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The importance of layout in effective graphic design

We recently worked with a client to produce a report highlighting the key messages from a big piece of research they had done. The report had already been branded and designed, but they came to us because they felt it hadn’t quite worked – in their words, the initial designer hadn’t ‘got it’.

The research could have significant import for their industry, and the report was destined for an audience of industry leaders; the client felt the design just didn’t have the appropriate gravitas or convey the information contained within effectively.

Whilst the report had been well-branded and stylised, with a satisfying use of typography, imagery and colour, it lacked ‘layout’.

This got us to thinking about just how influential layout is in effective graphic design.

Communicate, graphically!

Let’s remind ourselves what graphic design is actually for. It’s made pretty clear by the other names it also known by: Graphical Communication or Communication Design. Quite simply it’s the communication of ideas, information and experiences with visual and textual content.

So bearing that in mind, what are the tools used by graphic designers to communicate effectively and how important is layout among these?

Feel this

It’s very well known that colours cause you to ‘feel’ different emotions. Some of these have become incredibly ubiquitous, such as red for danger. Others are more subtle and sometimes even subconscious. Branding relies heavily on these colour-influenced feelings to help convey the company’s ethos through their identity. Blue, for instance, is often popular in branding because of its associations with trust, professionalism and dependability.

In a similar way, typography selection can be equally influential in conveying emotion and feeling through design.

In Sarah Hyndman’s excellent book Why Fonts Matter, she asserts that the shapes, lines and angles created by different typefaces create different moods and evoke different responses, thus conveying different messages.

Imagery scarcely needs mentioning as an influencer in design – it’s quite literally there for you to see. We’re such visual creatures that the sight of a glorious beach in an advert is enough to get some of us day-dreaming about swimming in the sea, fantasising about holidays or at least evoke a feeling of wonder.

Enter layout

Layout refers to the way in which we organise the material which makes up the content of a design. The aim of layout is both to present information in a logical, coherent way and to make the important elements stand out.

An additional, more understated benefit, is that a well-designed layout can make the content easier to understand. Let’s take the classic newspaper layout as an example. The justified columns of text are designed to be easy to read, yet authoritative. The use of large headlines grab the attention, whilst the sub-headings allow you to see an obvious hierarchy of information, meaning you can skim through the article getting the gist, without needing to read the whole piece.

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Quotation in the telegraph
A‘pull-out’ quote on the Telegraph website.

Quotations are another good example. We all know that if we see a short piece of text pulled out of the main text body that it’s usually a quote. So without needing to read the text, you know what it is and that it’s important. That’s great layout.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. Layout can also convey meaning in much the same way colour, imagery and typography can.

To illustrate this, take the following examples from David Dabner’s Graphic Design School. In each, the content is exactly the same – the same text, headlines, sub-headlines, lists and images. But the use of different layouts, coupled with matching typefaces, created a completely different feel. Through altering the layout of the content, the meaning of that content is changed to suit the target audience.

So when planning a design, the graphic designer should be asking themselves if the layout should look authoritative and packed with information? Or clean and structured, with lots of white space? Or funky and cutting-edge? Applied correctly, this principle helps the design speak to its audience more effectively.

Layout example: authoritative

Authoritative: With its full-page picture, classic serif face for the header, and consistent caption column, this is the classic opener. The justified text makes the information appear more serious.

Layout example: funky

Funky: The cutting-edge heading type, the complex grid and the varied type measures makes for a ‘hard’working’ layout that is aimed at a young audience.

Layout example: clean and structured

Clean and structured: White space around all the text boxes makes it easy for the eye to navigate the information, and the bled images across the top of the spread adds a touch of dynamism.

Returning for a moment to our client’s report – what this document lacked was some thought given to the layout. By taking a little time to consider how the report should be perceived, and how it could be presented in a more effective manner, improvement was easy.

A quick design sketch of the report’s double-page spread produced this result:

scamp

  • Plenty of white space makes the content easy to navigate.
  • The obvious separation of content types – intro, quotations, key industry figures (left-most column), body text and conclusion messages (final box) make it easy to digest.
  • The single-edge positioning of the images gives a modern, dynamic feel, which contrasts well with the use of columns and justified text to provide an authoritative tone.
  • Overall, we felt this layout struck a healthy balance between the authority of the speakers and audience at the event and the modern, future-focused subject matter.

Conclusion

Good graphic design utilises layout not only to make content easier to process and navigate, but it can also be leveraged to convey feeling, mood and meaning. Used in combination with the right typography, imagery and colour, highly persuasive results are possible.

So next time you’re considering whether to have your document, report or marketing material professionally designed, consider the importance of layout in communicating your message effectively. It might just be the difference between someone reading it, understanding it or responding to it, and not.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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