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Understanding how to create rhythm and tension

From: Typography for Web Designers

Video: Understanding how to create rhythm and tension

Imagine hearing a speaker talk in a monotone voice. All the words sound the same. The person's inflection doesn't change. The rhythm and volume stay constant. Now, imagine a voice with rhythm, a voice that pauses for emphasis, creating tension, a voice that is sometime soft and sometimes loud. A voice with contrast. Successful typographic pages need rhythm and tension.

Understanding how to create rhythm and tension

Imagine hearing a speaker talk in a monotone voice. All the words sound the same. The person's inflection doesn't change. The rhythm and volume stay constant. Now, imagine a voice with rhythm, a voice that pauses for emphasis, creating tension, a voice that is sometime soft and sometimes loud. A voice with contrast. Successful typographic pages need rhythm and tension.

Successful typographic pages need contrast. Text has a built-in monotone rhythm created by the repetition of horizontal lines. We as typographers can break that monotone. One way is to create a focal point. Often, the focal point of a typographic page is the headline but that doesn't have to be the case. It can be a picture, a quote, a word.

Contrast can be created with size, color, weight, shape, and space. These can be carefully mixed and matched. Size and shape of font; slight size change and color; slight size change and bold; size, shape of font, and shape of text block; slight size change, shape of font, and space. The trick is to only have one main focal point on the page. If multiple focal points compete, you'll lose tension on the page.

Having only one focal point even with a clearly secondary focal point draws the reader's eye and thoughtfully guides them around the page. In addition to the focal point, we can create counterpoints to the rhythm. Subheadings, our H2s and H3s, often provide counterpoints. We can create little breaks in the monotony of the text, little explosions of contrast, sometimes using size, case, or weight, style or color, which we'll add when we add our links.

Another way to break the monotony of the text is to create a strong vertical line in the composition. This is a direct contrast to the horizontal lines in the text. On web pages, we have an automatic vertical line created by the edge of the text. We can emphasize this line. When blocks of text are close to the edge of the page, they lose the crispness of the left edge. It competes with the edge of the page. Blocks of text away from the edge of the page have a stronger vertical line.

We can also use continuation. Continuation is a theory of visual perception. The theory says our eyes will follow a line or curve and continue to the next object. Thus, aligned objects have a stronger vertical line than when the objects aren't aligned. This composition isn't bad, but just doesn't have the same tension. We can also use gutters to emphasize the vertical line. Gutters are the vertical bands of space between elements.

Here I've emphasized the gutter by moving the main heading. I try to keep a more subtle use of continuation between the Y and the text below and closing up the space a bit makes the gutter pop more. This is really subtle and it's fine this way too. I am just showing you different things to look for. Whenever you have the opportunity to work with multiple elements on the page, try to arrange them to create a gutter. The only thing I changed on this page was placement.

This may not be your final solution, but it immediately makes the page feel organized. It slices through the horizontal motion of the text and improves hierarchy. Gutters are an obvious way to use space to break the monotony of a text page. But space can be used in other ways to give a page tension. Avoiding the center will help increase tension. Although using the center can be beautiful and peaceful if done well. Using unequal margins helps increase tension.

The only change I made here was I took three very similar spaces and made them truly unequal to each other. Placing an element near the edge of the page helps create a sense of direction and movement. Though a break from the text frame may be more appropriate here. Contrasting size of white spaces, so you're using really big and really small white spaces instead of equal white spaces, helps increase tension. Here, the spaces are equal. Good vertical spacing doesn't just help us chunking text.

Always pay attention to the edge of the page. It helps increase tension. Without the edge of the page, compositions can feel as if they're floating, especially on big monitors where pages feel small compared to the browser. The page edge becomes even more important. Finally, consider the Z axis, which is whether elements feel closer or further away. The Z axis can give a page depth which in turn can increase tension. Here, a gray background makes the white page pop out.

Images in the background further emphasize the Z axis. As you can see, elements can be arranged in many ways. If you strive to create a strong focal point, use your H2s and H3s to create counterpoints, create a strong vertical line, and pay attention to how you use the space on the page and the edge of the page. You have an excellent chance of creating a visually pleasing layout. A page with more rhythm and tension, rather than a monotone page.

