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. A grid can help or­ga­nize this process.

  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.

undock move Valkyrie Century Supra Equity Concourse Hermes Maia Triplicate buy font close