Rhythm and pattern are both based on repetition. That’s where the similarity ends.
Rhythm is achieved through the repetition of similar elements — colors, shapes, lines, points — without the structure of a grid. It typically communicates movement and dynamism as the viewer’s eye is encouraged to dart around the design bouncing from one focal point to another.
Pattern is achieved through the repetition of similar elements — colors, shapes, lines, points — within the structure of a grid. It typically communicates regularity, stasis, monotony, infinity.
These three designs all contain rhythm. In the first example the orange circle is the focal point and our eyes travel with the circle as it seems to fall down the steps of the kiki shape. This design is a good example of closed format cropping where the whole design fits within the boundaries of the frame. In the second example the points of the kiki are repeated forming a curved diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right of the design. Our eyes follow the points in that direction. This design is a good example of open format cropping, where the design extends beyond the boundary of the frame. The final example repeats the bouba shape to create the impression of rough seas. The rhythm here is as irregular as you would expect the rhythm of the sea to be.
These three designs are all patterns. There are elements that are repeated over a grid with the assumption being that the grid goes on infinitely. There is no focal point but instead the viewer’s eye is expected to travel randomly around the design. The final design has an anomaly in the pattern to provide a focal point and create interest.
Illustrations and essay by Louisa Bufurdeci.