Far from the disorder and chaos of abstract design, symmetrical design offers a calming and soothing place to rest the eye. Organizational by nature, symmetry provides order and allows the viewer to concentrate on the design or the message. Consider some of these best ways to use symmetrical design in your projects.
Best Ways to Use Symmetrical Design in Your Projects
Just as the human body is symmetrical with an ear, eye, shoulder, arm, hand, hip, leg and foot on each side, the human brain does not like things that feel unplanned or accidental, and will actually fill in a missing piece to create a fully symmetrical image. That natural tendency is what draws us to designs and pictures that are the same on each side. Our subconscious placement of a lamp on each side of the bed or sofa, or potted plants on each side of the doorway, is again the brain attempting to create a balance. While asymmetry can grab attention by creating interest or visual motion, symmetry gives a calming and organized effect.
In many ways, humans desire equality in the world around us. We find the formal arrangement of a matching chair on each side of the fireplace calming. We center a welcome mat in the doorway. We build our pillars the same distance apart. We relish the organized pattern of a bee’s hive. We find joy in the six points of a perfect snowflake. Order is soothing, while chaos or asymmetry, though it has its own beauty, can ruffle our feathers. For an artist, symmetrical design may be less common, but it has its place. Let’s learn more about symmetry and explore some of the best ways to use symmetrical design in your projects.
What Are the Main Types of Symmetry?
1. Horizontal Reflection
Symmetry is something we take for granted but it can bring beauty and balance into our lives. You may not be aware of this fact, but there are three different types of symmetry. The first and most common kind we will talk about is horizontal reflection – identical sides from left to right, along a center axis. The sides will be nearly identical side to side but not necessarily upside down and right side up.
The easiest way to picture this concept is to consider the butterfly. The body is the axis, and the wings are the same size and color as each other. Pine trees are, for the most part symmetrical. As random as nature may appear, evidence of symmetry is all around us. Asymmetry can also be beautiful even in its subtlest form. Take the human face, for instance. At first look, you think that the average face is symmetrical – two eyebrows, two eyes, two nostrils, lips divided equally on each side of the midpoint, but you would be wrong.
An interesting study was done one evening on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Carson had straight-on photos of several celebrities that are considered to be very beautiful or handsome. He cut the images in half down the middle and made a flipped copy of one side. The two versions were then placed side by side, and the now perfectly symmetrical faces were unrecognizable. The subtle imperfections that make the human face interesting are the same things that can ruin a good symmetrical design project.
2. Rotational Symmetry
One of the easiest ways to understand rotational symmetry is to observe the center of a sunflower or look straight down on an artichoke. These are a particular type of pattern that nature is particularly adept at creating, from the pattern of branches coming off the trunk of a tree, to the way the petals of a pinecone dome off the central axis. Each of the identical elements rotates off of a central pivot point.
Looking straight down at a moon jelly, anemone or sun star in the ocean will also reveal this type of design. Anytime an identical object is copied and rotated around a central axis, you have rotational symmetry. This is a good way to include the feeling of movement in a piece.
3. Translational Symmetry
This type of design is much different than horizontal reflection, in that it is not identical from one side to the other, but the symmetry comes more from a feeling of balance. Translational symmetry is achieved by copying an object and moving the copy sideways and either up or down from its original position, but unlike rotational symmetry, the object maintains its’ upright or horizontal orientation rather than being skewed on a pivot.
Practical applications of this principle would include tiling of images for a website, blog background or another place where a repeated, yet staggered design is needed, such as a patterned fill as used in Adobe Illustrator or those found on wallpaper or gift wrap.
How Can You Incorporate These Styles Into Your Designs?
1. Build a Symmetrical Website
Any of the three types of symmetrical design are present in well-designed websites, and there are applications where each may be more appropriate. Take a look at the site Regenerator has built for an example of horizontal reflection. A robot figure is centrally placed, anchored by a logo and balanced by columns of text on each side. A cloud pattern at the top is translational, so it gives an overall symmetry.
A showcase-type website, such as one that contains a gallery, is very likely to use horizontal symmetry, as the organized feel and calming effect allow you to concentrate wholly on the content without being distracted by any feeling of chaos. Translational symmetry is the next best choice if you want to add more interest and still maintain order. However, the use of asymmetry here and there to break things up and add interest is a good idea as well.
2. Create a Mandala
The popularity of coloring books for adults as a means of relaxing and clearing the mind has increased by leaps and bounds. Cute little animals or superheroes are fun and can be exiting, but symmetrical designs are far more relaxing, and leading the sales in this genre are mandalas. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning circle or center. These designs, usually concentric in nature, are made up of a series of geometric elements, which are said to be dream symbols in Hindu or Buddhist lore. Multiple symbols (100 if you are sticking to traditional design), repeated all around a circular or square shape, provide order and calm and are some of the best ways to use symmetrical design in your projects
Many people are unaware of the symbolic features and just like them for their symmetry. Most traditional mandalas are actually squares with four gates and a circle at the center, but the design elements will be placed in radial fashion around that center point. The mandala design would be a great choice for an artist creating a rug or scarf. A quilter could benefit from piecing a simplified version into a stunning finished bedspread. And you could always design a great coloring book!
3. Incorporate Traditional Folk Art
You may have seen the popular Father’s Day trend from a few years back – a man’s necktie with a name written in cursive down the length of it, along with a mirror image facing in the opposite direction. The entire image creates what appears to be a design. Other types of exact mirror images are Pennsylvania Dutch folk art embroidery patterns. These designs have a definite top and bottom, but are the same from side to side, only in reverse, and may incorporate flowers, leaves, twigs and berries, hearts, dots and birds. They are often found gracing quilts, wall art, decorated plates and dishware, embroidered on aprons or other clothing, as well as tablecloths or pillowcases.
4. Give Tile a Try
There is something so welcoming about an entry or kitchen filled with a pleasantly designed expanse of ceramic tiles. The designs are endless, but for an artist, a blank tile is an opportunity waiting to happen. Darts, arrows, checks, florals, chevrons and medallions of every type are just waiting to flow from your paintbrush. The great thing about symmetrically patterned tiles is that you can lay them in any direction, just like a plain tile. Uses for these tiles range from an entire floor to a simple coaster.
Countertops, backsplashes, or entire tabletops would be stunning in a symmetrically laid tile design. Get creative and do a tile inset in a cutting board or in the concrete steps of a porch. A plant stand or cabinet would also be a unique use for these. A horizontal symmetrically designed tile could be laid in a translational symmetrical style for added interest.
5. Hang Some Wallpaper
For a decade or so, wallpaper was replaced by solid color painted walls. But in the last few years, it has made a comeback in a big way, and the most popular seller? You guessed it, symmetrical patterns. Gold or silver foiled medallion or damask patterns are extremely popular in entries or master bedrooms. Large-scale geometrics in bold colors like orange or turquoise are in demand in kitchens, and Moroccan or arabesque shapes are attractive and fresh in a living space as well. If you would rather not wallpaper an entire wall, try lining the back of a bookshelf. You could incorporate the same types of designs into computer desktop wallpaper, a blog background, or a sidebar on a website. Fabrics with similar designs are popular in curtains, especially at the irresistible IKEA stores, and make for great upholstery as well.
The design possibilities using symmetry are endless. We hope that the few best ways to use symmetrical design in your projects that we have presented here will inspire you to experiment and create your own awesome designs.