The 6 Elements of Effective Television Design

Reading: Sight, Sound and Motion: Applied Media by Herbert Zetti, Chapter 7: “The Two-Dimensional Field: Forces Within the Screen”

Woo Hoo!! One of our most practical reads to date… well, at least for me it was. With an interest in some type of spatial design, this chapter was right up my alley.

Zetti explains that there are 6 elements that must be considered for effective on-screen images.

checkmarkMain Directions


checkmarkMagnetism of the Frame & Attraction of Mass


checkmarkAsymmetry of the Frame


checkmarkFigure & Ground


checkmarkPsychological Closure




In this post, I’ll try to explain each one & give easy-to-understand examples to show you their effectiveness when used correctly. Just a warning: some of the concepts seem kind of meticulous. Another warning: there are always exceptions to a rule.

Main Directions

There are 2 main directions: horizontal & vertical. On screen, you have the ability to emphasize either direction to increase the visual experience. Zetti argues that because we sleep horizontally, a horizontal direction suggests calmness, tranquility, and rest. A vertical direction, on the other hand, suggests dynamics, power, and excitement. Because we’re so used to seeing things as we would everyday (meaning without skewed angles and such), tilting horizontal & vertical planes can create a whole new and exciting atmosphere on screen.


wheels-bmw5series-blog480 (1)The magnetism of the frame refers to the fact that the 4 edges of the screen have the ability to attract objects near them, which can distort our perception of an image. For example, if a face is directly center screen, the face tends to look much rounder and more awkward tha
n usual. Check out the BMW example. See how it looks as if the side edges of the frame are almost pulling the car towards it?



Asymmetry of the Frame

When you’re feeling creative and want to take a cool asymmetrical shot, remember that people tend to pay more attention to the right side of the screen than the left, and that you can easily use angles to distort the vertical and horizontal planes (creating a cooler shot).

Figure & Ground

Here’s a great example. Back to the Benz. You see how the car is the figure, and the background is, well, the background. If we zoom in, do you see how the Benz symbol becomes the figure and the car becomes the background?

Psychological Closure

This refers to the ability of the human brain to mentally fill in gaps of visual information that isn’t present. Basically, we make connections based on clues.

For example, this panda bear isn’t completely outlined, but if I hadn’t mentioned that you may not have noticed.






Do you see how the first set of dots looks like one rectangle, while the second set of blocks looks like two columns of rectangles? That’s because based on the proximity of the shapes to one another, our brain perceives the patterns differently.




This was the most confusing part of the reading…hopefully I’ll be able to explain it to you once Professor Price explains it to me! If you’re interested in the mean time, here’s an article that might help.


Discussion Questions

1. Which elements do you feel are the most import when considering how to make an effective image?

2. Can you think of any examples where these elements would hinder, not help, prove the point?


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