Rule of Thirds | Visual Composition

Rules of Thirds in Graphic Design

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Rules of Thirds in Graphic Design

When it comes to design there are some rules that should be kept in mind when designing. If your art is not making sense or the composition doesn’t seem quite right, you may want to consider the rule of thirds.

I’ve always taken photos and designed with symmetry in mind. I place my primary point of interest smack dab in the middle of the shot. All secondary points of interest would flow around that main image. I always believed that in the middle was visually pleasing and there was no other way to take a picture or design content. It wasn?t  until my visual design research that I learned that I can create more stimulating graphics without symmetry. In my head, it meant I had to have an equal balance on both sides of my photo.

Andrew E. Budson of Psychology Today wrote an article titled “We are visual animals”. He states, “We are visual animals. Although we certainly use our hearing and other senses, the clich?, seeing is believing, resonates with us because we use our eyes to make sense of the world.”

What is Composition

The rules of graphic design (art in general) consists of different elements, such as lines, shapes, and color that work together to make up the total picture.  When you design, be it a photograph or graphics, you are telling a story based on your visual content. When your story is read clearly you will make a greater impact to your audience. These guidelines and techniques help to create the composition. When these elements are cohesive the art makes sense and flows evenly. One such element that is most popular in the design world is the rule of thirds.

What is The Rule Of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds has been used in photography and design since the 1800’s.  The premise states that the eyes are naturally drawn to these lines and intersections of a 3X3 grid. 2 even horizontal and vertical lines intersect subtly indicating where the main subject of the design / photo should lay. For centuries photographers and artists have incorporated the rule of thirds into their work creating diverse works of art.

Why Use the Rule of Thirds

There are different design ‘theories’ and ‘rules’ (guidelines and techniques) that you may want to consider when creating your graphics. The rule of thirds is just one way to catch the viewers attention. The rule of thirds can help create balance in a photo. It can also help create direction.  By following the rule of thirds you are drawing the eye from one point to another, creating movement and a counterbalance. As opposed to centered focal points that are static.

Rule of Thirds eye center

How to use Rule of Thirds

The Paper Mill Blog states, “Designers should remember that the most popular, eye-catching power point is the top left intersection. With this in mind, it might be a good idea to place critical information or your main focal point on this power point. Following this, the most attention-grabbing power points are (in order) the bottom left, the top right, and lastly the bottom right.”

Picture an invisible grid layer across  your photo or image. You will want your focal point to be at the interesection of the lines or on a line depending on the design.

  • Horizons – Pretend you took a picture of the sun rise. What part of the photo do you want more emphasis? The top or the bottom? Put your horizontal line in line with the horizon. Which ever horizontal line you emphasize will create a different feel for the picture. In the photo below, I tried to align the head at the Top right intersection and integrate the ocean and the horizon into the photo. It would give a different feel if I only shot her body and cut out the ocean.
  • Head shots – The eyes cross at the intersections of the horizontal and vertical lines.

Rule of thirds ocean

In this shot I aligned the jewelry and the diagonal intersection rather than shooting the photo straight forward.

Rule of Thirds wrist and hand

Another use for the Rule of Thirds

Besides being great for photography, art, and design, the rule of thirds could also play a part in website design. Where do you want your audience’s eyes to go first? From what to what? What is most important?

Besides just images, consider where you would want to place text.  The typography also plays a part in the composition of design. The text, another element, will add to how the story is read.


Visual content is what is remembered and recalled more often than text. Make sure you get the most out of your placement. You will not always want to consider the rule of thirds. But if you feel something needs changed in your work, try to off set the primary point of interest. You may discover that your design has a better feel and pulls your viewer into the main idea of your design. You want your audience to recall, picture in their mind, your design and what you had to offer.

If you have questions or comments please leave them in the comments below.

Xoxo, Jenn

If you are a creative line me, you will often “color outside the lines”. Do what you think  makes your design you.

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