Nothing grabs attention better than creating a sense of tension – producing a sense of anxiety, stress, angst, excitement or exuberance for your audience. Life is never perfect – and the smallest imperfection can unnerve and entice viewers in a truly memorable way.
Considering how a couple of my previous blogs have looked at the calming effect of order, minimalism, balance, and simplicity, blogging about tension seems a little left of field. However, therein lies the beauty of itself – it should surprise audiences a little and resonate better than more formulaic design principles.
Tension and balance complement on another in terms of design – one cannot understand one without experiencing the other. When there is imbalance, there is it, and when balance is achieved, it dissipates.
As a compositional element, tension relies on opposing visual forces since juxtaposition is the greatest way to create a sense of tension within an audience. By using contrasts and imbalances in your medium, message, form, content, pattern, texture, scale, or proportions, you can force unresolved relationships within the audience’s minds that both unsettles and intrigues.
it can also be realised through the compositional element of space. By avoiding equal and regular spacing, you wander away from static visuals and uniformity. Using this visual tension forces audiences to re-evaluate what they see and how it should be perceived. Sometimes forcing an audience out of their comfort zone is the best way to get and keep their attention.
Opposition and asymmetry
Opposition and asymmetry can also help create a sense of tension as individual design elements aren’t necessarily in agreement, but still complement one another through contrast. Daoism, Buddhism, and other Eastern schools of thought all have a deep respect for the notion of polarity and how opposing elements create balance through their differences. It’s the reason ‘yin yang’ looks so appealing visually – it represents contrasting elements creating balance through their opposition. Tension lets one contrasting element overpower the other to create imbalance, which, when used wisely, can be much more striking visually compared to uniformity.
Have you ever looked at a tiled wall with one tile either missing or a different colour? That sense that something feels incorrect or off creates a minor cognitive discomfort, but it forces you to pay a little more attention because your mind wants to make sense of it. This is a sneaky way to grab attention so long as it looks like a deliberate design decision rather than a mistake.
Whenever you’re crafting a presentation, think about contrasting elements and don’t always rely on uniformity to convey your message, since complete order and balance is much easier to become forgotten or ignored by your audience. Don’t be afraid to make a few bold design decisions that may come across unnerving initially – avoid using the same font for everything; think about contrasting shapes and colours that still complement one another.
Life is filled with tensions and art should reflect this too sometimes. It’s the reason people enjoy rollercoaster, horror movies, and extreme sports – feelings of anxiety, stress, or tensions are often followed by a sense catharsis.