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Lesson 2: Taking the Next Step

Graphic Design for Non-Designers

Table of Contents

Aligning Elements

Remember what I said in Lesson 1: that the purpose of design is to convey information. The first thing we do to accomplish that goal is to group common elements. The next step is to align those elements. There are four types of alignment:

  • Left aligned: A block of text (or group of elements) that is lined up on the left
  • Right aligned: A block of text (or group of elements) that is lined up on the right
  • Centered: A block of text that lines up around an imaginary center
  • Justified: A block of text that is evenly aligned on the right and left

Think back to when you had to write a term paper in school. Most professors and teachers require a cover sheet with your name, date, section number, and any other pertinent information listed on it. Do you remember what yours looked like? Did you always center the information evenly on the page? Most people do. But ask yourself, mightn't it be just as -- or more -- interesting to align everything on the right or left side of the page?

I think so, and the reason has to do with positive and negative space (refer to Lesson 1 for definitions). Negative space gives elements room to breathe. It allows them to communicate their information without being crowded out by other elements. Bad grouping and alignment is often confusing. Most inexperienced designers are uneasy about empty space, but it is not necessary to fill all the available space. Extra space surrounding an element draws your eye to that element.

Figure 2-1 is a recreation of an advertisement I found in my local paper. Notice how crowded this ad is. It immediately makes me turn away from it because it's too hard to decipher. If you are advertising, do you want people to have to work to read your ad?

The answer is a resounding no!


Figure 2-1: This ad is confusing and ineffective.

What would you do to make this ad less confusing? Ask yourself this question: "What information am I trying to convey?" The answer: "I'm having a sale." Keeping this in mind, let's make a list of the necessary information from most important to least:

  • Event: Sale
  • Who
  • When
  • Where
  • Other pertinent info

Now that we have the information listed by importance, it is simple to redesign the ad. My version of the revised ad is shown in Figure 2-2.


Figure 2-2: Here's the ad from Figure 2-1, retooled for more "white" or negative space.

The most important piece of information to convey is what is on sale. To do this, I created an interesting type treatment, using the same font as the ad in Figure 2-1, but at different point sizes. This way, the words "2" and "sale" are highlighted the most instead of "tent." However, "tent" still catches your eye. Do you care more about the sale itself or where it's held? I care more about the fact that I'm saving money. Underneath the first line are the times and days. At the bottom, reversed in black, is the name and address of the advertiser. (Reversed type is when white type is set on a black background.)

I reused two of the graphic elements from Figure 2-1 and placed them more carefully. Notice how your eye is led around the page in a circle (see Figure 2-3). The headline leads you to the airplane graphic and the airplane is pointed at the name of the company, which takes you back to the beginning.


Figure 2-3: Your eye travels easily around this ad.

Examination Is Key

In the following examples, I've created a page with four elements in two groups. In Figure 2-4, common elements are grouped; however, they aren't lined up with each other and tend to be visually confusing.


Figure 2-4: On this page, elements are grouped but disheveled.

Now take a look at Figure 2-5. The title and author elements are grouped together and aligned on the left, while the duck and description are aligned on the right. There is plenty of negative space on the left to let your eye rest and it also complements the fullness of the right side of the page.


Figure 2-5: Our page now has elements grouped and aligned.

In aligning the duck and description on the right, I placed the elements along an imaginary line down from the headline at the top of the page (Figure 2-6). This way, the elements align in each group and with the other groups.


Figure 2-6: The duck group is aligned with the headline group along an imaginary line. :::Adobe+Photoshop:::

Do It Yourself

Using what you've learned in the last two lessons, take the following information and create a newsletter flag (the name of the newsletter that sits at the top of the page).

  • Austin Fun Guide
  • Vol. II No. 12
  • Wednesday, October 4, 2000
  • The source for entertainment

You can see how I arranged this information in Figure 2-7.


Figure 2-7: Here's my design for the newsletter flag.

Notice how the star graphic starts in the left and leads your eye across to the right-hand side. The phrase " The source for entertainment" is horizontally aligned with the bottom of the "A" in Austin and is aligned vertically with the date.

See, it's easy enough! Just remember to organize, plan, and place. In Lesson 3, we put the principle of repetition to work.

Next Lesson

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