Academy Xi Blog

What is the rule of thirds and how can you use it with your designs?

By Academy Xi

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Artists and designers have been using the rule of thirds to create eye-catching images for hundreds of years. Find out how the rule of thirds works and how you can use it to add some serious shine to your designs.

What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is a “rule of thumb” used for composing visual images, such as films, paintings, photographs and graphic designs

According to the rule of thirds, anyone creating an image should imagine it as being divided by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, creating a grid of nine evenly sized sections.

Artists and designers following the rule of thirds will position any important visual elements on these lines or their intersections. Why? Glad you asked! 

People who believe in the power of this technique claim it helps to create more balanced, eye-catching images with multiple focal points charged with tension and energy. To give an example, if the main subject of an image is closer to one of the edges (as it is above), the eyes will follow it, creating a sense of movement.

Without following the rule of thirds, the natural tendency is to simply centre all the important elements, leading to static compositions and less interesting images.  

Why is the rule of thirds Important in design?

The design space is filled with different kinds of rules. There are rules for typography, balance, composition, negative space, colour theory and just about everything else you can shake a paint brush at. 

The rule of thirds is a simple guideline that Graphic Designers, UX Designers and other creatives use to arrange the text and visual components of an image or webpage. This allows designers to create balanced compositions that align with how the viewer’s eye naturally scans the content.

The main benefits of designers using the rule of thirds are:

  • It helps to create balanced, orderly images that are easy for the viewer to comprehend.
  • The asymmetry of the grid creates dynamic designs with a sense of movement and flow, as opposed to symmetric designs that seem still and rigid.
  • It removes the guesswork when designers are deciding where to place the most important elements.

Make no mistake, the rule of thirds isn’t just a passing design trend. It was developed by painter John Thomas Smith in the 18th century and is still being used by designers, filmmakers, photographers and artists the world over. 

How to use the rule of thirds with your designs  

The enduring popularity of the rule of thirds is a testament to just how effective it is. Honestly, it really does work. But don’t just take our word for it, experiment with it yourself.

  • Step 1: Create your grid

First you need to know the dimensions of the image you’ll be working with. Once you know the height and width of the image, divide each evenly by three and place marks at these intervals on the top, bottom, left and right sides of the image.

Next, draw four straight lines where you marked the intervals, two horizontal and two vertical. For instance, if your image is 30cm wide and 15cm tall, you would draw lines from top to bottom at the 10cm and 20cm marks, as well as from left to right at the 5cm and 10cm marks. Hey presto – you have your grid! 

  • Step 2: Use the grid to structure your design

At the centre of your grid there will be four points where the lines of the grid intersect, often referred to as ‘powerpoints’. You should aim to place the most important visual features of your design on the powerpoints.

If your design entails any strong uses of lines, you should try to position these lines alongside either the vertical or horizontal lines of the grid.   

  • Step 3: Use the rule of thirds to achieve balance and movement

Following this formula, you might end up with a design that has most of its prominent features in the first third, with the other two thirds left as mostly empty space. Though the design will be partly empty, it will still be evenly divided into thirds. This creates a sense of balance that feels right to the viewer. 

Using the rule of thirds also creates a sense of movement in your designs. Designs that include key elements smack-bang in the middle often feel static and boring, because there’s nowhere for the viewer’s eye to wander. Using the rule of thirds, your viewer will spot a key feature off to the side, then take a visual journey through the rest of the image.

The rule of thirds in UX Design

When it comes to UX Design, the rule of thirds is applied with a slightly different objective in mind.

While UX Designers do rely on the rule of thirds to create visual appeal, they also use it to make sure users notice key features, helping them to navigate the interface and carry out important actions. Ultimately, this leads to higher conversion rates. 

Usually UX Designers will place important images, links, text, or calls to action near the four powerpoints of the grid. This ensures that users can quickly comprehend what they are looking at and easily proceed with any important tasks.

The benefits of using the rule of thirds in UX Design include:

  • It makes it easier for the user to navigate a site and accomplish their goals.
  • It reduces any non-essential information that might otherwise clutter the page and confuse the user.
  • It creates balanced, visually appealing pages.

Rule of thirds examples

Here are a few examples of some eye-catching designs that have made great use of the rule of thirds:

Nike Air Zoom running shoe advertisement – This image is perfectly balanced, with the two main features distributed across the three mid-sections. The ‘Wow!’ text captures the viewer’s attention, which then moves across the page to scan the running shoe. Notice how the text and all-important Nike Swoosh logo are located between the powerpoints.

