What is composition in design?

You may possibly have the most stunning design elements in the world on screen or paper, but if the graphic design is not up to scratch, because of a lack of composition it may be heavily critiqued. Composition refers to how you arrange and place design elements on a page. The spaces between the design, the arrangement, and the ways in which the designs interact or crossover with other elements. So, it is safe to say that the composition is essential.

What is the design composition exactly?

Well, in very simple terms, that is the part where all the separate elements come together to form a whole. When all the blank spaces, images, graphics and colours come together to form a single coherent picture. Successful composition means that you have organised, delivered, coordinated and assembled the template in a manner that not only looks good but is also highly functional and effective.

So, below we will cover some really useful tips, tricks and techniques that will get you to master the composition in no time.

01. Find the Focus

Just like the way we are taught during PE lessons or in-class examinations concentrating is a very important thing. A key element in any good composition is a clear focal point, as it allows the eyes of the audience to concentrate and automatically settle first on the important parts of the picture.

What is composition in design

When choosing your focal point, keep in mind that communication is the main objective of any design. Whether you are communicating an idea, some information, or just a feeling or emotion, your design is telling a specific storey, so be sure to choose the focal point that helps this storey to be told in the strongest and most effective way.

02. Direct the movement of the eye with a lead line

What is composition in design

Just in the way might you point to something when you want others to look at it, by putting those lead lines and shapes into the graphics you are actually, guiding your viewer to monitor the point of view of your display. In this way, you have some control of where the viewer’s eyes go when they see your design.

A common use of the lead lines that you might be familiar with is in the flowcharts. Flowcharts use lines to direct your eyes from one point to another in an obviously coherent and usually logical way.

Leading lines can also direct you to a number of third parties or information points. As discussed earlier, you want the focus to first land at the main focal point, so then where does it go?

By positioning and adjusting your leading lines, you can not only direct your eyes to the focal point of your design, but also to the rest of your design.

Of course, not every design you create will have such clear lines for you to adjust to the point of view, but that does not mean you sink or swim. Simply find shapes and lines within your images and graphics, and use them to direct your eyes in certain ways.

03. Scaling and Hierarchy

Scale and visual hierarchy are some of the creative fundamentals that can really make or break your designs, so it is important to have a good grip on them in order to maintain a successful composition. In a very brief explanation, the hierarchy is the arrangement and design of the elements with a view to visually signalling importance. So, you could render a more important element bigger and bolder than a less important element that might be smaller and weaker. Hierarchy is of special importance when it comes to type. For a much more comprehensive and detailed discussion of typographical hierarchy, be sure to understand the reasons each design needs three levels of typographical hierarchy. We teach this in the Blue Sky Graphics 0110 Graphic Design Course, but there are lots of materials available elsewhere Scale is often used to help communicate hierarchy by drawing attention to and away from certain elements, thereby indicating their importance to communication. Scale is also an extremely handy tool to give you a sense of proportion and complexity of your style. You can make things look incredibly detailed, intricate, and tiny, or you can make them big and big. By contrasting the small-scale element next to the large-scale element in your composition, you can create a number of different effects.

04. Align the components

What is composition in design

Balance is a very important thing in many respects, and your designs are no exception.

But how do we find the perfect mix in our designs?

Well, let us have two common types of balance and how to master it. First, we have got  symmetrical balance. Symmetrical balance is basically what it says on the tin – it balances your design with symmetry. By reflecting certain design elements from left to right or from top to bottom, you can create a strong sense of balance.

Another kind of equilibrium, and perhaps a more common type, is asymmetrical balance. Asymmetrical equilibrium is also a relatively self-explanatory concept in that it involves the formation of harmony without symmetry.

A good technique for understanding asymmetric equilibrium is to think of each item as having a ‘weight’ on it. Smaller items might ‘weigh’ less than larger objects, and finely textured components may ‘weigh’ more than uniformly coloured elements. Whatever the case with your template, even these weighted components out until you have an effective balance.

05. Use elements that work effectively together (harmoniously)

You have heard of complementary colours, but what about the complementary design features? One key element of a successful and effective composition is taking the time to carefully and purposefully select each element of your design so that each part complements the whole.

The common error in compositions is the use of images that do not complement each other. So, when you use more than one image in your composition, try to make sure that they all look effective and coherent when they are grouped together.

There are a lot of different ways to do this, here are a couple of points:

– Use the pictures of the same photoshoot. This is a simple way to ensure that the images look consistent, as they were all likely to be in the same art direction and artistic theme.

