maxims of page layout

Principles of balance and 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.

  2. Divide the page into fore­ground and back­ground.
    The fore­ground con­tains the most impor­tant page ele­ments. The back­ground con­tains every­thing else. Don’t let the back­ground ele­ments upstage the fore­ground ele­ments.

  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 print­ing 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 doc­u­ment will come across as 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.

  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.

  8. Imi­tate what you like.
    Why rein­vent the wheel? If you see typog­ra­phy you like—in a book, in a mag­a­zine, on a sign—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.