds intersect is actually points of visual interest,
where you might choose to place elements.

So you can see here, if we get rid of the grid lines and we look at the placement of shapes onto the intersection of the thirds one at a time.

You can really see how the place the points of visual interest where the relationship between the object and the rectangle that it’s sitting in and the white space where the object isn’t. 
Those relationships are quite, kind of, pleasing to the eye.

So these two simple systems,

  • vertical and horizontal symmetry,
  • and the rule of thirds,

they are really based on a lot of how we see things in nature.

Quite often things are symmetrical or things are divided up that they fall into these rule of thirds. 
But there’s another system that’s also from nature, that’s perhaps more interesting to look at.

And that system is called golden rectangle.

Golden Rectangle.

And this is a system that has been very popular in architecture and in design, really since the 1400s.

And like the other two systems, the golden rectangle is seen as creating a guideline for composition that is really seen as being harmonious.

In particular, in this case, because the ratios of the golden rectangle actually reflect the ratios of the human body.

So lets look at how you actually make a golden rectangle.

So if you take a square and you cut that square in half

and you then look at the center of the square to a corner of the square, it can be either of these.

If you think about that as the radius of a circle and then you were to actually draw that circle equal, what that would give you is another length here. (ลูกศรแดงจากจุดศูนย์กลางวงกลมไปเส้นรอบวงทางซ้าย)

And if you then took that length and actually turned it into a rectangle, what you would actually have is something that was the proportions of the golden rectangle.

So you can see that it’s always made up of a square.

And then an additional segment, and the ratio between the height and the length. 
And this obviously works horizontally as well as vertically, 
but that ratio between the height and the length is always a consistent proportion.

And that proportion is roughly 1 to 1.6.

And if you wanted to do a little research about how the golden rectangle is used, the golden section is used, 
in say book design for instance, 
is very interesting to look at because it’s a medium that’s been around for such a long time.

You can look at book plates from the 15th, 16th century that uses composition. 
All the way up to books and book designs today that are using this same composition.

And one of the interesting things about the golden rectangle, 
is that once you have a square and you make a golden rectangle out of it, the portion that’s left, when that’s divided up into a square, the piece that’s left after that is another golden rectangle.

So what this means is, you can kind of keep going forever, dividing each golden rectangle up by adding a square to it and to get another smaller golden rectangle.

And if you kept going for this what you’d actually end up with would be a perfect nautilus หอยวงเปลือกมุกชนิดหนึ่ง shape.

And again, this talks about the relationship of the golden ratio to its form and its appearance in nature.

So we could place some objects within certain areas that are defined by the golden ratio, for instance, and that might help us with the composition.

But we’re also gonna need to make other moves in our composition.

So for instance here you can see just the scale by making some of the elements larger, can have a really large effect.

Really change the hierarchy, suddenly the triangle obviously is much more important.

Or here, we’re using direction and space a little bit more.

And you can see again, the scale, where the circle becomes much more important, there’s a lot of activity over on the left-hand side, a lot more space over on the right-hand side.

And these kind of compositional ideas, they can really be found out by just moving shapes around within rectangles.

But I think one of the easiest ways to really think about them,
 is to actually talk about visual contrast.

And what this means is, taking some of these aspects of composition and trying to look at them as a spectrum if you like.
From very little contrast, to a lot of contrast.

And the reason we try to do this is to really gain control of them.

So we’re gonna look at this in a very abstract way, 
and we’re just going to use abstract geometric shapes to begin with, to think about composition.