– Colour your photos in the same way. With the proliferation of philtres and image-adjusting devices, you can colour and correct your photos in order to have more cohesive and compatible palettes. Choose photos that are shot in a similar way. Try choosing images with similar aesthetics and styles.

Creating a coherent layout also means matching the type and the imagery that complement each other. Each different typeface used under the right circumstances has certain tones and ideas associated with it – a detailed, cursive typeface with lots of curls and curls, for example, might signal elegance and sophistication. So, choose your typeface with purpose and intent.

06. Boost (or reduce) Your Contrast

What is composition in design

Contrast is an incredibly useful tool for both revealing and covering some of the elements of your design. By upping the contrast or using a high contrast colour feature, you can help the element to stand out and draw attention to it. Likewise, by lowering the contrast, the element can fade into the background.

In this way, contrast can also be used to ‘hide’ certain elements of your designs and to create meaning within them. So, use a contrast to the purpose of your design, whether it is to adjust the focus to or away from an element.

07. Repeat the element of your design

What is composition in design

So that consistency and a consistent structure can be maintained, try taking specific elements from one part of the layout and adding them to other parts. Maybe a style of type can be applied to more than one section of your design, or maybe a graphic pattern can be used more than once. So, try to tie your design to the repeated elements.

Repeat is the key factor when it comes to multi-page layouts. Repeating the elements of your layout and/or design helps each page to move into the next one, creating a coherent set of pages.

Repeat is also a key factor when it comes to creating single page compositions. By repeating the graphic elements, you can keep your design strong and coherent just as Jessica Hische is event poster is.

If a dense, bright, pink line-based logo were unexpected to be used somewhere in the centre, the continuity would be compromised. And, by keeping the font palette and colour palette small and the graphic styles basic and identical, the design remains beautiful and powerful.

When designing, keep a record of the typefaces, line weights, colours, etc. you use, and try to repeat them somewhere else throughout your design to tie the piece together as a whole.

08. Do not forget about the white space

What is composition in design

The easiest way to insult someone design where there is white space is by referring to it as ’empty space.’ Emptiness means that it is meant to be full of something, that it does not do its work, but that is not the case.

White space, when used creatively, will help to enhance the elegance of your design and overall look by contrasting the more complex and chaotic aspects of your structure with the room that makes your design breathe.

So how are we supposed to use white space in our designs?

Scale down your graphics. By scaling down your imagery, type, graphics and so on, you can create some luxurious white space around your focal points while staying within the frame of your original graphic. Do not take up any space with the material. As mentioned just before, white space is not empty space, it does its own job and serves its own purpose, so do not feel the need to fill any white space you have with more content.


While designing your project, ask yourself whether you need 100 per cent of every aspect of your design. Do you need all this kind, do you need a bright blue cover, do you need three separate images? By subtracting the unnecessary bits and pieces of your design, you can create a more direct design that maximises white space.

09. Align Your Items

What is composition in design

When designing a composition that has many elements in it, do not just throw them all on the page and call it a day, because aligning those elements is a quick and easy way to transform your design from shabby to chic.

Aligning the elements in a clear and rational manner always allows you to establish harmony between other elements. So, if you are using a lot of images, a lot of type and/or a lot of graphics, alignment might just be your best friend.

Alignment is often very critical when it comes to size. There are several options to match the type, but a simple thumb rule for larger copy bits is to adhere to the left orientation, because this is the best way for the eye to find and make sense of it.

10. Divide the concept between third parties

The rule of thirds is a basic strategy where designers split their projects into three rows and three columns, and where vertical and horizontal lines cross, the focus points will be.

Using the rule of thirds is a perfect way to kick off the structure of your concept, because it offers you a simple and easy guide to arranging and framing the components.

You might notice that the lines would cross over the focal point of each image – the two hikers in the first image, and the largest bird in the second. The lines will often converge at points across the text frames, attracting the eye to certain positions.

A great way to get started with your design, especially if you are going to use a third party rule, is to start with a grid. Grids can help you align your elements more logically and have a clearer understanding of where the focal point / s of your designs lie.

When you find a design that you think is very effective, try to mentally break it down and look for the underlying structure on which it was built. Did it apply the third-party rule? Or maybe it was using a specific grid layout. This way, dissect inspiring storeys, and grab a leaf out of their books whenever you can.


Six basic principles of composition

The key to mastering layout and composition is thinking like a designer. Luckily, this is easier than it sounds. There are five basic principles that can help you transform your work and sharpen your design eye. Keep them in mind for your next project, and look for ways to apply them.