Our latest desktop publishing client – Australian Red Cross – was looking for help to to redesign their human resource print materials. Their pproject brief involved creating a unified, eye-catching page layout design that would give their booklets a contemporary and corporate ‘look and feel’.
The importance of good design to effectively communicate your message
Page layout design – the arrangement of text and images on both printed and digital pages – is a primary skill used by desktop publishers and graphic designers to effectively communicate a message in a compelling and readable way. In the corporate field, designers are challenged to combine their creative instincts with the constraints of business and consistent use of brand elements to produce attractive, professional-looking documents.
As beginners with no background design knowledge, many people just start to arrange images and text on the page to create an in-house brochure without defining exactly what it is that they want to say. Before investing time and effort on page layout design, it is important to have a purpose and a plan for your publication firmly in mind.
By following the few simple design rules listed below you can create attractive, easy-to-read documents and promotional materials.
Understand the text before formatting it
What is the overall tone of your document? Is it full of serious information (e.g. a critical incident report)? Or is it an instructional piece which requires the information to be laid out in a way that makes it easy to follow, step-by-step? When you understand the intended tone and purpose of the text, it is much easier to decide on the right format for your document.
Design, don’t decorate
Good design is about making your document easier to read by visually guiding your readers’ eyes to the most important information first. Embellishments such as unnecessary flourishes, bullet points that look like emoticons or overuse of exclamation marks (!!!!) will distract readers from your main message.
Arrange your material in a simple layout grid
Divide your page into a 9-square grid, then follow the rule of thirds to structure your layout design. By organising your page format into thirds, rather than halves and quarters, you’ll avoid producing a symmetrical layout which is boring and predictable.
Use colour to unify the entire document
Familiarise yourself with the basic principles of the colour wheel, then choose simple blocks or sections on the page where you can use a few complementary or harmonious colours. Be careful not to use too many different colours. You should aim to leave enough white space in your page layout design to give your readers’ eyes a break from too much visual stimulation.
Additional guidelines for effective page layout design
Below are some additional design guidelines to help you achieve great results with any printed publication project.
Be conscious about every textual or graphic element you place on the page. Nothing should be positioned arbitrarily. Every element (heading, sub-heading, body copy, images and captions) should have some visual connection which serves to unify the whole design. Strong, sharp edges create a strong, sharp impression. A combination of alignments (using centred, flush left and flush right in one project) usually produces a sloppy, weak impression.
Contrast not only adds visual interest to a page so the reader’s eye is drawn in but it also helps create a hierarchy of information so that the important points are obvious when scanning the page. Contrast can be introduced into the project by such means as typefaces, rules, colours, spacing, and size of graphic elements. The only way in which contrast is effective is if it’s strong. If two elements are not exactly the same make sure that they are very different.
Repetition helps to organise your information, guiding your readers through the different parts of the publication. Even in a one-page document, repetitive elements establish a sophisticated continuity and can ‘tie the whole thing together’.
If cetain texual or graphic elements are related, make sure that you group them into closer proximity. Likewise, elements that are not directly related to each other should be separated. As in life, the proximity or the closeness of the different elements on a printed page implies a relationship!
In this way, armed with a basic understanding of a few simple page layout principles, anyone can set about creating professional-looking business documents.