Designing for the Rule of Thirds

This tutorial will define the rules of thirds, explain its use, provide best case use situations and provide when it is okay to break the rule.


What is the rule of thirds?

Short Version
A design rule to be followed to offer a more pleasing experience to the viewer while the designer is focusing the viewers attention to a specific asset on the canvas. It is a composition guideline that places your asset to the left of right of the center of an image leaving the rest of the image over. (1/3 = Your Asset, 2/3 = Open)

Long Version
A photographic and design rule to allow for easier placement of objects within a design area by using a 9 section equally divided grid overlay. The rule of thirds is accredited to John Thomas Smith for his documenting it in 1797 but it is no clear whether this concept was used prior to him documenting it. The 4 points where the grid meets together is the focal point where the subjects should, or assets in our case, should belong. The concept is to not put your target as the focus dead center of your canvas because of how the average person views an image.

How do we design for the rule of thirds?

Essentially, the grid for the rule of thirds is a tic tac toe board. By vertically aligning the focal point of the doodle on two of four the grid points, this is where our viewers attention is most likely going to fixate upon.

Good use case examples

  • Woman standing over the ocean
  • A bottle of pills with a lab background
  • A character asset on a chalkboard background
  • Any focal point for the viewer

Breaking the rule of thirds

  • Zoomed In. This is called filling the frame. When zoomed into the canvas on a single asset, the asset now becomes the central focus of the video and the asset should be in the center.
  • Zoomed Out. For use with smaller assets or when the camera is pulling back from the asset. If the zoom is pulled back from the asset in the video where they are smaller then the best option is to center the asset in the middle of the canvas.