28 September 2013

Learning from Photography: The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a principle used by professional photographers when taking pictures. The idea behind it is to make photos more interesting, balanced and harmonious.

How does it work?

Imagine to break down an image into thirdsboth vertically and horizontallyso that you have 4 intersecting points, also called Power Points (they really are called like this).

What professional photographers do is they place the points of interest of a photo either along the dividing lines or on the power points. Believe it or not, our eyes are naturally attracted by those points, even if it happens unconsciously. Studies have shown that people’s eyes go to the intersection points more naturally rather than pointing somewhere else. That’s why images following the rule of thirds appear more natural and harmonious.
Let’s have a look at a few examples.

In the above image, you can see how the tiger’s body perfectly follows two of the dividing lines, the upper horizontal line and the vertical one on the left.

Here the point of interest is the lighthouse. No wonder why it has been placed along a vertical line.

This one is my favourite. Where have the eyes of this wonderful kid been placed? Around one of the power points.

How can you apply the Rule of Thirds to your slides?

The Rule of Thirds is a simple but powerful principle which makes images look interesting, professional and harmonious. Since a PowerPoint presentation should be a visual representation of your story, why not use this “rule” to make our slides more interesting, balanced and harmonious?
Most presenters tend to place every element of a slide at the centre. However, symmetry is not always pleasing to our eyes. Asymmetrical designs are much more appealing.
For me, the best way to apply this principle to presentation design is to combine images and text. Remember, research shows that it is easier for the audience to remember and understand your message when you combine images and text together.

Here is a brief presentation I made to show you how to bring the rule of thirds into your visuals. I have mainly collected real slides I used in previous presentations. Just imagine to see a 3x3 grid in each slide and think of what you now know about this principle. Of course the slides alone have no or little meaning without me speaking, but (1) this is not the purpose of the article, the purpose is to learn about the rule of thirds, (2) if people can understand your slides without you being there, this might be a sign of poor presentation design.

As you know, rules are made to be broken, but you can only break what you know. Being aware of the rule of thirds is a good step towards making your presentations more dynamic and beautiful, but you don’t have to apply it all the time. Knowing how to break the rule is as important as the rule itself.