the principles of design: alignment

The principle of ALIGNMENT:

I’ve always been intrigued by the power and sensitivity of the human eye/brain combination. Our eyes/brain can immediately detect even the smallest of visual anomalies, whether we are trained artists or not. Because of this sensitivity, graphic designers–or anyone who works with the placement of text and images–must take the time and effort to pay special attention to the issue of alignment.

When objects are carefully arranged on a page and an effort made to align them well, we often don’t notice anything at all, with the exception of the intended message. On the other hand, when objects are even slightly out of alignment we can detect it immediately, and it distracts us from the design’s purpose.  Even if we don’t know exactly why something doesn’t look right, we do know when something looks awkward, or at the very least that it could look better.

Proper alignment gives order to our designs, and where there is order, there is comfort. Paying special attention to the alignment of the objects or elements on a page can go a long way in creating a strong and clean design, which means that the message becomes the focal point.

When setting type, be consistent with your choice of alignment by not mixing too many kinds together at once (center, left & right). You may also want to keep the baselines of your text aligned across the page (the invisible baseline that type sits on). Also consider aligning any visual elements both horizontally and vertically along the margins to create an invisible frame and give your design an orderly feel. Keep the spacing between elements equidistant to provide unity (yet another principle of design).

Align the baselines of your text across the page.

It’s easy to spot an arrangement that is misaligned (below left), as there is a sloppy and uncomfortable feel to it. However, the arrangement to the right looks natural and stable to our eye. In fact, we really don’t notice the alignment at all. This is precisely the point–good alignment is never seen!

Left: sloppy and unattractive. Right: clean and invisible.

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