... how we put things together...
A layout is the arrangement of type and art (photos, illustrations or any other graphics) on paper (or website).
There are three criterias for a good layout:
- it works - for a layout to work, it must get your message across quickly and approprietly
- it organizes - content should be well organized and user-friendly so the reader can move smoothly and easily through the piece
- it attracts viewers - layout should stand out from its competition in order to attract
When you are looking at a design piece, your eyes should be drawn through it in a way that provides you with relevant information almost instantly.
Effective design will assist you in being informed without being overwhelmed. A good designer knows this, and consciously places information and design elements where they need to be.
Here’s how to tell if a good designer has been at work on the layout you’re looking at:
- Your eyes are naturally drawn to the most important or most interesting part.
- You are able to scan the piece and understand what it means, without having to backtrack or scrutinize it for hidden meaning (unless that’s the point).
- The key information is easy to find, and easy to read.
- Important items are larger, while less important details take up less space.
- There are no needlessly distracting elements on the page.
- Good layout is carefully engineered for usability and readability and will be easy to interact with. Bad layout is tedious and disorganized.
Introduction to graphics that sell
The first element you will need to consider as you are looking at Graphic design is the audience a piece is speaking to. Look at the piece and do your best to put yourself in the shoes of the audience it is attempting to capture.
Does the piece employ imagery, colors and words that appeal to the target audience? Does the message make sense? Is it clear? If you aren’t in the target audience, pretend you are. Does it motivate you?
Images that work
If the design piece you are judging uses photography, look closely at the pictures. In the case of good design, here are a few good rules for assessing imagery:
The image should be clear and crisp, without any pixelization or unintentional blurring.
The colors in the photo should be tied in with the rest of the piece
The photo or image should be relevant to the overall message.
The focus of the photograph should be clear, unless it’s meant to be an “ambient” image.
The picture should be original and fresh, not taken from another source.
The photo or image should be the work of a professional: well-composed with a good sense of balance.
Be careful of stock photography – that is, generic photos purchased in bulk from large image libraries. Typically, designers will rely on stock photography to provide cultural or societal relevance, or to zero in on a certain audience. Stock photography works well in many situations when budgetary resources prevent designers from commissioning original photos, but can sometimes look out painfully out of place. Keep your eyes open to these classics: smiling faces, helpful receptionists, busy office workers, generic skyscrapers, or tropical destinations.
Photography and imagery should be as original and as specific as possible. Generic-looking photography can be a sure sign of generic-looking design work.
Colors that communicate
Color is vital to design.
Used well, it can be immensely powerful: color can suggest feeling, inspire emotion, and align itself with certain principles. For instance, green is often used to represent the environment or a social conscience toward nature.
Color is also very important for direction, and these types of associations are built into modern civilization: green means go, red means stop.
Good designers take full advantage of the power of color, and the psychological and physiological effect color has on us. As Tina Sutton and Bride M. Whelan write in their book The Complete Color Harmony, “Colors have such strong associations that even a black-and-white rendering of a brand’s logo instantaneously calls specific hues to mind. You don’t read Coca-Cola without thinking red, [or] see Wal-Mart’s smiley face without thinking yellow…”
Using smart visual cues can provide direction and enhance communication. When you are deciding if a work of graphic design is good or bad, here are a few questions to ask:
How does the color make you feel? For instance, the color blue can often make one feel cold, while green can create a feeling of calm.
What are the existing connotations brought up by the color used? Do these associations enhance or destroy the message?
Is the color used consistently? For instance, if a particular shade is introduced in the logo or the main image, is it continued throughout the rest of the piece?
Are the colors used harmoniously? If the design piece employs multiple colors, make sure that colors match well, and don’t create awkward clashes.
Finally, your gut feeling is most of the time the best indicator of whether design is good or bad.
Having carefully dissected a design piece using the principles discussed above, how does it make you feel?
Good design would have spoken clearly and concisely about something you understand on a subconscious level before you took the time to digest the information. If you felt invited to look, or encouraged to continue, that’s positive. If you weren’t provided with positive subliminal signals, this might be an indication that this particular design isn’t working very well.
After logical dissemination and a concerted effort at objectivity, make sure you trust your judgment. It can give you an idea of whether every element used in a design works together harmoniously.