Graphic Design for Beginners: Repetition

Just as contrast is vitally important to create visual interest, repetition is vitally important to keep our sanity. And both are absolutely necessary for us to easily comprehend what we are viewing.


In my last post, I used the imagery of a book without chapters and subheadings to convey a severe lack of contrast. By breaking up different elements of the book, they contrast each other and become more visually pleasing and easier to understand.

However, adding chapters and subheadings accomplished something else as well - repetition. When we read a book, chapter titles are formatted the same way, such as using a certain font size or style. When we create something, we tend to do this naturally because it's intuitive - similar elements, such as a chapter title, should look basically the same. That way we know very clearly and quickly that a new chapter has begun. 

A subheading will look slightly different from the chapter title, creating contrast, but it will look the same as the other subheadings, creating repetition.

Contrast and repetition are the brother and sister of the graphic design principles, and you have to use both well. They balance each other out, and it's pretty obvious when you have too much of one or the other. For example:

Not Enough Contrast:

There is almost no difference in the content below besides the subheadings being in capital letters. This looks similar to the examples in my previous post that did not have enough contrast.

Not Enough Repetition:

The example below has way too much contrast (i.e. not enough repetition). The colors, font sizes, styles, and font families are different on almost every line. While the example above shows how boring something is without enough contrast, the example below shows how busy something can look without enough repetition.

Balance of Contrast & Repetition:

This last example balances contrast and repetition in a very simple way - the subheadings match in size, style, and color, as do the bullet points. We avoid it being totally boring by contrasting the subheadings from the bullet points, but they still match one another to tell us that they are similar pieces of information. 

So why exactly is the last example easier to read? It's not simply because I used contrast and repetition. I used them in a way that makes sense. In other words, it makes sense for "Benefits" and "Costs" to look the same - they are serving the same function in this example as important subheadings. It makes sense to make each set of bullet points the same because they are both sections of content underneath the subheadings.

The bolded words also make sense. They provide visual contrast to the rest of the content, indicating pieces of information that should stand out and creating contrast. But notice that I made them stand out in the same way, creating repetition. They don't need to be unique from each other, they need to be unique from the main content. Using repetition in this way keeps the example interesting, easy to read, and not too busy.

When you should apply repetition

With everything you create, you should look at its individual elements such as text, images, shapes, colors, etc. For each one, ask yourself, "Is there anything on this page that repeats this?"

For example, look at the word "Benefits" above. Is there anything else that is this font size? This style font? This color? In the second example, the answer is no. In the last example, the answer is yes, the word "Costs." Then you ask yourself, "Should there be anything that repeats it?" Again in the last example, the answer is yes. "Costs" should in fact look the same as "Benefits" because it is the same type of element.

By asking yourself these two questions, you will find it brings clarity if you think you may need more repetition. Two extremely common scenarios in which you should consider checking if you have enough repetition include when you are branding a project (repeat logo, colors, shapes, etc.) and when you are trying to make something look exciting or interesting. I have seen countless flyers and presentations fall prey to the creator's desire to be "interesting." You don't need five different fonts, 20 exclamation points, and four different colors to catch a person's attention. You just need decent design.

So here's your checklist to consider when adding repetition to your project:

  • Font family (e.g. Times New Roman)
  • Font size
  • Color
  • Shapes
  • Logos
  • Elements with the same function (e.g. chapter titles)
  • White space where there is no image or text (e.g. do you need more? less?)

Hope this helps!

Until next time,