Rolling Stone website landing page – Here’s a perfect example of the rule of thirds applied to a web design. The three columns of articles are perfectly aligned with the thirds of the grid, while the advertising banner near the top of the page is aligned with the top horizontal grid line. As a result, despite the page being filled with information, it appears neat, orderly and balanced.

Want to learn more about design theory?

Academy Xi offers a range of courses that will equip you with all theory and practical skills needed to flourish in today’s design industries.

Want to combine business objectives and creativity to craft stunning visual assets that resolve a brand’s biggest challenges? 

Change careers with our Graphic Design: Transform course: 

  • Get to grips with the full suite of Adobe apps and build a stand-out portfolio. 
  • Join a Career Support Program that helps 97% of graduates land their dream role, with tailored job search, resume and interview advice. 

Upskill and develop in-demand skills with our Graphic Design: Elevate course: 

  • Learn the theory of Graphic Design and put it into practice with hands-on projects.  
  • Build a unique portfolio with a range of digital design assets.
  • Elevate courses come in two flexible options – part-time, or self-paced.

Want to combine the best of UX and UI to create seamless user experiences that leave a lasting impression on customers?

 Change careers with our UX UI Design: Transform course: 

  • Impact real businesses by completing projects for live clients. 
  • Join a Career Support Program that helps 97% of graduates land their dream role, with tailored job search, resume and interview advice.  

Upskill and revamp your role with our UX UI Design: Elevate course:  

  • Go beyond case studies – work on personal projects and solve a UX UI problem you’re passionate about.
  • Elevate courses come in two flexible options – part-time, or self-paced.  

Want to discuss your course options? Speak to a course advisor and take your first steps into the exciting world of design. 

joel tolli Academy Xi Student testimonial

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Joel Tolli

By Academy Xi

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Keen to carve out a career he was passionate about, Joel stepped out of podiatry and into the exciting world of UX Design. Find out how the UX UI Design: Transform course helped Joel land the role he was after.

What were you doing before studying with Academy Xi?

I spent four years at university studying podiatry and worked in the field for two years. By the third year of university, I already knew it wasn’t the right long-term career for me.

 It took a little while for me to make the decision to change my path. Eventually, I quit my job without a plan and started working temporarily as a labourer with my Dad. I spent about three months doing research trying to find a career I’d really enjoy. This time, I wanted to make a decision based on passion.

 During my career transition, I delved into my unexplored creative side and I really wanted to find a career that would harness that. While I was looking at jobs within tech I stumbled across UX Design, which is creative but isn’t just about visual design work in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s practical and centred around designing solutions that solve real problems.

 Because it combined creativity and problem-solving, I realised UX Design was a career that suited me perfectly and even allowed me to use many of the skills that I’d learned during podiatry. Retraining was a big decision, but I went for it and never looked back.

Why did you pick Academy Xi?

I looked closely at a few courses, but the Academy Xi schedule seemed the most user-friendly. The classes were held twice a week, but there was lots of flexibility when it came to working through the course content. Some of the other courses expected you to block-out your calendar with commitments, which for me just wasn’t possible. 

 I was also drawn to the Career Support Program. Landing a new role was my main objective, so having that support throughout my job search was very important. Finally, I researched the course mentors, and everybody seemed to have a strong amount of industry experience.   

How did you find working with your mentor?

My mentor was Hayden and we hit it off straight away. He’s a fun, interesting character and his passion for UX is unmatched, which I think lit a fire in a lot of people.

 Whenever Hayden was explaining something about UX, he always found a way to tie it back to a real industry scenario that he’d experienced. He also encouraged us to start networking with people already established in UX. 

 As the course progressed, I ramped up my efforts to connect with people in the industry. I have family friends who are already involved with UX and I also connected with professionals through LinkedIn. I wanted to figure out what it takes to be successful in the field and start building some of those habits into my life. For anyone keen to break into the industry, I’d recommend reaching out to other designers and starting a conversation.

What projects did you work on?

For my personal project, I tackled the water wastage problem in the major Australian cities. Truthfully, I made a lot of mistakes with my first project. It was a steep learning curve and gave me the experience I needed to properly approach the client projects. For the two client projects, I worked with Westpac and a startup called FitFun. 

