The Importance of Layout in Graphic Design
While Layout and composition are perhaps not the first thing you think of when you think of graphic design, they play a vital role in structuring your design and determining how effectively you communicate visually. Employed to help structure a design and guide the viewer to the key information, layout design includes the arrangement of images, text, and spaces, and how they relate to each other. Effective layout design influences how a viewer interprets information and how clearly and easily they absorb a message.
The most important things to consider when developing a layout design include the target audience, the objective of the design, and the theme of the content. When layout is not given appropriate thought, the message can be muddled and unclear and you run the risk of losing your audience through miscommunication. Good layout design creates more a professional presentation of your brand and can have a beneficial impact on your business is interpreted by customers.
Think about the differences in presentation between a Michelin starred restaurant and a humble local café. At the Michelin restaurant, the chef dedicates time to creating a visually appealing composition of the food on the plate. This signals to customers that the restaurant is passionate about what they do and dedicated to creating a great experience for their customers. It signals quality. The presentation is part of the experience, and customers are happy to pay a premium. We associate quality with good presentation. If a business pays close attention to layout and presentation in their branding and advertising, it will enhance the perception of the quality of their products and services.
In this blog, we’ll talk about the key aspects of layout design, the Gestalt Principles of design and how they can be employed in layout design, and how these tools can help you create quality, professional, and balanced layouts for your graphic design projects.
Layout Design: The Basics
A company brochure, flyer, poster, or website design may be a customer’s first introduction to your business. These marketing assets are designed to appeal to and communicate with your target audience and to represent your brand effectively. The message should be crystal clear and decisions about the layout design play an important role in this.
Layout composition is the arrangement of visual elements on a page. There are numerous tools designers use to structure their composition, including the use of grids, emphasis and scale, balance, and hierarchy.
Grids give order to graphic design. Grids make designs cleaner, more efficient, and easier to adapt. Scale and emphasis can be used to highlight the key message and make it the focal point of the composition. A focus on balance and harmony allows designers to refine the design elements so that they complement each other and are well balanced. Layout is the foundational structure of a space that is used to create a balanced relationship between the elements in the space.
The Psychology of Layout Design: Gestalt Psychology
Gestalt psychology is a school of psychology that emerged in the 1910’s and 1920’s from Germany and Austria as part of a rejection of the psychology of structuralism. Gestalt translates as ‘form.’ The theory forms a framework for how the mind perceives and organises visual information. It describes how the mind transforms apparent randomness into reliable forms.
Gestalt principles provide valuable tools for graphic designers as they help them to understand how viewers interpret visual information. The theory proposes that our minds make sense of the visual world by perceiving patterns and naturally grouping elements together to form one whole. The Gestalt view can be summarised in the words of one of its founders Kurt Koffka as “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”. Gestalt psychology is about understanding how the human brain receives information and how it organises information from what the eye sees. Graphic designers can use this psychology to create layouts that influence the way the viewer processes information.
Gestalt Principles for Graphic Designers:
The principle of proximity states that we tend to perceive elements as related when they are grouped closely to each other. If we created a grid made of 4 images and placed them closely together, we will perceive the collection as a single large image. Arranging elements closely together creates group association between those elements. In the image below, the principle of proximity can be observed. The dots on the right are further apart and appear unconnected, while the dots on the left are closely aligned and connected.
When objects resemble each other, the viewer will often understand the objects as connected, as part of a pattern or group. The mind is always looking for patterns and similarities to make sense of information. You may colour code sections of a brochure to group categories or products together. The image below illustrates how colour can be used to create similarities and encourage the viewer to see objects as connected. Common elements that can be used to create these associations include shape, size and texture.
Continuation is the principle through which the eye is drawn along a path or line, preferring to see a continuous figure rather than separate lines. Our eyes tend to follow a flow. In the image below, we can observe the principle of continuation in an arrangement of blue dots. The eye will tend to follow a line and curve of dots in order to determine how the design elements are related. Our eye’s will naturally draw a line that connects different design elements.
The principle of closure is most common in Logo Design. Closure employs our eye’s tendency to see closed shapes and to fill in gaps. The eye will perceive a completed form even if parts of the form are missing. Consider the WWF logo below. If you look closely, the image is composed of a series of black shapes and open white spaces. Our mind tends to connect the shapes and fill in the missing spaces, and pieces it together, perceiving the image of the panda.
Creating Great Layout Designs.
There are important fundamentals of good layout design that you will find it helpful to follow when developing an effective layout for your design. Following these fundamentals, along with the Gestalt principles, will ensure your layout has balance and harmony and can free you up to be more creative and experimental with other elements of your design. The following principles and guides can be very effective tools in helping you create your own layout design.
Grids are one of the fundamentals in a graphic designer’s toolkit. They allow you to structure your layout design and keep elements aligned and ordered. Grids include guidelines through your documents, like columns, margins, and padding. It creates a foundation for your layout, allowing you to align elements and create space and balance more easily. Grids allow you to be consistent and ordered, to keep layouts logical, clean and tidy.
Hierarchy is a design principle whereby the designer uses emphasis to attract attention to the most important information on a page. To create a hierarchy, we need to identify the focal point on the page and decide to which element we want to draw the viewers attention. Once the focal point is established, you can signal levels of in the hierarchy, using headings, body text, quote text, images, and colour to guide the viewer. Think of the hierarchy as way of guiding the viewer and leading them to take in the information in order of priority. The image below illustrates the principle of visual hierarchy clearly.
As the Gestalt theorist Kurt Koffka understood, grouping individual elements together creates a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. When creating a layout, grouping elements together can help the viewer absorb the information in a logical manner. Objects can be grouped together group using methods like consistent spacing between objects, or colour coding groups of related objects. Elements can also be grouped using columns, margins, and padding. You can also create boxes to group text together. This is common on forms and surveys.
Embrace White Space
White space refers to the spaces between each graphic design element. Using white space to your advantage allows the other elements of your design and the information to breath. Filling every space on the page can overwhelm the viewer and make it more difficult to absorb the message. White space is a great tool to balance design elements, create harmony, and organise content to improve the visual communication experience.
Scale and Balance
Scale refers to the relative sizes of the design elements in your design, and balance are part of creating a hierarchy. You can create scale by using large focal points like large headings or a bold font for quotes or key information. Scale allows you to highlight key information and guide the viewer. Balance refers to how the visual weigh of design elements are balanced and distributed across a design. Symmetrical balance is achieved when the visual weight of the elements is evenly balanced across the space. Balance about using scale in a considered way. If all elements are created at a large scale, the viewer will have difficulty identifying the most important information. Or if large elements are all placed on one side of the page the layout will look weighed down on one side and unbalanced. Grids are an excellent tool to help use balance and scale to create a well organised and balanced layout design.
As you can see, layout design is a crucial foundation in graphic design. By adhering to the principles of layout above, you can create a visually appealing message that will communicate with your audience effectively. Whether you’re designing a brochure, a leaflet, a poster, or a website, these layout principles will help you communicate with your audience more clearly and represent your brand more professionally. Using grids, balance, hierarchy, grouping, and white space to create your layout will help you develop great layout designs while avoiding some of the most common graphic design mistakes.
Below you can see an example of a tri-fold flyer we created for East Riding Youth Dance. As you can see, we have used a hierarchy of text in the left column and grouped images together on the opposite side. The large bold text with information about the company is the focal point. We have grouped together the text information by using spacing and colour to group the dates and times into geographical categories, allowing the audience to absorb the key information quickly and easily.
Are you looking to work with graphic designers to create effective and eye-catching marketing assets appropriate for your business?