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Appearance may not be everything, but how something looks has a fundamental impact on how it's perceived, what it communicates, and whether it succeeds. In this course, author John McWade of Before & After magazine shares foundational graphic design techniques that will make your page, screen, product, or presentation look and perform its best.
These design essentials can be used by nondesigners as tips, tricks, and shortcuts, and by professionals as building blocks to greater understanding. Each lesson is a short, easy-to-understand how-to that can be applied regardless of the brand of software and hardware you use. This course was created and produced by the Before & After magazine team. We are honored to host this content in our library.
Most designs are not inherently simple. There's just a lot of stuff that you need to put on your page. A magazine cover is going to be an example of that, nameplate, headlines, photographs, date folios, all of that. And so the solution here is to make all the elements that are in the mix simpler and place them in simpler ways. So, here's an example.
The Ambient Photography Club publishes a monthly magazine whose cover showcases the work of one of its photographers. The nameplate is set in a massive slab style with an outline on it, a drop shadow behind it. The photograph itself has a frame around it with its own drop shadow. The headlines are in a swashy calligraphic typeface, the background is this electric Kodak yellow.
Any of these elements are fine by themselves. But when you combine them all, they make a busy, distracting presentation. And to see just how distracting, watch what happens when we take them all away. The nameplate, the date folio, those swashy headlines, the Kodak yellow, there is still a frame here, it's a phantom. The way to get rid of that is to enlarge the photograph to the sides, and drop it to the bottom of the page.
And now we have a presentation that's as simple as it can be. It's just one photo and one field of white separated by a single edge. Now, we need to add all these elements back in. So, we'll start by sampling the dark edge of the photograph and coloring the page black. This simplifies it further. Now we have an entire cover that's predominantly black with just the attractive photo showing on the page, and we'll add the nameplate back in.
Now, in this case, the nameplate is set in Helvetica Neue Light, and it's much more expressive of the name. I mean, the word Ambient is kind of a soft-- it's a soft word and is kind of an airy light word, and so our typeface now reflects that. It has round forms, there's a lot of air space in it. Sample a color from the photograph, and color it.
Add the date folio back in. Now, the date folio is also set in Helvetica Neue Light. So we've simplified the typography by using a single typeface. And at this point, let's stand back and have a look. Now we have to add the headlines back in. This is where it could get busy, so here's a trick. We are going to set the headlines also in the same typeface which again keeps the type simple.
Set the first half of the headline, the second half of the headline in bold type. Now, instead of centering the block, we'll find the dividing point between the light and the dark areas and center to that instead. This is how they do it in the movies. And it makes a visually interesting crystal-clear presentation. Put this back on the page, and we're done. Now, you are going to be tempted to fill the empty space above the headlines, but don't do that.
It does two things: it keeps the page quiet, and it also makes it look intentionally designed. So, let's review this. We now have the same cover with exactly the same material on it, but it's been simplified. Instead of many different things, we now have several similar things. We have a photograph separated from its background, not with lines and borders and shadows, but with a single clean edge.
All the type is set in the same typeface, and we have an extremely small color palette for everything. So, a complicated cover simplified. And as you can see, the simplified version is far more attractive than the complicated one. And what's fun is that it was also easier to design.
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