 FitFun is trying to revolutionise the fitness industry by focusing on community and collaboration. Because it was a startup, everything was very fast-paced and we were able to carry out a huge amount of work. My team built a full design strategy for FitFun in just three weeks. 

 For Westpac, we were given the task of redesigning what their autopay function could look and feel like. Even though it’s a relatively small piece of their transactional process, if the process wasn’t optimised it could dissuade a potential customer from using the function. In the end, we had the time and resources to scope out what we thought was an untapped market opportunity. We presented it to Westpac and they were really impressed. Both clients were very happy with the work the teams carried out.

How did you find working in teams? 

As a podiatrist, I’d typically work alone. I’d have no one else in the clinic, so I learned to solve problems by myself. In a group setting, you must understand that you’re not an expert at everything. There are people around who have experience in a range of areas. I’d look at people’s projects and be wowed by the beauty of the design work or impressed by the depth of the research. 

 You start to understand that you can delegate the tasks based on people’s expertise. That approach really allows you to work agile – you’ve got people collaborating on different parts of the project at the same time. Because everybody was playing to their strengths, it meant their work could really shine, which led to a better end result for the group.

 Working in teams is such an important experience, because UX Designers hardly ever work alone. Even if you’re the only UX Designer, you’ll be collaborating with other departments and working cross-functionally. In that sense, the team projects prepare you for the real-world dynamic of UX.  

How did you find studying online? 

Honestly, I was jealous of all the people working from home throughout the pandemic! I loved studying online. Some people prefer doing things face-to-face, but online learning gives you unparalleled levels of flexibility. You have set times for the live classes, but how you use your time before and after is completely up to you. 

 With other courses that require you to regularly be somewhere, there’s so much more demand on your time, which can lead to burnout. When you’re studying online, all that matters is that you’re getting through the work. It really doesn’t matter when and where it gets done. 

 Plus, there were three or four communication channels that the cohort stayed connected through, and you’re regularly in Zoom meetings with each other during the client projects. I never felt like I was studying alone. 

How did you land your new role? 

I got back from a holiday over New Year’s and worked on my portfolio, CV and base cover letter. I was really motivated to find a job and get started with my career, so I set a personal target of 50 applications in 50 days. 

 I was knee deep in interviews when a UX designer at Symbio reached out to me. She had spoken to Academy Xi in the hope to find someone ‘up and coming’ and passionate about launching a career in UX.  After a few interviews with her and the Head of Marketing, where we discussed what the role would entail and how I could add value to the team, I was overjoyed to be offered the job.

 I did sign up for the Career Support Program, but thankfully I landed a role before the program even kicked off. That said, lots of people in the cohort did go through the program and found it really helpful. 

How’re you getting on with the new role at Symbio?

I’ll start with a bit of a background. Symbio has been around for about 20 years – it was started by two friends who dreamt big about what voice products could become in the future. Today, Symbio is a tech company, selling Global XaaS products to different segments of the market – from big companies like Google and Zoom, to smaller telcos, and even government enterprises.

 My work varies, I’ve gone from one business division to the next working on completely different projects. I might come in during the discovery phase and be asked to conduct some research or build a wireframe so a new feature can be tested. This has given me the opportunity to pick up all kinds of skills, especially within stakeholder management and advocacy.  

Did the course prepare you for the role?

The fast-paced nature of the Academy Xi course prepares you for the industry, where you must produce high quality work very quickly and at times, on demand. Completing the course projects in three-week sprints was an accurate representation of how you’re expected to work once you’ve broken into UX. 

 Symbio also runs regular tech talks and I delivered one a few weeks back, which was a great way to spread the word about the value of UX. Whilst I’ve always been a confident speaker, I hadn’t had much experience with public speaking prior to the course. The projects gave me the opportunity to improve upon those soft skills and build them into my capabilities.  

Can you tell us about your involvement with Academy Xi since you’ve graduated?

It’s a challenging course, especially for those with a unique career history, but the payoff for the commitment is immense. 

I like to say, based on my career shift, that if I can do it, anyone can. I’m truly passionate about this industry and think it should be accessible for anyone who shares that passion. I always jump in to talk to the new students whenever a new cohort starts to try and give them some practical advice and a bit of inspiration. 

Beyond that, Symbio was also the client for both projects with a recent cohort. It was a great experience to be on the other side of the brief and provided another learning opportunity for me. To be able to witness their dedication and hard work on a complex and challenging brief was awesome and is something that will stay with me forever. It’s been nice to stay involved with Academy Xi and I’ll definitely continue to work with you folks in the future.

