4 design principles that help you to layout your ideas visually

Here are four principles that will help you become better at designing almost anything. They won’t magically turn you into a pro designer and they certainly don’t replace any formal education, but they take you a long way to

  • understanding why some designs look so much more pleasant than others
  • having a vocabulary to verbalise what you like and dislike
  • visualising things in an accessible way with a clear visual hierarchy
  • achieving more professional looking designs

So here they are:
1. Proximity
Place things that relate to each other in close proximity, and vice versa. Obvious for pro/contra lists but not so obvious for more complex ideas. But if you start to look, you’ll find plenty of ways to use spatial proximity to give your information better structure.

2. Alignment
If there’s already an element on the page then try to align new elements to this. This might be left/right, center, or top/bottom aligned. In any case, what this does is provide order to chaos. It’s easier to read and looks way more professional.

3. Repetition
Things that are the same or mean the same should look the same. It’s an unnecessary source of confusion when product A is red on slide 3 and blue on slide 5. Unless there’s a good reason to add color or fonts, stick with what you already used. It greatly helps your reader to make sense of your designs.

4. Contrast
Things that are different should look different. And when I say different, I mean different. Don’t just make the font 1pt larger, make it significantly larger. This is particularly helpful to create a visual hierarchy. Make the most important visual element stand out and then direct the eye with a proper use of proximity and alignment towards other parts.

Here’s an easy to follow example of how these principles are put into practice. I’ve originally encountered them in Robin Williams’ classic “The Non-Designer’s Design Book”.

Also, these principles are very much in line with the posture of the lazy designer when you keep it simple. If your content makes sense, these principles will in many cases guide you to a pretty straightforward design of the content.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz


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