While I was a print designer for a university, I learned quickly that I needed to up my game in terms of layout design. Throughout design school, and shortly after, I mostly gained experience in branding design + illustrations. Though I completely value that education and experience, I lacked the design education regarding print, publication and layout design. Throughout the first few months of my print design job, it was trial by fire as I tested what was effective as a dynamic layout!
I developed a method that served me well in designing layouts, and thought I would share a few of my secrets with you guys! Most of these tips can be applied to logo + web design as well. I also included a few examples of inspiring designs that incorporate these details. Here are a few tips as you begin your layout design process:
Hierarchy + Balance
In order to create a dynamic layout design, you have to focus on the hierarchy + balance of the layout. What do you want the viewer to focus on the most? What is secondary information? Designs that aren’t harmonious, or lack a dynamic appeal, typically don’t incorporate a good use of hierarchy. If your layout lacks this balance, the viewer is left subconsciously confused where they should focus their attention. Avoid this dilemma through providing a clear hierarchy to your layout: Title, subhead/secondary info, and remaining copy. I’m always drawn to a minimal design that has an obvious hierarchy + structure to the layout.
Remove distractions + the temptation to mimic another designer’s work, and take your concept/layout to paper first. I am the first to tell you that my strength is NOT in drawing! I am decent at drawing, but I just want to encourage you that your sketches should be loose. Don’t let the urge for perfection deter you from sketching out your idea first. My sketches are not stellar, but they get the job done.
Sketching allows you to lay out a design, without the distraction of the computer. It is SO easy to jump to the computer first, and layout your design. I fall victim to this far too often, but recognize that my best work is a derivative of taking the time to freely sketch out concepts. Usually, sketching is incorporated in my logo projects, but I like to include it as a foundation through all design projects. It helps you establish a hierarchy, as well as explore the content + elements that are required for your design. Trust me, after just a few minutes of sketching you will have a moment of clarity for the structure of your design.
I’ve said it before, and will continue to stand by it, typography is at the heart of every design. If you have a weak typographic layout, nothing can compensate for it. Focus on the typography choices first, before diving into the other design elements. Select typefaces that are appropriate for the concept + audience, and that pair well together. Through having a strong typographic emphasis, the rest of the design will fall into place.
Start in Black + White
Now that you have a sketch of your layout, you can take that concept to the computer! Don’t get too hasty though… start with black and white. If you are designing a print piece, magazine layout, media kit, document or another designed layout, start your design in black and white. If your layout requires illustrations, photographs or patterns, simply fill in that area with a placeholder gray box/circle. I like to use a 20% black to indicate that area will be filled eventually.
Think of this layout as a wireframe of your design. Through minimizing the design + color, you focus your design on a dynamic layout, rather than relying on color or graphics to compensate.
Once you have a wireframe of your design complete, take note of where you can remove any distractions. Does your design look too cluttered? Is there too much information + content, that can be reduced? Look for ways to minimize the design, directing the viewer to the information you want to focus on.
Round out the Design
Now that your layout is refined, you can add in color + other graphic elements to round out the design. Make sure to hang onto the original wireframe for reference, in case you need to create an alternate version. Focus your design on a strict color palette, applied to photography, illustration, typography and patterns. This is the design stage that really brings your layout to life!
Tip: Don’t limit yourself to focusing on one layout design. If you are in InDesign or Illustrator, create multiple pages/artboards and allow yourself to explore different directions. More often than not, my first idea that I initially think is great, ends up looking amateur next to my other design explorations.
Do you have any tips you have found useful for crafting a dynamic layout design? Please share! Are there any other tips/resources you would like to learn more about? Let me know, and I can dive in a bit deeper in a future blog post.