A Brief Guide to Repetition — A Design Principle
Think back to your school days (or maybe you’re still in them). If you hear an idea once, are you likely to recall it? What if you hear it 10 times? Probably a better chance it’ll stick, right? Just as repetition is crucial for learning, it’s also an indispensable tool in design.
The repetition design principle refers to the use of similar (or identical) elements throughout a design. By harnessing this principle, you can guide readers through your communications, create visual cohesion and help reinforce other design principles, including hierarchy, unity and rhythm.
So, let’s dig into repetition, why it’s one of the most valuable design principles to master and how you can apply it to improve your business communications.
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What is the design principle of repetition?
In design, repetition means reusing elements — colors, patterns, fonts, images, textures and more — throughout a piece of work. Another way of thinking about repetition is consistency. When choosing among a set of colors, is it better to use one that’s already connected with your brand or something totally new?
While your eye might want to see a change, the materials you’re creating for your business need to support your brand standards (in addition to informing your audience). So, repetition and consistency make your choice clear: stick with the familiar elements.
There are quantifiable benefits to taking a consistent approach, too. For instance, in an investigation into branding statistics, Venngage found consistent branding increased revenue by 23%. More on the importance of repetition next.
Why is repetition important in design?
Beyond helping unlock many other design principles, repetition is especially important in business communications because it breeds familiarity between your audience and your designs.
Think about any website you’ve visited; the bottom of the page (and probably the top, too) have a clickable logo that takes you back to the homepage. The repetition of this element is vital to the user experience.
So, whether you’re making a hiring flyer, creating an annual report or developing an infographic, smart use of repetition shows the reader how to use the materials you’ve created. Not to mention, that your brand created them!
Of course, following other design principles is another happy accident of the repetition principle. Here’s what I mean:
- Hierarchy: The principle of visual hierarchy establishes the order of importance in a design. But without using repetition, you likely won’t be able to establish hierarchy. That’s because hierarchy involves using various sizes and other elements in a consistent way to indicate importance. If all your elements are different, it will be difficult for the reader to spot the proper hierarchy.
- Rhythm: The principle of rhythm refers to applying elements in a consistent way that suggests energy or patterns. Without repetition, this is another principle that would be very hard, indeed, for your audience to pick up on.
- Unity: This is the ultimate goal of any design. In brief, unity means ensuring all elements feel connected and thoughtful. Everything from what elements look like, to how they’re placed, to how they interact (or don’t) contributes to a unified design. Repetition is an ideal way to achieve unity in a design, as it can help you create an unmistakable theme.
What’s an example of the principle of repetition?
By looking at examples of repetition in action, you’ll see how straightforward yet powerful this principle really is.
The following infographic is a prime example of repetition. Each section has a similar, but not identical layout. They all use the same fonts, colors and data visualization style, too. The effect this creates is one of unity and harmony throughout the entire design, even though the individual sections themselves are all a little bit different.
If the previous example wasn’t subtle enough for you, here’s one that uses just a bit of repetition to achieve its desired outcome. Note the repetition of ribbons that contain section headings, as well as consistent colors and fonts throughout.
Imagine the designer of this infographic only used one pushpin in the top grouping of images. Some readers might understand the connection between pushpins and Pinterest, but the design would feel incomplete. The simple repetition of the pushpins unifies the look.
We often think of repetition as applying to fonts or colors. But repetition also applies to shapes, illustrations and other visual elements. When used well, repeating visual elements can create a cohesive feel.
This infographic, for example, uses circles and dashed lines to evoke the feeling of schematics, which is reinforced by the illustration at top right.
You may wonder why this is an example of repetition, since there are different colors behind the boxes. This is still an example of repetition because the headings in the boxes are all the same size and color. Each heading is also paired with an icon.
But I chose this example to demonstrate that repetition doesn’t mean everything has to be the same — the addition of the complementary green color in this infographic is a perfect example of repetition.
Tips for applying repetition in your designs
Repetition may be a fairly simple principle to grasp… but that doesn’t mean it’s simple to apply to your designs.
Here are some quick tips and tricks to help you use repetition to best effect in your visual communications:
- Restraint: The more complex you make your work, the harder it can be to bring repetition into your designs without going overboard. So, keep it simple and exercise restraint. Whether you only use repetition for colors and fonts or background images and patterns, remember that not every single element needs to repeat.
- Organization: When using repetition to establish hierarchy or rhythm, it’s important to organize your information well before you start designing. This will help you begin to think visually and could bring to mind elements that could repeat throughout your design.
- Technology: Venngage and other design tools make repetition extremely easy through the simple use of copy-and-paste functionality. Got your section heading and intro style just the way you want it? Copy and paste those elements, so you’re using the exact same styles throughout.
- Matching: Repetition doesn’t necessarily mean repeating things exactly. Back to the previous bullet, say you’ve copy-and-pasted your headers where you want them to go. Instead of keeping them exactly the same, consider changing the text to a complementary or even contrasting color or swapping them to the other side of the frame. Ironically, I’ll repeat, repetition doesn’t mean sameness.
Repetition design principle FAQ
What design principle is based on repetition?
Hierarchy and rhythm are design principles that rely heavily on repetition. Without the principle of repetition, it would essentially be impossible to create either one, unless you had very little visual content to work with.
Is repetition a principle of design?
Repetition is one of the most important principles of design. That’s because it unlocks several other design principles, including hierarchy, rhythm and unity. Repetition may also help you audience better understand and retain the information in your designs.
How does the principle of repetition contribute to the coherence of a design?
Repetition helps ensure the coherence of a design because you’re applying several instances of the same or a similar element over and over again. It’s important to note repetition doesn’t mean sameness, and using the principle well doesn’t always mean matching elements exactly.
If your design lacks unity or harmony, chances are you haven’t done enough with repetition
Repetition brings all the elements in a design together, subtly and attractively. On the flip side, if a design feels disjointed or disharmonious, a lack of repetition may very well be the culprit.
That said, it’s easy to go overboard and fall into the “matchy-mathcy” area. One last time for the folks in the back, repetition doesn’t mean sameness. It can involve repeating contrasting elements, alternating text placement and more.
Think of it this way: it’s about finding a rhythm in a selection of notes, rather than sticking to one note. A suitable metaphor because if you can master repetition, your work will be harmonious.
For examples of repetition done right, check out Venngage’s library of professionally-designed templates. And for a head start, pick any of those templates to create your next design.