Learn About Symmetrical Balance as a Design Principle

Lesson 1: Centered, mirrored, evenly distributed balance

Symmetrical Balance
Symmetrical tends to have the same visual weight on each half (length or width) of the page.

Lifewire / Jacci Howard Bear

Symmetrical balance is easiest to see in perfectly centered compositions or those with mirror images. In a design with only two elements, they would be almost identical or have nearly the same visual mass. If one element was replaced by a smaller one, it could throw the page out of symmetry. 

To reclaim perfect symmetrical balance you might need to add or subtract or rearrange the elements so that they evenly divide the page such as a centered alignment or one that divides the page into even segments (halves, quarters, etc.).

When a design can be centered or evenly divided both vertically and horizontally it has the most complete symmetry possible. Symmetrical balance generally lends itself to more formal, orderly layouts. They often convey a sense of tranquility or familiarity or elegance or serious contemplation.

One way to tell if a piece has symmetrical balance is to fold it in half then squint (so you aren't seeing the actual words and images) to see if each half looks the same.

Vertical Symmetry

Each vertical half (excluding text) of the Wordsplay brochure (sidebar) is a near mirror image of the other, emphasized with the reverse in colors. Even the perfectly centered text picks up the color reversal here. This symmetrically balanced layout is very formal in appearance.

Vertical and Horizontal Symmetry

The Do Something poster design (sidebar) divides the page into four equal sections. Although not mirror images the overall look is very symmetrical and balanced. Each of the line drawings is more or less centered within their section. The graphic (text and image) in the upper center of the page is the focal point tying all the parts together.

Symmetrical balance arranges elements of text and graphics on the page so that each half (vertically or horizontally) or a quarter of the page contains an even amount of components. They do not have to be physically and actually identical but visually each segment of the layout has approximately the same amount and configuration (perhaps mirrored) of parts. Components that cross the imaginary halfway point (vertically or horizontally) do so by about the same amount on either side. Layouts with perfect symmetry tend to be more formal and static in appearance.

Hands-On Exercise

Look for examples of balanced symmetry in your gathered class samples as well as in the signs, billboards, and other materials around you. Do these exercises and answer these questions (to yourself).

  • How many examples of perfect or near-perfect symmetry can you find?
  • Fold a few pieces in half vertically and horizontally to look for an asymmetrical balance.
  • Look for sections of symmetrical design within larger layouts such as a graphic, a logo.
  • How is the symmetry achieved — is it through mirror images, identical placement, or with pieces that are very similar in look and feel?