All designs have to exist somewhere. A format is both the containing space and its boundary—the edge of a piece of paper, a canvas, a screen, or other surface. The material a design is placed on is called a substrate.

Format Shapes

Formats can exist as any shape or size. If we simplify to a few standard shapes we end up with the rectangle, square, and round formats. When the format is divided up equally using lines from corner to corner, or edge to edge, it will reveal natural power points where those lines intersect.

Placing subjects or focal points directly on these natural power points may cause the viewer’s eye to become fixated, which can cause the composition to become static. Placing focal points away from these natural power points encourages the viewer’s eye to move across the composition, and will make the composition feel more dynamic and interactive. Designers should use a grid to better control compositional elements and manipulate their visual hierarchy.

Landscape Formats

A landscape format is a rectangular shape longest in the horizontal dimension. This format evokes serenity, expansiveness, and stability—but these kindly traits may be considered boring.

Eye Movement: vertical and horizontal movements compliment the axes of the format’s shape causing them to appear passive. Diagonal movements cut through these axes causing a stronger contrast. Curving movements appear active.

Landscape Formats

Portrait Formats

A portrait format is a rectangular shape longest in the vertical dimension. This format evokes strength and power—but may also be considered unbalanced.

Eye Movement: horizontal movement compliments the narrow axes and doesn’t stand out so much, while the vertical movement is exaggerated by the vertical length of the format. Both diagonal and curving movements appear active.

Portrait Formats

Square Formats

A square formats is a rectangular shape equally long in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. Squares evokes dignity and intimacy. The equal corners lead the eye directly to the center, creating an incredibly strong focal point.

Eye Movement: vertical and horizontal movements appear compliment the format’s edges causing these directions to become more passive, while diagonal movements cut through the axes making these movements appear strong and dramatic. Curving movements appear active.

Square Formats

Round Formats

A round format is a circular (equilateral) or elliptical (oblong) shape. Round formats evoke unity, and the infinite—but may also be considered isolated or free floating.

Eye Movement: vertical and horizontal movements are perpendicular against the curving edges of the format causing them to appear strongest, while diagonal and curving movements compliment the format’s shape and appear more passive.

Round Format
Works Cited

Brigham Young University of Idaho. “Design and Color”. Notes from lectures and course materials, 2010.

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