NHS Designs

Graphic Design Layout

Principles of Layout

Robin Williams (1994) has suggested four principles of layout that can be applied by everyone to improve the clarity and appearance of their pages: proximity, alignment, repetition and contrast.


Proximity & Alignment

Proximity and alignment are used to organize the materials on the page. They help tell your eyes where to stop. You can use proximity to indicate a relationship between items. Alignment can be used to unify the page so that everything "goes together."

Use this poster, designed by Red Riding Hood, to see the organizing qualities of proximity and alignment.

layout: poster 1

layout: poster 2


More on Proximity

Proximity means to put related items close together physically. Things that aren't related should be farther apart. The amount of separation between items or groups tells your reader how the material is organized.

layout: business card 1

On this business card it is difficult to organize the information because everything is together. Are there eight things here? Or only one? Let's divide the items into three groups:

  1. The company
  2. The contractor
  3. The address and phone number.

If we apply the principle of proximity these three main groups of ideas become more obvious. The eye "knows" to make three stops.

layout: business card 2


More on Alignment

The principle of alignment tells us that every item on a page must be aligned with another item. The alignment of items creates cohesion. One way to align material is through the center.

When continuous text is aligned down the center, it is difficult to read. One problem is difference in the length of lines. This is confusing because the lengths are neither exactly the same nor are they really different.

It is often better to align to the left or the right because the hard vertical edge makes a stronger statement. Decisions about alignment need to be made consciously, because different kinds of alignment produce different effects. One exception is continuous text, which should always be aligned left.

layout: invitation 1

Formal invitations are often center aligned. In this case the center alignment makes it hard to read the "Whereas" section because it is continuous text. Using left alignments changes the look of the page. It looks more unified and and dramatic, but it is also less formal. When you select an alignment, be sure that it gives you the look you're after.

layout: invitation 2



Repetition, or consistency, means that you should repeat some aspect of the design throughout the entire document.

Repetition acts as a visual key that ties your piece together--in other words, it unifies it. Repetition controls the reader's eye and helps you keep their attention on the piece as long as possible.

Repeat elements such as a graphic, font style or size. To get started, repeat elements that you're already using.

layout: business cards 3 and 4



Contrast is one of the best ways to add visual interest to your document.

Contrast draws in your reader's attention and creates a visual hierarchy.

Create contrast by using type, textures, and elements like lines, boxes, or graphics, that are very different from one another.

layout: ad 1

layout: ad 2


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