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This video is part of

Image for Typography for Web Designers
Typography for Web Designers

74 video lessons · 14191 viewers

Laura Franz
Author

 
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  1. 6m 18s
    1. Welcome
      1m 9s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 57s
    3. Things to consider before starting this course
      3m 12s
  2. 41m 3s
    1. Understanding how good typography promotes reading
      2m 9s
    2. Understanding legibility
      4m 41s
    3. Understanding how fonts convey meaning
      5m 19s
    4. Choosing web-safe fonts to convey meaning
      6m 13s
    5. Using font size, case, style, letter spacing, weight, and color to convey meaning
      6m 22s
    6. Choosing web fonts to convey meaning
      6m 23s
    7. Downloading web fonts
      4m 9s
    8. Applying web fonts in CSS with @font-face
      5m 47s
  3. 38m 0s
    1. Choosing a web-safe font for use in text
      4m 13s
    2. Applying the web-safe font to the text and the heading
      3m 4s
    3. Setting a class for the resource titles in the text
      3m 45s
    4. Choosing a second web-safe font for the heading
      2m 42s
    5. Applying the second font to the heading
      2m 16s
    6. Choosing a web font from the Google Font API for use in text
      5m 44s
    7. Adding and applying the Google Font API syntax
      4m 29s
    8. Choosing a second web font from the Google Font API for the heading
      2m 56s
    9. Adding and applying the second font to the heading
      4m 52s
    10. Analyzing the fonts on some professional sites
      3m 59s
  4. 55m 31s
    1. Understanding how we read
      4m 34s
    2. Finding and applying a good font size and line height
      4m 50s
    3. Finding and applying a good line length
      8m 6s
    4. Understanding ems
      6m 17s
    5. Using ems to set font size
      6m 9s
    6. Using ems to set line length
      3m 40s
    7. Understanding how color affects readability
      3m 58s
    8. Improving a color palette by improving contrast
      5m 39s
    9. Improving a color palette by reducing optical vibration
      4m 59s
    10. Analyzing text readability on the professional sites
      7m 19s
  5. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements
      3m 59s
    2. Developing a system of hierarchy
      2m 17s
    3. Applying hierarchy in HTML and CSS
      7m 16s
    4. Developing a system to help chunk text for readers
      6m 1s
    5. Applying the system in the CSS
      4m 19s
    6. Changing an element by creating and applying a class
      5m 0s
    7. Using multiple columns to create hierarchy
      4m 12s
    8. Building a two-column system in HTML and CSS
      10m 56s
    9. Refining the horizontal space in a two-column layout
      6m 1s
    10. Adding rule lines to improve chunking
      5m 50s
    11. Adding emphasis within a heading
      4m 36s
    12. Analyzing the chunking on the professional sites
      11m 18s
  6. 17m 57s
    1. Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages
      7m 3s
    2. Understanding how to create rhythm and tension
      6m 0s
    3. Applying typography skills when making design decisions
      4m 54s
  7. 55m 47s
    1. Designing typographic links for the traditional page
      5m 54s
    2. Adding a list of links to the traditional page
      8m 44s
    3. Describing the link states in CSS
      6m 30s
    4. Returning links to their original "unvisited" style
      2m 38s
    5. Using different CSS for different kinds of links
      7m 28s
    6. Using CSS notation to organize syntax
      5m 34s
    7. Choosing a background color or image
      4m 0s
    8. Applying a repeating background image
      2m 58s
    9. Shaping the traditional page layout
      6m 38s
    10. Analyzing the traditional typographic elements on the professional sites
      5m 23s
  8. 43m 0s
    1. Designing typographic links for the modernist page
      6m 47s
    2. Making a list of links run across the page
      2m 14s
    3. Adding and removing space between the navigation links
      6m 50s
    4. Styling the inline links on the modernist page
      5m 33s
    5. Choosing a background color or image for the modernist bibliography
      4m 4s
    6. Applying a no-repeat background image
      4m 13s
    7. Shaping the modernist page layout
      6m 58s
    8. Analyzing the modernist typographic elements on the professional sites
      6m 21s
  9. 52m 53s
    1. Fixing quotation marks and apostrophes
      6m 59s
    2. Fixing dashes
      6m 33s
    3. Working with lining figures (numbers) and acronyms
      9m 28s
    4. Fixing characters that don't look right
      8m 19s
    5. Hanging punctuation
      2m 54s
    6. Applying typographic accents
      2m 36s
    7. Vertically centering text
      5m 18s
    8. Creating drop caps
      5m 59s
    9. Analyzing the typographic details on the professional sites
      4m 47s
  10. 3m 9s
    1. Additional resources
      3m 9s

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