Previously, I discussed proportion as part of an ongoing exploration of the fundamentals of graphic design. I explored how proportion can be used to create order or disorder in a piece, and how it can create depth and visual interest. This time I am going to focus on Rhythm, one of the most difficult topics I will cover in this series.
Rhythm is usually associated with music. This is because it is much easier to detect rhythm aurally than it is visually. This makes it a topic which is more felt than academically understood. As in music, repetition is the basic method of achieving rhythm in a layout. And as with music, there are two types of repetition available to the designer: regular repetition and syncopated repetition.
Regular repetition is accomplished by repeating a visual element at regular intervals. By repeating an element multiple times, you can create a relaxed piece; the reader knows what to expect, and is comforted by this. This relaxed feeling can be used to complement a message that is intended to be calming.
Syncopated repetition involves repetition in more complex patterns. By repeating an element several times, then repeating that pattern multiple times (three elements spaced evenly in a group, and then three of these groups spaced evenly but more distantly, for example), a less relaxed layout can be achieved. And it doesn’t have to be the same element. Elements with dissimilar visual weights can be repeated in pattern, making for even more complex rhythm and more dynamic feeling in a design.
As with all the fundamentals of composition I’ve covered so far, rhythm can be manipulated to create a disharmony in a design, and such disharmony can be used to manipulate the emotional impact of the design, and strengthen a discordant message.
It is important to constantly remember that design is not about making something pretty, it is about complementing the message of the content and achieving clarity. Using rhythm, either to create a more relaxing feel or to add to the dynamism of a layout, we can change the mood and subsequently the impact the piece has on the audience.