A basic understanding of color is just one step toward creating graphics that attract attention and get your message across. To use color and other design elements effectively, you need to understand composition.

To put it in the simplest possible terms, composition describes the way the details of your graphic are arranged. It’s the foundation of your poster, sign, POP graphic or other product. A bad composition can be distracting or alienating and turns viewers away from what want them to look at. A good one, on the other hand, catches the viewer’s eye and fully imparts the message you want to send, whether that’s to announce a sale, describe a rewards program or advertise a product.

The word “elements” refers to every aspect of your graphic: the colors, text, subject matter and borders. The way these elements relate to each other influences the way the viewer receives your message. For example, a graphic with a lot of small, intricate details conveys busyness. On the other hand, a graphic with a small figure in the center and a large, blank background conveys emptiness.

Composition basics

The feature of your composition is known as the focal point. It’s the main spot on your graphic you want the viewer to look at. A focal point could be an image (such as a picture of your product), text (such as the name and date of an upcoming event) or other element.

Where you put your focal point is one of the most important compositional decisions to make. There’s no one right spot, but certain areas attract more attention than others. Below are two standard rules for deciding where to place your focal point:

The Rule of Thirds

This is one of the easiest composition styles to grasp. Imagine a pair of lines running horizontally across your graphic, breaking the image into thirds. Now, imagine another set of lines running vertically, creating another set of thirds.  Place your focal point on or near one of the four areas where these lines intersect. 

The strength of the Rule of Thirds lies in its simplicity. It’s a favorite among novice and experienced designers alike, but it also allows for infinite possibilities in terms of what your focal point is and which intersection you use. As such, it’s highly unlikely your graphic will look like anyone else’s.

In addition, the Rule of Thirds avoids the common mistake of placing your focal point in the center of your graphic. A centered composition makes for a static, boring image, while moving things slightly to the side results in a dynamic, interesting piece. 

The Fibonacci Spiral

What do the Last Supper, the Mona Lisa, The Birth of Venus and the Great Pyramids all have in common? According to many historians, they were all based on the Fibonacci Spiral. This shape appears commonly in nature – think of the spiral of a snail’s shell – and is commonly thought of as the perfect ratio. Picture the spiral superimposed on top of your graphic and align your focal point with the spiral’s tightest portion. Additional elements in your graphic should follow the general curve of the remaining portion of the spiral, adding visual interest and keeping your poster or display from looking too symmetrical.