The Graphic Designer's Tools: Layout & Space
And then we have to also be able to organize typography with graphic elements and with images. And to understand a way or to find a way for these two very, very different kinds of things to kind of live together in the same space. Images are all over the place. They're photographic, they're soft, they're hard, they're geometric, they're organic, they're dots, they're lines, they're planes, they're textural, they're flat. Typography is always the same thing. It's always dots, it's always lines, and it's always masses. And usually kind of hybrids of those. And that stuff never changes in it's sort of basic quality. And this is why it's very challenging for most people to bring typography and imagery together in to a composition, in to a project. Because you're looking at these two radically different kinds of material. And how do you find formal or visual relationships between those, so that you create a totality and that all the parts are talking to each other? And that happens in layou...
t. So we have to be able to understand the relationship between form, the stuff, and space, where it is. That is, the positive and the negative. Not negative, like, in a bad way, but just the opposite of thing, (laughs) snow. And a form will change it's appearance from positive to negative depending on how it's oriented within, or cropped within a format. So as a form changes size, it's level of dynamism increases or decreases. It's sense of being an object or a space or sometimes both changes. And we have to be conscious of how space is being broken in order to create movement and kind of trajectories between elements, relationships between elements and their positioning around a space. There are two kind of basic sort of organizational ideas. One is symmetry, in which things are organized around the center axis of a format in one way or another. And then there's asymmetry, of which there is an unlimited number of kinds. Stepping, stacking, clustering, spiraling, concentric, radial, branching, and so on. And these are very very different kinds of compositional approach or layout approach. And very rarely do they like to play with each other. They are so specific. And they each have their pros and cons, and they're each relevant or useful in a different place. When we're talking about bringing elements together in space, we have to start to talk about differentiating them. And creating some kind of interplay that makes that composition vibrant and lively. And one of those things that we look at is what's called contrast. And it's creating differentiation or visual differentiation between elements. You could put all of the visual elements in a space, whether a page layout or a poster or a web space, and make them all the same size and space them evenly, and that would give you a dull snoozer of a layout. The more things are the same, the less interesting it is. And the less likely that the audience will be able to determine which of those elements is of greater importance compared to the others. So the compositional contrast that you have to try to introduce functions on two levels. It functions on a visual level, that is to engage, to create dimensionality and rhythm and movement, and also to emphasize or de-emphasize. And so that relates directly to hierarchy. That is, how do you create an ordering for the information? How do you show people instantly by looking that something in this field is more worthy of their attention than other things? That it's the most important thing. It's the thing you really wanna be thinking about. And then how do you downplay those other things and still have them relate? I mean, clearly all the information in a designed communication are important, but they're not all equally important. And so there are different ways, by creating difference relative to surrounding fields of similarity. That is, the different thing gets called out. You can introduce levels of difference. These are less different overall than this is, compared to everything, and so on. And you can look at the proximity of things. Generally things that are close together in space are more likely to be understood as related to each other, and things that are separated in space are understood to be less related to each other. And then you can kind of ping-pong people around. Hierarchy and composition is also about movement. How do you cause the eye to follow a path from one place to another? And it doesn't have to be from upper left corner to lower right corner. Because if you're doing your job, you can get a person to read in any order that you choose. And as another kind of an organizational idea, there's this which is called the grid, the typographic grid. And it's a kind of a mathematical or architectural framework for organizing a lot of complex information. Pictures and images, usually in publications, where you have tremendous volumes of text, very very complex hierarchies, different levels of information, different kinds of information running side by side or alternating. And the grid gives you a way of creating a kind of a proportional similarity, a kind of a harmony of size and position. Anchoring points, alignments within the page that helps tie everything together, but it acts as a system. You can group these little pieces of space in different ways to accommodate images of different sizes, text of different lengths, information of different kinds in any combination. So the flexibility of the grid is that it allows all these kinds of changes in information, which are unavoidable, to live together as a totality. And that's usually why they're used by designers for complex publications, when you're going page after page after page.