Scale and proportion are both concerned with ratios between sizes. Scale, however, is a broader concept concerned with the size relationships between two or more unified wholes. On the left side of the example below, scale is demonstrated between two seemingly unrelated forms:

GDPE diagrams proportion 11 11


Although related to the principle of scale, proportion refers to the size relationships between two or more elements within a unified whole. On the right of the above example, a gradual, repeated, and regular increase in proportion creates movement and rhythm.

Format Scale and Proportion

Just to clarify, the terms scale and proportion apply to an overall composition as well. When we discuss format generally, we can say that something is a landscape (i.e. its top and bottom are larger in proportion to its sides), or a portrait (i.e. left and right sides are larger in proportion to its top and bottom). We can communicate the proportions of the piece and say, for example, that a piece is 16 by 9 – a common proportion in film and television. But this tells us nothing of the size.

If, on the other hand, I say a composition is 16 feet tall and 8 feet wide, I now know the scale (it's big!) and I know the proportions (it's twice as tall as it is wide, and therefore it is has a portrait configuration).     

The world of art and design has a very long and storied relationship with scale and proportion, modernism in particular taking the reins of non-naturalistic scale, and the contrast of scale. But intersting use of these principles can be found throughout the art and design worlds. Below are some images demonstrating the value of scale and/or proportion: