Proportion, Repetition, and How Graphic Designers Achieve Emphasis

Proportion, Repetition, and How Graphic Designers Achieve Emphasis

Principles of Design Series: Proportion & Repetition

Have you ever noticed that on most restaurant menus, there are always a few items that are highlighted in some way to stand out from the rest? You might think that those items are signature dishes that present the best that the restaurant has to offer. Chances are, though, that those items are the highest profit items for the business. There is a ton of value to be found in pointing customers to the element you want them to see.

Trained graphic designers know that the ability to emphasize important information is critical to the work that they do. There are innumerable ways that they achieve this, but they are all related to the Principles of Design. So, this week I'm going to show you how designers use proportion and repetition to emphasize the value in a design.


Most text documents that you read are set up in a similar way. The header is large, subheads are slightly smaller, and body text is even smaller. The reason for this is a design principle called hierarchy. I will cover hierarchy in more detail at a later date, but the important thing to know for now is that hierarchy typically relies on proportion.


In the above image, you can see an example of typical text hierarchy. The proportion of the header text to the rest is important because it tells readers what information is most valuable. We tend to see elements that are larger as more valuable or important.

Nerd Stuff, Skip This if You Hate Math!

Would you believe me if I told you that there is a specific proportion that humans naturally find interesting or pleasant? Funny enough, it is. This proportion is known as the Golden Ratio, and it is based on the Fibonacci Sequence. This sequence is found all over the place in nature in the way that plants grow, the way that crustaceans like the nautilus grow their shells, and more! The basic idea is a simple math equation. Starting with the number 1, you add the current number in the sequence to the previous number to get the next number in the sequence.

0 + 1 = 1 + 1 = 2 + 1 = 3 + 2 = 5 + 3 = 8... and so on


Alright, bear with me for a second here. You might be able to imagine that the numbers get huge quickly. As the numbers get larger, the proportion between the current number and the previous number approaches a specific number which is approximately 1.618.

If we take the seventh and eighth numbers in the sequence, which are 8 and 13, we can determine the proportion between the two by dividing 13 by 8

13 / 8 = 1.625

If we move further in the sequence and take the 29th and 30th numbers in the sequence, which are 317,811 and 514,229 respectively, we get a little closer to the Golden Ratio

514,229 / 317,811 = 1.618033

So, why does it matter? Well, to be completely frank, it is not the MOST important thing, but it can serve as a good guideline for making pleasing designs. A simple way to do this is in choosing a font size, as you can see in the image above.

There are many examples of the Golden Ratio at play in some of the most iconic brands in the world which you can find with a little bit of research. This is not hard science, but it can be used as a guideline. My personal theory is that we are just used to seeing this ratio between elements in nature and beyond, so we are naturally drawn to this particular proportion.

Focal Points

Every photograph, advertisement, artwork, and even piece of architecture has a focal point. The focal point is the place within a design where elements converge and serves as the main point of attention. The focal point tends to be the place that our eyes see first.


While there are many things that determine a focal point in a design including Line and Contrast. Click through the links for more detailed explanations of these other principles. However, look at the image above. The focal point is emphasized by a splash outline and repeated circles with text over them. In this case, you could say that the focal point is defined by contrasting elements and repetition.



Repetition can be a really simple way to emphasize an idea or message, as exampled above. Why do companies use a logo? Put simply, it is a way to repeat a symbol in many places, which emphasizes its importance. Every time you see something, your brain forms a new pathway which makes it easier to recognize a second time, and even easier the third.

Thank You So Much for Reading This

For more, check out the rest of the Principles of Design Series.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, drop them below in the comments!