juxtaposition in design

The word “juxtaposition” gets used in design quite a lot. In fashion, in crafts, in photography, in interiors..

I was first introduced to the word when I studied Media. It was used in reference to the camera work in films and TV, and when analysing layouts of magazine front covers – the way each element was positioned on the page or in the frame. What I got from this was that juxtaposition isn’t an accident. It can seem that way, that it just ‘happened’. But it usually doesn’t. It is planned. It is deliberate. It is generally done on purpose.

So what does it really mean?

Juxtaposition is described in the dictionary as an act of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.

Just reading that definition makes me picture a ‘spot the difference’. Two images on a piece of paper, side by side, that are there to be compared and contrasted. But that’s not really what it’s about. That doesn’t translate easily into design.. What has the definition missed??

I think there should be a separate definition of the word purely for the purposes of design. It should have the word ‘aesthetics’ in there somewhere. Or something about placing things side by side that blend or contrast to be visually pleasing. Juxtaposition isn’t a mistake in design. Items, colours, textures or light and dark opposites are thrown together and mixed up to create something pleasing to the eye. To create an effect. Even though the definition of the word says compare OR contrast… I think in design, things are juxtaposed to contrast more often than not. This creates that wow factor. That thing that stops you just for a split second to think and consider what’s before you. You didn’t think those contemporary industrial-looking chairs went with a rustic wooden dining table.. But they were put together deliberately. They made you stop. They made you think. And they made you reconsider. They gave you something to look at. Something different to a matching dining set.

This is not to say that in design, household items shouldn’t match. In reality, that looks better in the standard UK home. The houses can take it. It’s practical. But what I’m talking about is design on the pages of magazines. Designs that photograph incredibly. Give that added element of interest. For a photograph, your average sofa with a few scatter cushions just doesn’t cut it. It looks great in reality. In the room. But for photographs, I believe it needs more. It needs a textured throw at a jaunty angle. And more cushions than is practical. In different shades and fabrics. These things will be specifically arranged – juxtaposed – so that the stylist and photographer gets the best from the photo. And the reader/viewer gets to be inspired!

Next time you’re doing a place setting at the dining table, try considering where you place everything. Make each thing you put on the table relate to everything else on there, and everything else in the room. It sounds dramatic, but I think you might be surprised to find you did it before, without even realising..

Juxtaposition is everywhere; purposefully. Try consciously adding a bit of contrast into aspects of your home and you might find a style you didn’t know exists..


This photo by Paul Raeside shows juxtaposition in design perfectly. The contrast of the metallics and artwork against a rough, bare-plastered wall. Old and new, shiny and matt, finished and unfinished, light and dark. Beautiful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s