In the last instalment I wrote about proximity of graphic elements in design. Again, for further exploration of today’s topic, I refer you to Robin Williams’ book The Non-Designer’s Design Book. It’s an excellent resource for design basics! Today we’ll talk about alignment.
When I talked about proximity, I did sneak in a little about alignment because the two work together. Alignment and proximity both deal with organizing what’s on the page; while proximity is primarily about the logical grouping of content (which requires less mental effort to digest by assembling information into sensible groups), alignment is about visual connections between the elements the proximity rule creates. You’ve made nice, tidy groups of information – now where the heck to you put them relative to each other?
Remember the business card samples from the Proximity blog? Its other sins notwithstanding, it was also poorly aligned. The combination of arranging the information more sensibly and aligning them along the right side of the card worked wonders to clean up the look of the piece. The strength of the hard alignment to the right gave strength to the layout.
As a rule of thumb, centred layouts – though we may have done the right thing in the proximity of the document’s information – appear visually weaker than ones with strong flush-left or flush right layouts. If we want our documents to have impact, we want to do more.
The top letterhead that uses a centred alignment. It looks weak and sort of stuffy and formal all at the same time. It’s neat enough, but doesn’t have a lot of visual impact. At least the information is presented logically (rule of proximity) but surely we can do better than that.
Below that is a letterhead that is aligned along the left side. The leftward alignment lends visual strength to it. It’s a small, easy to do change, but makes a big difference.
We like order. It frees up mental space – our minds like to take the path of least resistance – so we can concentrate on more important matters, like what is actually being said. Lack of alignment is possibly the number one cause of ugly looking documents. Why on earth would we put our customers through that?
Other design examples
Where else can we apply alignment?
Look at the two last examples. In the top example, the headings are centred (weak) while the type is flush left – it’s jarring to look at. It’s messy and disorganized. The line spacing doesn’t line up between columns, and to top it all off, the picture doesn’t line up to anything in particular either. Very unprofessional.
In the lower example, graphic goodness prevails. Everything is lined up to the left of each column. The picture is lined up with the type columns, and the type from column to column is aligned as well. The visual consistency makes the document a lot easier to get inside the readers’ head. And we want to communicate as effectively as possible, don’t we?
Proximity and Alignment are the first two rules of good layout. Being aware of these two principles will go a long way towards giving your documents a more professional appearance. But there’s still a few other basic ways we can spruce things up!
In the next installment, we’ll talk about using repetition to make your design more memorable.
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