Lecture 113

Graphic Design 2 - Structure + Organization

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Lecture Notes for Lecture 12:  Graphic Design 2 - structure + organization

grid systems

anatomy of grids (margins)

  • define the active area of the page
  • direct the viewer toward visual elements
  • they vary in size depending on format
  • sometimes contain subordinate elements like footers and folios

anatomy of grids (columns)

  • vertical divisions of space used to align the visual elements
  • may divide page (multiple columns)
  • widths may vary according to function of design
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

anatomy of grids (column intervals)

  • sometimes called gutter widths
  • inactive negative spaces that separate one column from the next
  • prevent textual and visual elements from colliding
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

anatomy of grids (flowlines)

  • support vertical columns by dividing page into horizontal intervals
  • provide additional alignment points
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

anatomy of grids (grid modules)

  • spatial areas that support the textual and visual content of the design
  • the number of modules may vary from one design to the next
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner
  • Design By: Gravica Design/Talisman Interactive

working with basic grids

  • to unify and order the compositional space
  • the underlying structure should be apparent without being seen
  • compose visual elements to balance and contrast the shape of the page
  • Design By: Kristin Cullen

working with basic grids

  • avoid arbitrary grids
  • proportions of grid should be based on page format and complexity of visual elements
  • Design By: No.Parking

functions of grids

  • control
  • dynamism
  • organization
  • balance
  • rhythm
  • direction
  • harmony
  • contrast
  • unity
  • interaction
  • readability
  • order
  • movement

single column grids

  • perfect for large amounts of continuous text
  • space is defined by margins, which divides active area into one column
  • margins often need adjustments
  • Design By: Lichtwitz Design

single column grids (margins)

  • Classical:
    • sides & bottom are large
    • top is smaller
    • inner margin is typically 1/2 width of outer margin
    • positions are mirrored in a spread
  • Design By: Lichtwitz Design

multiple column grids

  • contain several spatial intervals
  • nearly endless compositional options
  • suitable for complex projects
  • can create movement, drama, rhythm, or tension
  • Design By: Kristin Cullen

modular grids

  • extensions of multiple-column grids with the addition of horizontal flowlines
  • the result is a page divided into spatial units (modules)
  • Design By: Gravica Design/Talisman Interactive

determining modules

  • determined by ideal width (line length) of paragraph
  • determined by smallest size of a photograph or illustration
  • each case above could span multiple modules
  • Design By: No.Parking

modular grids (continued)

  • increase compositional flexibility
  • grid (modules) must be flexible enough to accommodate changing content over the course of the project
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

alternative grids

  • often loose and organic
  • rely heavily on intuitive placement of objects
  • often they evolve from basic grids (by taking the grids apart, adding, overlapping, shifting, etc.)
  • Design By: Gravica Design/Talisman Interactive

alternative grids (continued)

  • visual elements define the architecture of the page
  • compositional structure is often based on dominant visual element or focal point
  • Design By: Kristin Cullen

breaking the grid

  • grids provide a base, but don’t be afraid to intelligently break the grid
  • use the grid as a guide not a dictator of the layout
  • if it is broken too often, it is probably not right for the content
  • Design By: Kristin Cullen

the interaction of visual elements

  • hierarchical development
  • establish a clear focal point that attracts the eye
  • meld subordinate visual elements that allow for in-depth view of topic
  • lead the viewer through a logical and meaningful journey
  • Design By: Kristin Cullen

hierarchical development

  • if hierarchy is not established, eye will get distracted (overloaded) and move on...
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner


  • Think in multiple scales to help establish hierarchy
  • What do you see at 12 feet?
  • 6 feet? 3 feet? 1 foot?
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

hierarchy (getting started)

  • Rank visual elements by importance
  • Place dominant (high ranking) visual elements in foreground
  • subordinate elements will occupy the middleground and background
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

compositional factors

  • contrast
  • orientation
  • scale
  • quantity
  • linear elements
  • depth
  • perspective
  • position
  • color
  • graphic shapes
  • dimension
  • tension
  • typography
  • space
  • repetition


  • provides visual contrast
  • contributes to an effective ordering system
  • empty space brings elements alive
  • focus on the negative space as well as the positive space
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

space (continued)

  • imperative for accessibility and navigation of the eye
  • directs the eye to the positive (visual) areas of focus
  • Design By: Kristin Cullen

using space

  • group elements together to provide a focal point
  • centering an object equalizes space around it rendering space ineffective
  • placing off center creates a weighted asymmetrical composition
  • don’t have too much space
  • Design By: No.Parking


  • can be used to establish hierarchy
  • use consistency and progression when changing scale
  • Design By: No.Parking


  • too many elements = visual clutter and lack of order
  • make sure all elements have a specific function
  • use subtractive or additive method to determine appropriate quantity of elements
  • Design By: Gravica Design/Talisman Interactive

orientation + position

  • can lead to strong contrasts that enhance hierarchy
  • Example: all elements are oriented horizontally, a vertical orientation would stand out (be emphasized)
  • don’t forget diagonals
  • Design By: Gravica Design/Talisman Interactive

depth, dimension & perspective

  • perspective engages the compositional space of the page
  • moves composition away from the “flat”
  • layering elements also creates depth
  • Design By: No.Parking


  • don’t forget to pay careful attention to typography
  • typography is as important as the other visual elements of the composition
  • Think Macro & Micro scales!
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner


  • provides visual interest
  • emphasizes specific elements
  • can use a comprehensive color palette or just one or two colors
  • consider tone of design with regard to colors used
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner

graphic shapes + linear elements

  • used to support primary content
  • often direct the viewer toward important areas
  • a bold graphic shape can serve as a background of the composition while still supporting other elements
  • Design By: Gravica Design/Talisman Interactive

in review

  • The designer must:
    • create a hierarchy
    • order and control the design
    • use contrast to establish focal areas
    • use compositional factors to support design
  • Design By: Aufuldish & Warinner