Good things come in threes – three-course meals, The Godfather films, and the original line-ups of numerous rap groups such as Slum Village, Little Brother, Hilltop Hoods, 1200 Techniques, The LOX, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Brand Nubian, Fugees, and Geto Boys. Also, that vital compositional technique: the rule of thirds.
In 1989 one of the weirdest groups in hip hop history, De La Soul released their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising and one of the album’s biggest singles was The Magic Number, which sampled Three is a Magic Number from the children’s show Schoolhouse Rock! And while that song is a wonderful testament to the creative power of hip hop (with its diverse range of vocal and music samples), it also reminds us about the power of three as an organisational tool (De La had three members) and crucial design principle.
The rule of thirds is one of the first things photographers get taught when learning composition. The basic idea is that content is divided to sit in a 3×3 grid system and points of interest are placed at the grid’s intersections, giving balance to the content in the image.
This idea not only creates harmony in design, but it borrows from the principle of a simplified story arc of beginning, middle, and end. Think back to the original (and best) Star Wars trilogy – the first film establishes characters and setting, the second creates conflict, the third offers resolution. It’s a timeless formula that applies to any form of storytelling whether verbal, written, or visual.
Furthermore, Aristotle observed that people tend to remember lists of three things – this is why it’s important to keep things brief, simple and to the point. Three really is the magic number.
Bringing the rule of thirds to your next slideshow
Using a grid can keep your layouts organised, balanced and cohesive. The key to incorporating this into PowerPoint is to use ‘grid and guides’ by right clicking your slide. This will bring up faint guidelines that objects will snap to when added, thus creating exact alignment. From there you can hold CTRL, click, and drag those guidelines to create new ones.
Now, getting the guidelines into exact thirds can be a little tricky, but here’s a cheeky cheat code. Draw a line on one edge of the slide, hold CTRL click and drag that line, repeat three times with the fourth line on the other edge of the slide. Select all four lines, click the home tab, click arrange, and then click distribute horizontally. With your lines now dividing the slide into exact thirds, align your guidelines along each of those drawn lines. Be sure to put these guidelines on your masterslide so you don’t accidentally move them during your design process.
And voila… you now have an exact 3×3 grid to help your designs abide by the sacred rule of thirds. Using a grid – especially on a masterslide – will help you eliminate clutter and help facilitate collaboration and consistency. Don’t forget to place any key focal points at the intersectional points of the grid to create more balanced, harmonious, and cohesive compositional layouts.