 Finally, would you recommend Academy Xi?

For anyone that is maybe lacking a bit of passion within their work and hoping to do something meaningful and creative, UX is a career that you should consider. The Academy Xi course has given me the opportunity to do it every day, and I’d happily recommend it to anyone wanting to do the same. 

 Want to bring the power of UX UI Design to your career just like Joel? If so, check out our UX UI Design: Transform course.

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Academy Xi Blog

Empathy mapping and the design thinking process

By Academy Xi

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If you want to produce products and services that truly address the needs of your users, then taking a design thinking approach is the ticket. In this article, we explore empathy mapping and how it can empower your design process and result in meaningful, successful outcomes.

First up, let’s start with the basics. What is empathy?


The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 

When it comes to human-centred design, empathy is a must-have skill. Essentially, empathy enables a designer to identify with the end-user.

Anyone involved in the research stages of designing a product or service can witness firsthand the experiences of the user’s engagement with said product or service and empathise with any perceived frustrations or challenges the user might have. 

The tricky part: how to help those not involved with the user testing and research phases to have empathy for the user’s experience. Many will ‘think’ they know how the user will or won’t react to the different aspects of a product or service, but if they weren’t involved in the research phase, these opinions are precisely that. Opinions. How can a design team help others better understand the user experience?

Enter the empathy map.

What is an empathy map?

What is an empathy map academy xi

One of many tools that can be harnessed when developing products and services using a design thinking approach, an empathy map captures and summarises findings and observations from the research phase and can help to identify insights into the user’s needs.

Typically, an empathy map is made up of four key areas (say, think, feel and do – more on this later) and the completed map provides an overview of a user’s experience of the product or service.

Essentially, an empathy map is a guide that can provide a design team with a vital understanding of who their user audience is, the audience’s concerns and challenges and what they truly want and need. It enables design teams to craft specific solutions that address these pain points, helping to create an enhanced user experience.

Beyond the design team, the empathy map can be incredibly useful in articulating the user experience at various stages of the design process to stakeholders, such as the client and other teams working on the product or service development.

What are the elements of empathy mapping?

Elements of empathy mapping infographic academy xi

While empathy maps can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, it’s not uncommon for a map to include four quadrants: say, think, feel and do.

  • Say

What is the user saying about the product? This section should ideally contain user quotes from the interviews and testing groups.

  • Think

What is the user thinking about when they are interacting with the service or product? This can be gained from interviews during the research.

  • Feel 

This covers the emotional state of the user during testing – how are they feeling when they engage with the product? What concerns them? How are they feeling throughout their experience with the product or service?

  • Do 

This section covers the actions taken by the user, or the behaviours they displayed.

While it can be fairly straightforward to understand what a user said or did, being able to define what they thought or felt isn’t as simple and requires considered observation and analysis.

Empathy maps and user personas

Empathy maps and user personas go hand-in-hand, with the map forming the basis for creating a persona. Each persona you wish to create requires its own empathy map.

As the empathy map is created off the back of observation and research of real people engaging with the product you are designing, it makes the personas more authentic. Authenticity is important, as each of your personas should represent your target market (users), with the personas including more details such as demographic data, personality traits, age, motivation and the like.

How to build your own empathy map 

Set your empathy map up for success by being prepared before your mapping session with these top three tips:

  1. Conduct research

Real data is paramount for empathy mapping. Arrange opportunities to interview users and observe them interacting with prototypes of your product, taking detailed notes of your observations.

Reading through any existing qualitative survey results, reports or previous interviews with user groups is also important.

  1. Gather your team

Empathy mapping should be a team effort. Gather people from your product team, as well as other stakeholders to bring a balance of both business insight and user needs to the table. Working as a team to produce an empathy map promotes teamwork, but also enables the product team to be on the same wavelength as other stakeholders, which is an important foundation to build early on.

  1. Invite a moderator

Having an experienced group facilitator can make all the difference to a working session. The moderator will be versed in remaining neutral throughout, involving everyone in the session, not expressing their personal opinion and refraining from asking leading questions.

empathy mapping infographic

Let the mapping begin

Remember, you need one empathy map for each persona to ensure you get the most meaningful insights.

  1. Context is key

Clearly define the subject or persona of the map, giving as much detail as possible to set the scene so the team can understand and empathise with the user’s situation.

