Tension. There’s just nothing like it to prompt emotion in relationships, film, and art.
Steven Spielberg demonstrated this masterfully in the classic 1993 film Jurassic Park. While young siblings Tim and Lex hide in an industrial kitchen, two raptors creep inside and begin prowling and sniffing the perimeter. As the children silently crawl on their knees and cower under stainless steel countertops, the toenails of the raptors click . . . click . . . click . . . along the floor behind them.
Though some would classify Jurassic Park as a children’s film, you can be sure the tension of this scene had every adult breathless as the raptors prepared to pounce.
Create Rhythm and Release in Your Page
As plot twists are to a story, visual tension is to design.
Visual tension is an aspect of composition that uses unexpected color, shape, or scale to create energy. While visual tension can be used to evoke anxiety, typically it is used to add depth and create a more dynamic viewer experience. This pattern of building and releasing tension is one of the most ingrained patterns of human experience.
Here are four ways to weave visual tension into your next design:
1. Go Off the Grid
Most shapes or pages have a sort of “structural skeleton” running through them.
In a square, the axis points would form a letter X through the center of the page. Elements placed along any major axis (or in the center) will appear more stable. Objects placed outside these major grid points will carry a greater sense of tension. If you place a logo underneath the invisible X of a square page, your design will feel a bit more exciting.
2. Use Jarring Color Combinations
While monochromatic or complementary colors are soothing, dissimilar or bold combinations create a unique energy in your designs.
The possibilities here are endless! Try gray suede and cheetah print mixed with white and gold. Or electric orange interspersed with neon pink. A rule of thumb is to favor one color over another (like using a dominant color for the background and the secondary color for accents). To tone it down a bit, use both colors for accents against a neutral shade.
3. Try Something Unexpected
Is the sky always blue?
It doesn’t have to be! Designs spur emotion when you do something unexpected, like adding a hot pink filter to a nature landscape. Try something surprising, like placing a giant head on a tiny body, coloring a chicken blue, or creating a visual puzzle (using concepts from the Gestalt principle) within your logo design.
4. Employ the Spatial Properties of Color
Colors create movement and affect the way we perceive an image.
Did you know that warm tones appear to advance in three-dimensional space? If you want to highlight a focal point in your image, you can increase the size of this object or also use a warm color such as red, orange, or yellow to bring it forward. If you want to reverse this effect, use a cool color (like blue or purple) on the closer, larger object and a warm color like red on a distant, smaller object. Viola! Tension created.
Engaging, Irresistible Images
Balance and tension are at the heart of every creative endeavor. Build hierarchy, focal points, and flow as you create a visual tension that makes your image irresistible!