How to Use the Theory of Thirds for Your Design Project

A laptop, a camera, and a cup of black coffee on a dark surface.

First recorded in 1797, the rule of thirds is a visual guide that many artists in many different fields employ. It’s been used in film, designs, paintings, and more. This technique is known to enhance visual interest, with tension and energy. 

The rule is simple: rather than centering the subject of the artwork the creator can instead use visual guides to achieve a more interesting image. To use these guides it helps to overlay the artwork with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines in an even 9-space grid. Using these lines as guides, align the subject or elements of the artwork to follow along the lines or place points of interest at an intersection.

A white flower is positioned in the gap between dark, horizontal wooden planks, intersected by thin white lines forming a grid pattern over the image.

These rules are not firm, and in plenty of cases visual highlights can be placed near the lines or intersections and still achieve the same effect.

If a person is the subject it’s a common tactic to line up the body on one of the vertical lines and then line up one of the horizontal lines with the eyes of the subject. 

Person wearing a dark jacket and a beanie with a pom-pom stands outdoors looking at a cloudy sky.

These tactics are so commonly used that most camera apps on phones have an option to display the 9 space grid of the rule of thirds. Give it a try and see if you like the outcomes.

A red Lego astronaut figure stands on a granite surface in front of an ornate building with fountains and flags, captured in bright daylight.
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