There are a lot of different terms used in graphic page design. Learn what the most common words mean, so you’ll be prepared when terms like gutter and alley are used.
Terminology in Graphic Design
As the design field has grown since the days of illumination and carbon printing, new words and meanings have grown as well. Graphic design covers a multitude of jobs with certain specialities but there are some terms that span projects when working on page layouts.
These terms allow for better communication between a graphic designer, client, desktop publisher and page layout coordinator. The terminology of the field as a whole is expansive but here we are going to narrow down the most commonly used terms such as gutter and alley, while breaking down the definitions for each one.
When designing a page, every section has a title even the white-space. The white-space areas are places where there are no text or images and it is often used to enhance a design. Each area of white-spaced used though has a title that correlates with the location on the page.
An alley is the white-space area situated between separate columns of text on the page. In essence an alley can be picked out by the eye when seeing a column of white-space on the page that breaks up distinct areas holding text or graphics. In the image to the left is a graphic example of what an alley looks like, notice that it a small column that breaks up a block area and does not separate the entire page of information from itself. It is important to note that some designers use all and gutter as interchangeable.
When creating a page, there are many elements that need to go into that page. Text, graphics, white-space need to all come together depending on the needs of the client and designer.
Sometimes there is too much information and/or design put into a page layout and that is what can cause the page to bleed. A bleed is simply any element on a page that overlaps the edging for printing.
Many designers will work hard not to have a page bleed as it can lead to printing problems. A printer may just print the page as is, in which case the designer will have to pay for that extra ink being wasted or the printer may just adjust the content design to fit within the printable area. When a printer automatically changes the printable area of a page the way that the page was designed changes as everything becomes smaller and may not be readable.
There are different terms used across publishing fields that can mean the same thing. For example, in printing one or two lines of text can be called filler or blurb where the same type of text lines in page design are called deck.
Using deck breaks up the headline and content of the first paragraph of text on a page. The term is only used for those text lines that are sized slightly differently than the headline and body. Doing this breaks up the information for the eye when looking at a page so that all the information does not seem to run together.
When you combine two pages as in a book, brochure, pamphlet, newspaper or magazine there needs to be a defined separation between the two. This defined area is a thicker strip of white-space called the gutter.
Having that defined space allows for better printing and reading of the material being presented. The eyes are able to visually finish the ending of one page and then begin with the next page. In some cases, designers will use the term gutter and alley interchangeably depending on the project. Because both are a strips of white-space the only main difference is in size and location in regards to the page layout.
Recto & Verso
When working on a two page layout each page garners its own term. The pages laid out on the right hand section are called recto while the pages laid out on the left hand section are called verso.
These terms are mainly used when working on newspapers, magazines and books but can be used for other page design. Regular use of these terms depends on the designer and industry that they are working in. In more formal and mass production fields will use these terms on an everyday basis, where the more casual firms or at home designers may only use them at their own discretion.
Peter J. Wolf, Graphic Design Translated: A Visual Directory of Terms for Global Design, Rockport Publishers, 2010
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Image Credit: All images created by author specific to this article