Fundamentals of Composition

While this chapter of Graphic Design School opened with several concepts that were explored earlier in this blog, like positive and negative space, dots and lines, figure/ground relationships, rule of thirds, closure and symmetry, the later part of the chapter contained quite a lot I found to be helpful specifically relating to publication design.

The first of these concepts was symmetry and asymmetry, but in the context of layouts in publications. The book explained the historical context of both kinds of layouts, and in what form one or the other may be more successful. Symmetrical layouts were commonly found in old manuscripts and early typeset pages, in which centered type (especially on title pages), justified block type and decorative borders were used to create balanced layouts. As simple as symmetrical layouts appear to the eye, careful consideration must be taken with how type is set, so that there is appropriate and balanced spacing between elements to create a harmonious composition. Asymmetrical layouts, on the other hand, gained momentum during the Bauhaus movement, and resulted in dynamic layouts that pushed visual tension. Now, both symmetrical and asymmetrical layouts have their own appropriate uses – but it’s up to the designer to determine which kind of layout would be most appropriate for specific content.

Another concept discussed was pace and contrast in publication design. For a publication to be successful it its entity, designers must plan layouts as they relate to the publication as a whole, not just to a specific story, chapter or department. Pacing a publication effectively means finding a balance between too much and too little visual complexity so as a whole, it draws the reader in but doesn’t overwhelm them. This pacing can be achieved in different ways, and varies if the publication is printed or digital. For a print publication, it’s necessary to view pacing from multiple angles because not every reader will necessarily start reading from the same place, and will be reading it in a variety of contexts. In digital publications, the added ability for interactivity and movement means the reader will be interacting with it differently than a print version, so new things must be taken into consideration. However, regardless of context, it’s critical to remember that the designer’s job is to navigate the reader through the piece in an intentional way, so that needs to always be in the front of the mind.
I was especially interested in the exploration of what in the design process needs to change for a digital version of a publication, so I ended up finding an article from Adobe Press* by Sandee Cohen that outlined 10 guidelines for digital design – several of which I found incredibly useful.

First, it’s important to give navigation clues to guide the reader through interacting with the digital version. This could be included in a special help section, or with helpful symbols interspersed on pages for special interactions. It’s important that these guides are clear and easy to understand, or else their whole purpose would be defeated.

Second, laziness is not acceptable. Spreads should be designed in both horizontal and vertical layouts to make it more comfortable for viewers. This means that the print version will likely need to be altered, and while that means extra work, it means the overall experience of the publication will be better. However, Cohen also acknowledges that there are some elements, features or packages in a print publication that may not be able to be altered to a horizontal layout based on its content. In this case, it’s necessary to communicate to the readers that it needs to be viewed in a particular way.

Finally, it’s important to use the freedom of digital design to have fun and add new content. A digital publication shouldn’t necessarily just involve scrolling through pages – there should be videos or use tapping or swiping to navigate content. The rise of digital publications is exciting because it opens up the door for new possibilities for content and interactivity, so neglecting to take advantage of this freedom would be a shame.

 

This excerpt from Adagia Erasmus, printed by Aldus Manutius in the 15th century demonstrates the symmetrical page layout that was commonplace up through the 20th century. Source: http://www.humanistischecanon.nl/boekdrukkunst/aldus_manutius__1449___1515_

This excerpt from Adagia Erasmus, printed by Aldus Manutius in the 15th century demonstrates the symmetrical page layout that was commonplace up through the 20th century.
Source: http://www.humanistischecanon.nl/boekdrukkunst/aldus_manutius__1449___1515_

 

Jan Tschichold, pioneer of the New Typography movement, is considered one of the leading forces in the shift towards asymmetrical layouts that became popular during the Bauhaus. Source: http://typographyhistory.tumblr.com/page/3

Jan Tschichold, pioneer of the New Typography movement, is considered one of the leading forces in the shift towards asymmetrical layouts that became popular during the Bauhaus.
Source: http://typographyhistory.tumblr.com/page/3

 

This story, from Vanity Fair, shows the necessity and success of altering a page's layout for both a horizontal and vertical orientation of a digital publication.

This story, from Vanity Fair, shows the necessity and success of altering a page’s layout for both a horizontal and vertical orientation of a digital publication.

 

 

*Source: http://www.adobepress.com/articles/article.asp?p=1987679

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