Rhythm in design: Why and how to leverage it

Welcome to part 2 of our series on interface design and rhythm. If you missed part 1, you might want to have a peak to get some context around the basics of composition in design. Otherwise, join us to explore the topic of rhythm and how it plays out in composition!

What is rhythm?

You might associate rhythm with music.

It’s the note repetition that makes a sound recognizable, the measures that divide and organize short and long notes that sit on top of a beat.

An obvious example is Queen’s "We Will Rock You".

Stomp-stomp-clap | Stomp-stomp-clap

A GIF features a purple marker indicating the tempo over some sheet music to the song We Will Rock You

Conversely, the syllables and metrical feet of a poem create a repetitive rhythm that’s supported by rhyme and stress. It helps with comprehension and memory. 

Poetic rhythms have different names depending on where the emphasis falls and the number of syllables involved. A common rhythm is the iambic pentameter, which usually involves ten syllables per line, with an emphasis on every second syllable.

da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM

Just like the momentum in your favourite song or the flow in a poem, rhythm thrives in graphic design. It’s the repetition of graphic elements that enforces predictability in the interface, product, or content.

Let’s break down how rhythm works in composition.

How important is rhythm in composition?

In part one of this series, we discussed how UI design’s main function is foreseeing users’ needs and meeting them without friction.

While rhythm certainly enhances the aesthetic appeal of designs, it also serves a strategic purpose that supports this goal. It establishes predictability in the user experience, aiding users in anticipating what to expect and intuitively guiding them toward the right actions.

Of course, individual graphic elements can be interesting and striking, but their contrast within a visual set grabs and holds attention, breathing life into the page while guiding users through a captivating visual journey. As a user, we can’t help but want to continue clicking, scrolling, or engaging.

By designing interfaces with rhythm and composition components like planes and points, we can create streamlined, intuitive experiences for all users.

A gif indicates rhythm in design using purple highlighting various combinations of circles, squares, and triangles.

Building complexity with layered patterns

Rhythm is essential. But what is rhythm without an array of patterns, all working together?

When a composition includes multiple patterns, the pattern sets are called “meters”. 

Meters add complexity and order to the composition, and visual breaks can signify changes between repeating elements. 

But don’t think that meters and structure hinder creativity. There are ways to get weird while still ensuring rhythm is working toward our goal in the interface design.

A gif highlights various combinations of gradients, pattens of shapes, and positioning

Think of the endless combinations of shape, size, colour, opacity, positioning, spacing, orientation, and texture that can embellish the pattern.

Layering meters with more complexity makes the design … less boring. And, mixing regular and more complex rhythms together creates a variable rhythm, opening the doors to unlimited variations and combinations.

Rhythm is the heartbeat that fuels engagement and intrigue, bringing together a symphony of elements on the canvas.

See how we've brought rhythm to our client's websites by checking out our latest case studies. Then, connect with us on your next website redesign or marketing campaign project using the contact form below.

Some more good reads

Why you need stakeholder buy-in (and how to get it)

Interface design & rhythm: Basics of composition in design

You should be wireframing directly in Webflow (here’s why)

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