BALANCE – Basic Design Principles With Debbie Hodge

What kinds of balancing acts are you taking on today? Is it getting enough exercise to feel good about that big ice cream cone you had last night? Maybe it has to do with saving and spending money. Perhaps you’re getting up a little earlier so that you’ll be done with work in time to spend time with family or friends. Balance is about mixing and matching, giving and taking. It’s about placing two small stones on one side of the scale to balance the single large stone.

When the different parts of your life are in balance with one another, you can move through your days more comfortably and happily. When the parts of a scrapbook page are in balance with one another, you’ve got a page that’s pleasing to look at and that tells your story well.



We’re accustomed to experiencing physical balance in our lives. We know that if all the kids sit at one end of a narrow bench, it’s going to tip, whereas distributing the weight more equally means everything will be stable. Achieving balance on a scrapbook page isn’t quite as clear cut: there isn’t any actual physical weight to work with. Instead it’s about creating an illusion of balance. While you might not always be sure that you’ve achieved visual balance, what you can be sure about is when you have NOT achieved visual balance. You can sense it. Refining this ability to “see” visual weights and how they play off one another will help you design well-balanced pages.

Read on for a refresher course in simple machines and then come on back to look at “Today” by digigrandma. You should be able to identify just what it is that gives this page–with its atypical design–such awesome balance and interest. When you revisit it, challenge yourself to find the axis or fulcrum for balance and to identify the sources of weight for the individual elements.


Layout by digigrandma from DesignerDigitals gallery.


There’s a formula you might have learned about in science class that uses weights and distances from a fulcrum for figuring out how to get balance. I’m going to simplify it with a couple of cats and a dog.

If two cats of the same weight were sitting on a board with a fulcrum smack dab in the middle, the board would balance.


However . . . if there were a dog a lot bigger than the cat on one side of the board, we’d need to move the dog closer to the fulcrum in order to get that board to balance. The point you should take from this is that balance takes into account a fulcrum (or in page design this sometimes becomes an axis) and weights. We’ll take a look at three fulcrum possibilities for scrapbook page design and then several ways that an element gains or loses weight.



When you’re designing your scrapbook pages and thinking about balance there are three possible ways to incorporate a fulcrum or axis.

horizontal balance
On “Happy Birthday To You” Ingridfasquelle has balanced her elements to the right and left of an axis that sits at horizontal center. The elements on each side have similar visual weights.


Layout by Ingridfasquelle from Digi Shop Talk Gallery

vertical balance
On “Adam & Heather,” kfite arranged her elements around a vertical axis. Take a look at the inset diagram to get a sense of how weight from top to bottom is arranged so that the piece looks “right.” It doesn’t look like it’s going to topple over from any imbalanced weight, and it’s fun to view.


Layout by kfite from The Daily Digi Flickr Group

radial balance
You can balance around a center point by having your elements all radiate out from the center. When you implement this kind of balance, the viewer’s eye should always be coming back into the center–as it does on this page by VioliaMoni.

Layout by VioliaMoni from The Daily Digi Flickr Group

“Puppy Nap” by Anke also has a radial balance. While the elements aren’t necessarily radiating from the center, they are all circling around the focal photo and bringing the eye constantly back into the center


Layout by Anke from DesignerDigitals gallery.


Since balance requires equalizing weights around a fulcrum or axis, let’s talk about how you figure out the visual weight of page elements. This is something you’ll perceive, rather than something that can be calculated precisely. Here are some guidelines:

*Dark colors have more weight than lighter colors.
*Bright colors have more weight than neutrals—in fact some colors just are weightier than others. Red tends to be heavy, and yellow tends to be light.
*Warm colors tend to expand (and, thus, have more weight) than cooler colors.
*Regular (and known) shapes (rectangles, circles, triangles) are weightier than irregular shapes.
*Larger elements are heavier than smaller ones.
*Filled space has more weight than empty (or white) space.
*Elements on the right side of the layout have more weight than the very same elements on the left side.
*Elements at the top of your layout have more weight than the very same elements on the bottom.
*Elements surrounded (or isolated) by white space take on weight.
*Interesting elements (this could be due to many things including interesting texture, image, dimension, color, or shape) have more weight than less interesting elements.


symmetrical balance

When you have elements mirrored horizontally or vertically (or both) they are in symmetry. Symmetrical designs are familiar and good for evoking a formal, elegant, or tranquil tone. This kind of design is like putting the fulcrum right in the middle of your board and setting two equally-weighted cats on either side. Though, you really don’t have to have “perfect” symmetry. You could have a dog that’s about the same weight as the cat on one of the sides.

On this page by katiescrapbooklady, the elements are centered vertically and horizontally. While not exactly mirrored, the parts are, for the most part, symmetrically arranged. Look back at Ingridfasquelle’s “Happy Birthday” page above and note that it is a page with horizontally symmetrical design.


Layout by katiescrapbooklady from The Daily Digi Flickr Group.

asymmetrical balance

Asymmetry in scrapbook page design means that none of your page elements are mirrored on the opposite side. There is no symmetry. That does not, however, mean there is no balance. Making a page with asymmetrical balance is more difficult than making a page with symmetrical balance. Why do it then? These pages often have more energy and are a delight to the viewer’s eye

Take a look at a couple of asymmetrical pages and notice the fulcrum/axis as well as the elements and their respective weights to see why these pages work.

The primary page grouping at top left on my page, “New Spot,” is balanced by a much smaller grouping at bottom right. The top grouping gets weight from its size, the interesting colors and patterns, and its placement higher up on the page. The bottom grouping gets weight from its placement to the right side of the layout and its isolation (i.e., the white space surrounding it).


Layout by Debbie Hodge from the DesignerDigitals gallery.

The vertical axis on Anke’s “Reading is One Big Adventure” sits to the left of center with a large and compelling focal grouping of books and images at bottom right. A bold oversized title takes on additional weight with its positioning and shots of red and, thus, balances the focal grouping well.


Layout by Anke from DesignerDigitals gallery.

For more information on asymmetrical designs check out Debbie’s article called “Scrapbook Page Design: Asymmetrical Balance.”


image Debbie Hodge owns, teaches at, and writes for the website Get It Scrapped! She’s the author of the F+W book Get It Scrapped! and two e-books on digital scrapbooking: Embellishing with Alphas and Every Little Thing, both available at DesignerDigitals where she is a creative team member. For more information on contrast check out Debbie’s article called Creating A Focal Point on Your Pages.

P.S. Congratulations to Juli who was the random winner from yesterday’s post featuring Liz! Here’s what she said: “LOVE all of her products!! I really love the background templates or the playing with opacity ones. thanks for the chance!” Juli, you won $10 in product from Scrapping with Liz, check your inbox!

P.S.S. Be sure to check out PaperClipping Roundtable episode #18! I was asked to join in the discussion again and it was super, super FUN!! I really love doing the show and am thrilled that I was asked to come back! 🙂