Radial Design: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

Radial design is one of the basic ways to organize visual material, by arranging it around a central point. In this lesson, you will learn about how radial design works, and study examples of it.

What is Radial Design?

Take a hint from math class, and you'll remember that a radius is the distance between the center of a circle and its edge. This concept helps explain what radial design is: visual material arranged around a central point, taking a roughly circular form.

See things branching out from a central point, and you've got radial design. It's everywhere: clock faces, spokes around a wheel, flowers like daisies, and so on. Artists and designers have also been drawn to radial design because if offers a clear focal point and simplifies organization.

Symmetrical Radial Design

Classic radial design is symmetrical, with elements situated equally around the center. Think of something like a clock face: there is a central point where the clock hands meet, digits encircling this central point, and an equal number of digits on either side of the center. This same type of radial design is used in visual art. Take the stained glass rose window from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, for instance.

A Rose Window of Notre Dame
A Rose Window of Notre Dame

There's a clear center point, and the individual sections of the window radiate outward equally from it. In this example, you can draw either a vertical or a horizontal line that runs through the center, and the window will be divided into two equal, balanced sections.

Mandalas are another example of balanced radial design. These are symbols found in Hindu and Buddhist art, meant to represent the cosmos and to be used as aids in meditation. In this example, you can again see a clear central point. The visual material, a star enclosed in a circle radiates out from this center. Once again, you can see how the radial portion of the mandala has both vertical and horizontal symmetry.

A Mandala
A Mandala

Fine artists, like the twentieth-century French painter Robert Delaunay, also sometimes use radial design in their works. Some of them, like his Premier Disque (1913) are symmetrically balanced.

Premier Disque by Delaunay
Premier Disque by Delaunay

What makes Premier Disque interesting is the way that the bands of color in each of the four sections of the circle vary. While the work has vertical and symmetrical symmetry, the individual sections aren't identical. This little bit of variation adds a level of interest.

Asymmetrical Radial Design

Symmetrical radial design makes for regular, balanced visual material that can be very pleasing to the eye. However, artists don't always want things to be balanced so precisely. You can still use radial design while organizing visual material in a more dynamic or dramatic, asymetrically balanced way. Take another work by Delaunay, for instance, his later painting Rhythme no. 1 (1938).

Rhythme no. 1 by Delaunay
Rhythme no. 1 by Delaunay

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