ACE: Portfolio Design Lecture

ACE Club: Portfolio Design Lecture from Grant Adams on Vimeo.

Lecture for the ACE Club at Diablo Valley College about graphic design and building an architectural portfolio. Lecture includes an introduction to structure and organization in graphic design.

To view the lecture slides or to download a .pdf of the lecture, click one of the links below.

Lecture Notes for ACE Club:  Portfolio Design Lecture

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

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