Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Basic Principles of Layout & Design for Meeting Planners

Many meeting planners are asked to do things that they may not actually be trained to do – so we go out and learn them. One of the most common tasks planners are assigned is to create flyers, web sites, brochures, newsletters, and all other manner of printed documents to promote their event or provide information to attendees. As one of the areas in which planners have little formal training, I have found it useful to take a few classes and do some reading on the subject. To help you get started on your own layout and design work, here are four basic principles that everyone seems to agree on. I will also share two additional principles that some include, which I find to be useful ones as well.

The four Basic Principles (in alphabetical order) are:
  • Alignment
  • Contrast
  • Proximity
  • Repetition

Alignment is the idea that everything on the page should be connected (visually) to something else on the page. Left-justification and lining up image centers are both examples of alignment.

Contrast is about differences. The greater the difference, the greater the contrast. In fact, too little contrast often looks like a mistake and can actually create conflict on the page as the reader subconsciously struggles to figure out why things don’t quite look right…

Proximity deals with how close objects or text are to other objects or text on the page. The strength of the relationship between two objects is implied by their proximity to each other. Things that relate to one another should be closer than items that do not relate to each other.

Repetition is simply about having some element of the design repeat throughout the document. Let me say that again…you should have some elements repeat throughout your document. The repeated element could be a font type or style, a graphic or picture, a spatial orientation, or even just a thick line.

The two additional Principles that I use are:
  • Balance
  • White Space

Balance is a measure of equilibrium and “completeness”. Does the page (or document) flow smoothly? Does the eye track cleanly across all elements, or does it stop and start while trying to find the important information?

White Space refers to how much “unused” area exists on the page and is not necessarily white in color. Use of white space provides the eye with a nice rest while it tracks over the page, allowing the reader to take in what they have read before moving on to the next piece.

When I am designing a brochure or other document for a client, I always try to keep these six principles in mind. There is no hierarchy to the principles and none of them is more important than the others. It is also not always possible to use each one to its full extent. You will have to make some choices about which principles you choose to emphasize based on your specific needs.

If you are looking for more information about layout and design principles, there are many great books and resources out there. I use as my reference a book recommended to me in one of the classes I took: “The Non-Designer’s Design Book, 2nd Ed.” By Robin Williams (not the comedian). The 3rd edition is available through Amazon.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises