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The human brain is wired to respond to certain visual stimuli in positive ways. Our brain likes when things line up nicely; it's stimulated by things that contrast; it positively swoons when things are repeated over and over. For eons, artists and designers have recognized these 6 basic page layout principles and used them to attract and entertain viewers and readers.
This article will cover alignment, balance, contrast, proximity, repetition, and white space, and how to use them in your designs.
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Aligning text, objects, and images on a page instantly classes it up. Choose an alignment and a rag and stick to it. If some of the text is left-aligned and some is center-aligned, the page's layout looks messy. Align images with text wherever possible as well. Not just on left or right, but on top or bottom as well. The more you can align text, objects, and images harmoniously with one another, the more readable your piece will be.
Harmonious alignment guides and relaxes the eye. The viewer doesn't have to search for information, because it's all there. Bullet points aren't haphazard; they're stacked nicely on top of one another. The main image adds to the piece without distracting it because it's not slapped haphazardly into place; it's aligned with a text block at some point.
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When we speak of balance, think of heaviness and lightness. Technically balance comes in 3 general flavors: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and radial. The heaviness and lightness come in, in my eyes, because we're balancing page elements as if they were on a scale. Symmetrical, or evenly balanced, page layouts are aesthetically relaxing. The human mind loves symmetry. As a designer, you might add interest to a balanced design that, say, divides the page into equal blocks, by using bright splashy colors (the principle of contrast, coming up in this article).
Asymmetrical balance, with one area of the page "heavier," or containing more information than the other, is lively and visually stimulating. It keeps the reader on their toes and interested.
Radial balance is as it sounds: with elements placed on the page as if radiating from a central core.
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Contrasting elements add vibrancy to designs as well as help to organize information. The more different elements are, the more they contrast. Colors that oppose one another add contrast, as does using reverse type. Using very big elements or very small elements adds contrast.
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Information that is related, like a name and a phone number on a business card, should be placed in proximity. Unrelated information, like a slogan on a business card, should be separated. You can reduce proximity, or separate items, using rules, white space, or borders. The rule of proximity helps to organize information and make it easily absorbed by the viewer.
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In graphic design, consistency is not a hobgoblin. Consistency creates trust with the viewer. If one headline is in ITC Garamond, make sure all headlines are ITC Garamond. Pick a color palette and fonts and stick to them. Rules, boxes, and other page elements should be placed and used uniformly from page to page. This goes for photos too. If you're doing sepia tone images on one page, sepia should be repeated elsewhere as well.
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White space is breathing room. It's also excitement, interest, and often it's the design principles of balance or contrast in action. Be bold in your use of white space. Try some designs with one-third of your page filled with simply…nothing. That's the use of white space in large ways. In small ways, use white space to delineate between paragraphs or sections; to add breathing room between photos, rules, or other page elements; even to add the design principle of balance to a page layout.
Keep these 6 page layout principles in mind while designing. It may sound like a lot, but every piece, from a magazine down to a business card, makes use of all of these principles! Think about it: even on a business card, text is aligned, a logo is balanced with text and possibly other graphic elements, contrast makes a name and/or telephone number bold to stand out, related information is grouped together, fonts and colors are repeated throughout, and white space delineates sections of information. Putting these principles in action can't help but result in eye-catching graphic design that will draw your readers in.