maxims of page layoutPrinciples of balance & consistency

Suc­cess­ful ty­pog­ra­phy re­quires you to pay at­ten­tion to the whole, not just the parts. These max­ims sum­ma­rize the key prin­ci­ples I keep in mind when I’m lay­ing out a document.

  1. De­cide first how the body text will look.
    Why? Be­cause there’s more body text than any­thing else. Four de­ci­sions—point size, line length, line spac­ing, and font—largely de­ter­mine the ap­pear­ance of the body text. There­fore, these de­ci­sions have the biggest in­flu­ence on the leg­i­bil­ity of the text and the over­all ap­pear­ance of the page.

  2. Di­vide the page into fore­ground and back­ground.
    The fore­ground con­tains the most im­por­tant page el­e­ments. (Hint: the body text is usu­ally one of them.) The back­ground con­tains every­thing else. Don’t let the back­ground el­e­ments up­stage the fore­ground el­e­ments. And re­mem­ber that you have a lim­ited num­ber of tools for mak­ing dis­tinc­tions: po­si­tion, size, font, and some­times color. (See let­ter­head for an ex­am­ple of how to han­dle the fore­ground–back­ground relationship.)

  3. Make ad­just­ments with the small­est vis­i­ble in­cre­ments.
    Ty­pog­ra­phy thrives on fine de­tails. The dif­fer­ence be­tween not enough and too much can be small.

  4. When in doubt, try it both ways.
    Don’t try to re­solve ty­po­graphic de­ci­sions with logic. There’s no sub­sti­tute for mak­ing sam­ples of two op­tions and get­ting a vi­sual reaction.

  5. Be con­sis­tent.
    Ty­pog­ra­phy qui­etly de­scribes to read­ers a struc­ture and hi­er­ar­chy. Things that are the same should look the same. Things that look dif­fer­ent should ac­tu­ally be dif­fer­ent. With­out con­sis­tent treat­ment of sim­i­lar el­e­ments, the page will feel ran­dom and meandering.

  6. Re­late each new el­e­ment to ex­ist­ing el­e­ments.
    The only time you have un­fet­tered dis­cre­tion is when the page is blank. Af­ter that, the page is like a jig­saw puz­zle that be­comes more con­strained with each new piece.

  7. Keep it sim­ple.
    A prin­ci­ple as true in ty­pog­ra­phy as any­thing else. If you think you need three col­ors and five fonts, think again. If you think you need a logo in the up­per left cor­ner of every page, think again. If you think you need to clut­ter the edges of the page with use­less non­sense, think again.

  8. Im­i­tate what you like.
    Why rein­vent the wheel? If you see ty­pog­ra­phy you like—in a book, on a sign, at a web­site—em­u­late it. Learn­ing to see what’s good about other ex­am­ples of ty­pog­ra­phy makes it eas­ier to solve prob­lems in your own layouts.

  9. Don’t fear white space.
    A lot of mediocre ty­pog­ra­phy re­sults from a per­ceived need to fill space. Things get too big or spread out. Work out­ward from the text, not in­ward from the page edges. If the text looks good, the white space will take care of itself.