Join Sean Adams for an in-depth discussion in this video What makes a successful layout?, part of Graphic Design Foundations: Layout and Composition.
Before we can begin exploring the components that create a strong composition, we need to define what a successful layout is. I consider a layout successful if it attracts my attention, provides a clear, powerful message, and helps tell me the story and tone of the project. What is an unsuccessful layout? That's easy. It's cluttered, and confusing, or worse it's dull. If there's one thing you never want to be in graphic design, it's dull. Our job is to stop someone in their tracks and give them the message.
Safe, nice, and banal can never do this. As soon as mankind began selling and trading, we've turned to design to communicate the message in an attractive way. Hopefully making our Greek pottery sell better than the Phoenician pottery cart next to ours. A strong layout is used to tell a story in a dynamic way. The composition may be classical and symmetrical, asymmetrical and modern, minimal or complex. The basic tenets of layout may be the same.
But the result can be as different as your imagination allows. Inspiration for a layout comes from anywhere. The trick is learning what to look for and how to see. I'm always deconstructing the world around me, looking for layout elements. When I look at this incredible poster by Alphonse Mucha, I notice the use of light tones and darker tones to create drama. This poster uses basic geometric forms and a film reel to create a double meaning.
Layouts can use color and repetition to create interest, such as this poster for the Sundance film festival. At times variations in typography are the main focus of the form. Like this postcard. The inspiration doesn't need to come from graphic design alone. I'm always taking photos of interesting compositions. When I travel, I try to find details that might lead to an interesting layout. And that can end up in my own projects. I'm usually the weird person taking a picture of a wall of windows while others photograph their family.
The point is to start paying attention. Every time you see something that intrigues you, ask yourself, why is this successful? After a while, it becomes second nature and you'll start seeing composition and layout everywhere. If you want to become a great writer you need to do a lot of reading. Being a great designer is no different; you just need to do a lot of looking. The entire world is there for you.
- What makes a successful layout?
- Layout elements: shape, line, color, texture, type, and space
- Using balance and tension to create a dynamic layout
- Adding drama with contrast and scale
- Working with proportions: golden section, rule of thirds, etc.
- Creating the right grid for your design
- Choosing simplicity or excess
- Adding an element of surprise
- Making images and typography work together