Design layout encompasses more than merely fitting the separate parts onto a page, postcard, advertisement, etc. Design is also about composing and balancing the essential elements so they communicate your message with clarity.
Many different elements factor into the creation of an effective design. Among these elements are:
Of course, content is the driving factor of all layout design. For example, a designer will use decidedly different elements in an advertisement for a heavy machinery supply company than they will in an ad for homemade herbal soap. But consideration of how design elements relate to the content is approached in much the same way no matter the subject or message... assessing and maximizing it each piece in order to best communicate the message.
In Part One of this blog subject, we will consider, in no particular order, the first three elements of design:
Perhaps the most important elements, equal even to content, are images. Humans are extraordinarily visual creatures, assessing in split seconds all sorts of decisions, especially whether or not to interact with something. An image can serve to draw a reader into a story or turn them away. Generally, the first or largest image used is the one that influences the reader the most; subsequent images serve to move the story or message along.
Because images are so powerful, it is important to use them in a way that captures the reader’s attention and, at the same time, ensure they relate well and are faithful to the content. If there is a disconnect between the image(s) and the story, it is the visual equivalent of “click bait,” and will only serve to alienate your reader. Deciding which images belong with the story is largely subjective and requires an understanding of the message being communicated. If the content is provocative, informational, or emotional, then the images used should also reflect the tone of the content.
Color provokes a visceral reaction from all of us, for attraction, apathy, or repulsion. While no designer can account for everyone’s color preferences, just as in music, color theories of harmony, balance, and blend are important for a designer to understand and use to create color palettes that work well together toward building a strong brand.
Often, a designer is able to start from the colors of a logo, physical structure of a business such as its interior design, or product packaging. Pulling these colors into the website is an effective step toward integrating your marketing efforts and strengthening your brand recognition. However, If a business is new and no logo or physical structure currently exists, it is up to the designer to discover what the owner wants to convey through their business. Once those colors have been determined, building out from there using sound color theory will almost always result in a winning color combination that can be used effectively in print and online.
Readability within the medium being used is the most important aspect of any font choice. Of all things that will turn a reader away, difficulty in distinguishing text will be among the fastest. This applies not only to the style of a font, but also its size and placement against certain backgrounds. For example, even a legible, off-white font used against a light background or one that is "busy" will become illegible due to lack of contrast. And in print situations, small letters may even fill in from ink bleed.
Decorative fonts can be useful as headlines to draw attention, but should be used sparingly so that their purpose of drawing focus is not diminished by overuse. Decorative fonts also tend to be less readable from shape recognition, which allows for fast reading and comprehension.
Font pairings are also important to understand so that headlines, subheads, pull quotes, and body copy all work together as a unit while still providing important breaks in the flow of text. Knowing which fonts work best with each other for reading on a screen or for reading on paper is essential in providing a pleasant experience for the reader.
Utilizing a designer's experience and best practices, these elements and others come together to result in a design that is both easy on the eyes and solid design composition.