Design Principle – Symmetry

photo credit: <a href="">cernese</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>


After an enforced break caused by hackers, I hope that I can quietly continue posting free articles about enhancing your creativity. Ahh hackers – very clever people with a lot of creativity; if only they would use their powers for good in the world instead of nuisance. Of course, some do.

So I suppose an article about symmetry is an appropriate segue from the idea of good and evil in the world. Symmetry is all about reflection. By repeating and reversing the line, shape, space, and motif of an image, balance is maintained. There is a line symmetry, and point symmetry (like a snowflake). In the natural world, with the exception of snowflakes and atomic structure, the symmetry is approximate. But beauty, such as of face and form, is biologically tied to our perception of symmetry.

When we were children first playing with paint, one of our earliest endeavors might have been folding piece of paper in half with smooshed paint and opening it again to see the magical mirror image results. Paper garlands of cutout figures are exercises in visualizing symmetry. I think they are fun too.

photo credit: <a href="">a song under the sugar sugar</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="


Symmetry is a function of Balance. The greater, or more absolute the symmetry, the more formality in a layout or design. The human hand imposing on the natural world often emphasizes the orderliness of symmetry. Absolute formality of architecture and landscaping is not in favor right now. Compared to ordinary homes, such places may have a forbidding quality, beautiful but austere, rather than a sense of welcome. However in times past the grandeur of such architecture was an indicator of class and meant to be very impressive. Perhaps that is still the case. It works in music also. Consider the very formal and dignified march by Edward Elgar, “Land of Hope and glory”, which has an undulating melody line and repetitive rhythm to the note values.

On the other hand symmetry can also be comforting because of repetition. For example children’s songs and nursery rhymes often have a sense of symmetry and stepping, such as “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”.

In point symmetry the focal point is always the center. However balance can be attained through asymmetry as well. Interest, conflict, surprise – all of these can be created by the interruption of a symmetrical scheme. Rhythm is often a function of symmetry, ongoing, even relentless, so that a sudden change becomes the focal point. The eye or the year or the emotions, are drawn to the moment where the symmetry is disrupted.

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Taj Mahal

These are all things to consider when making art of any kind. I like the old drawing exercise that consisted of cutting a photograph in half and re-creating it in pencil as a mirror image. With all our Elements and Principles of Design, when we start looking for them we see them everywhere. I’m looking out my window and I can see my ornamental pear tree that over time has been vaguely pruned into a rough symmetry. The dictates of urban living, to wit the footpath on one side, and have meant that the tree is not as perfect as it might have been. However balance and symmetry are very important for a healthy tree, and the leaves show lovely symmetry.

A visual experiment in disrupting symmetry to create a focal point


Create an abstract piece using line symmetry. It might be painting or a collage. Then cut out a simple symmetrical geometric shape, such as a circle or square, in a contrasting color and place it around in different places on your canvas. What feels balanced? What feels uncomfortable?

Go further. Create a piece using point symmetry and experiment again with your “disruptive influence”.