NHS Designs

the shape or proportions of a picture plane.

Graphic Design Planning


A format is any surface on which the elements that will be used to build a design are placed. "Format" usually refers to the width and height of a printed piece.

Sometimes format decisions will be made for you. If you're designing letterhead, you'll likely be printing onto a 8½" x 11" sheet of paper. If you're designing a a magazine, you'll usually need to work with a predetermined size and shape.

When you don't have these kinds of rigid constraints, the possible shapes and sizes of a format can provide a dizzying array of choices. Good design can often be made great by the skillful use of a creative format. Make this decision carefully as you begin your design, and you will often find the rest of the design falls into place.

Practical Considerations

Quantity of information. Consider the amount of text and art that you need to include in your piece. Will the right amount of material fit into the format you want to use? What will be most likely to get the reader interested in what you've designed?

Final quantity and print production. Paper is usually milled to certain sizes and shipped directly to the printer. Consider for example how many 8½" x 11" pages will fit onto a standard press sheet of 23" x 35".

Cost of mailing. Postage rates are based primarily on size and weight. As the designer, you'll need to find out what your client's postage budget is for the piece, and then keep that in mind when designing. Heavier papers can cause mailing costs to jump to a more expensive category.

Final destination. Ask yourself how the target audience will use the final piece. Will it be filed in a folder for future reference, placed on a coffee table, hung on a wall, or thrown away after the reply card is torn off and returned? Part of effective deisgn is to make the greatest possible impact with your design and to persuade your audience to use the piece for as long as possible. For example, an illustrator's self-promotion brochure that doesn't fit into an art director's file cabinet will likely not be around when the art director is hiring an illustrator.

In a Nutshell: What to Consider When Determining a Format

  • What visual impact fo you hope this piece will have on an intended audience?
  • How much information will you eventually be expected to place on the format? Does the quantity of type or quality of art dictate that you use a certain proportion?
  • How many pieces will be printed? How will the desired format print on standard paper sheet sizes?
  • How will the format impact the cost of mailing? Will using a smaller size or a different format give you a break on mailing costs?
  • What is the end use of the piece? For example, will it need to fit into a particular file folder or be placed in an existing sales kit?
  • What is the visual function of the piece? Will it work better as a multi-page brochure if it's folded in a certain way?

Source: Design Basics for Creative Results by Bryan L. Peterson

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