Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video The hidden page (visible and invisible properties), part of Learning Graphic Design: Layouts.
- Layout happens on a page, I'm using the term page to mean your visual field. Physically, a page can be paper, like a book, it can be glass, like web and mobile, it can a t-shirt, a paper cup, it can be any shape, rectangular, round, whatever our field is, that's what I mean by a page. But before you put things on the page, we need to talk about the page. That's because, the page is always a part of your design.
It's easy to think of it as just a backdrop, but it's an active field, that influences everything that goes on it. Have a look. A page has physical properties, and it has phantom properties. Physically, this sheet of paper has a center, it has four straight sides, it has four 90-degree corners, it has a field of both color and texture, in this case it's nearly white and very smooth, it has size, it has shape, it has proportions, it has weight, it has orientation, all of these things are measurable, and all of them communicate something.
Its phantom properties are what we project onto it from real life experience. For example, a page has a motion field, Western eyes will experience this as a gentle but persistent left to right drift, that's because we read this way, we call it the read breeze, and it's always blowing, always pushing your eye to the right. Super gentle, if it were an actual breeze it may be a half mile an hour, maybe less, but it's always there.
For those of you whose language is right to left, it blows to the left. A page also has gravity, that we can feel, things have weight, they settle, so objects that are normally on the ground, usually need to be at the bottom of the page, or they'll feel off, and things that are normally experienced in the air, birds, butterflies, need to be up there. The edge is interesting, on one hand it has a magnetic pull, things close to the edge want to stick to it, which is why we perceive a frame here, but not so much here.
But when you push beyond the edge, it disappears. You look at this layout, you have no sense at all that there's a page here with boundaries, it just feels like infinite space. A field isn't uniform either, different parts of a page communicate differently. Easy to see things at the top mean one thing, at the bottom they mean another. Left, feels different from right. The center, feels different from an edge.
Where something is on a page affects our response to it, this is a big deal, and a key element in design. The center of an empty page is its most stable place, that's because all axes converge there, so it's our subconscious anchor, we relate things to it, this is left of center or right of center, as a rule, an object centered on an empty page will be perceived as stable and placid. So all that stuff, all these forces, exist on the page, even when there's nothing on it, and the reason we want to know that, is that the best layouts are gonna take advantage of these invisible forces.
If your layout's getting tripped up, it may be because it's running counter to some of them.
John also provides two start-to-finish projects, which show how these design principles play out in real-world layouts.
- Keeping the layout simple
- Handling images
- Adjusting page margins
- Using a grid for design