Dominant and subordinate qualities create various levels of interest and emphasis among all visual elements. Think of dominant meaning the same as primary and subordinate meaning the same as secondary. This sensibility can apply to all of the design elements. How much movement vs. how much stability. How much order vs. how much randomness. How much muted color vs. bright color vs. white. And there certainly could be multiple subordinate elements. For example, color-wise, this page may be seen as dominantly white and subordinately black, subordinately red.
Balanced compositions typically have one clearly dominant direction (or sense of movement) while also having at least one clearly subordinate direction (or movement). This page can be dominantly vertical in it’s direction and subordinately horizontal (depending on how your browser window is set). Chaotic compositions typically have multiple dominant directions or movements.
Exercise: view the examples on this page and ask yourself how each image exhibits either one form of dominant/subordinate relationships. (For instance: Monk has dominantly geometric lines and subordinately organic lines; dominantly black vs subordinately blue color palette; dominantly random or diagonal movement vs. subordinately vertical direction.)
Click here to again view the definitions for Dominant/Subordinate. Click below to view more examples on Pinterest and YouTube. How many other examples can you identify?