  1. Bring the persona to life

Provide the team with details to make the personas come to life. Details could include a headshot image of someone who represents the persona, or you could pinpoint their name, age, occupation, wardrobe – you can have fun with this – and ensure that each persona is clearly defined from the next.

  1. Thoughts on post-its

During the main session, get team members to put their thoughts down onto individual post-it notes and put them onto the map, discussing their thoughts with the rest of the team. This format can encourage more insights to be revealed.

  1. Time to summarise

Once the workshop is completed, discuss the map as a team – are there any clear patterns that have emerged? This is another chance for team members to share their thoughts and discuss any insights that can help shape product and/or service development.

Gather the information from the session, summarise it and share it amongst the team, making sure it is saved in a central location so it can easily be updated as you learn more about each persona.

How to start a career in design thinking

Inspired to integrate empathy mapping into your next product design project? Completing a Design Thinking course with industry-aligned content will give you the practical skills and strategic mindset needed to deliver products and services that address the needs of your target audience. 

At Academy Xi, we offer quality, hands-on training options to elevate your existing skill-set and enhance your career prospects. 

Want to discuss your transferable skills and short course options? Speak to a course advisor today and take the first steps in your Design Thinking journey. 

Academy Xi Blog

Disruptive Companies Invest in Design and Technology: Invest in the future today

By Academy Xi

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Convergence of design and technology

The convergence of design and technology has enhanced our experience with the world around us. Soon, our day-to-day tasks will look and feel very different. We may wake up to find that the fridge has prepared our breakfast, a drone has delivered our mail, and a driverless car is waiting to take us to work.

We rely on designers and engineers to re-imagine the way we walk through life. In Australia, these designers and engineers can be found in small and large startup and technology businesses that are all vying for global expansion. But, as the startup pool in Australia increases, so do the gaps in design and technology skills.

According to the Startup Muster 2017 report, over 25%of founders require more mentorship and training, with nearly 30% admitting they need skills in User Experience Design.

However, skills in User Experience Design are already in short supply, so how can we re-imagine the world with a dwindling talent pool? CEO of Hyper Island, Johanna Frelin, believes that the companies who address the talent shortage and skills gap are the companies that will change their future success.

“These are the brands that will stay ahead of the game and gain a competitive advantage in their respective fields,” says Johanna.

Companies like Amazon are at the forefront of innovation because they invest in long-term growth, and a part of that growth is investing in research and design. Some of their projects like the Fire phone, drone delivery, and Amazon Fresh are not immediately profitable, and some may never be, but that’s the risk their designers and engineers are willing to take.

To be disruptive, companies need to hire and train workers to think far beyond 2018 and decide what kind of future they want to create.

Jobs of the future

Design and technology have evolved from Coders to Machine Learning Engineers, and from Computer Programmers to Virtual and Augmented Reality specialists. Each of these relatively new roles involves elements of design and technology.

As professions continue to evolve, it’s necessary that businesses look to the future and start training the next wave of designers. But, what will the next wave of design and technology roles look like?

Here’s a list of futuristic roles that may be closer than you think:

1. Drone Experience Engineer

Gavin Kelly, the co-founder of Artefact, foretells Amazon’s commercial drones will create a demand for drone Service Designers. This will call for a new wave of Service Designers to understand the end customer’s interaction with the online buying experience and the drone delivery service.

2. Cybernetic Director

Matias Duarte, Vice President of Material Design at Google, believes cybernetic directors will be responsible for the creative vision and autonomous execution of media services. The execution of digital design for media platforms may very well be taken over by artificial intelligent bots. These visual-design bots will need to be trained by a human — a Cybernetic Director — in distinct visual languages of digital brands.

3. Embodied Interactions Designer

Matt Schoenholz, Head of Design at Teague, believes Embodied Interactions Designers will focus on creating content for the changing nature of the screen. Whether that screen is physical or virtual, designers will need to understand interface pattern language and touch-points that are oriented both on screen and in the space around the user.

4. SIM Designer

Rob Girling, co-founder of Artefact, believes SIM designers will need to pull together customer data, behavioural models, and statistical models to design simulated people that predict and determine future customer behaviour. Before products are even realised, these SIMs will help to improve the understanding of the customer and ultimately the design of the product.


Take advantage of what lies ahead

At Academy Xi, we believe companies who invest in their employees’ education will be the innovators and disruptors of tomorrow. Companies who up-skill their staff in User Experience and Service Design or Virtual and Augmented Reality Design will benefit both now and in the future.

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