Countless essays, theses and books have been written regarding the theory of tension in the creative fields of Art, Design and Music.


Because it’s one of the fundamentals when it comes to composing interesting and engaging pieces of work. Visual tension is one of the primary skills used by designers to affect a reaction in the viewer. When done well, it helps create or support the emotion of a design.

The amount of tension needed is dependant on the message being conveyed. Tension in essence comes from the relationship between two or more elements. The sense of push and pull, the basics of attraction and repulsion. Designers also use this to draw the eye along a predetermined path. For example, in most print advertising it’s the main image that first catches your eye, followed by the headline, body copy and then finally the call to action. These elements are all set in a variety of different sizes, colours and styles. It is this variety that creates the tensionthat predetermines the hierarchy of information. If all the elements were the same size the layout would not be nearly as successful. Too much unity between the elements then the design starts to look boring and repetitive. However if there’s too much variety, it could end up looking chaotic and disconnected.

The trick to creating the right amount of tension is to strike a balance between unity and variety. It’s not an exact science, it’s something you instinctual feel when you get it right. American graphic designer Milton Glaser sums up this process perfectly when he said, “I move things around until they look right.”