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Posted by Mike on June 13, 2014

Over the past 2 months, we have explored the impact of colour and typography in design, and this month we will end off our series by discussing the element that makes your work a complete design and not simply chaos; shape and layout.


A great way to start any design is with your grid. Do a rough sketch of your design using placeholder images and text, purely focus on the layout. Decide what area will be reserved for images and which is for text. Think about what sort of shapes will enclose your text and images; will it be in a rectangle? Triangle? Circle? Also decide on the general sizing of your text. These will all be very high-level decisions which will give you an idea of what your design will look like. Be sure to not only think about the content, but also how much negative space you want, and where.


When formulating a layout it is extremely important to consider the hierarchy of your content. Put your content in order of what is the most important information for the consumer to notice and retain. Once you decide on the hierarchy you need to plan how you are going to convey this hierarchy visually on the page. You can do this by deciding where the content will be located on a page, how large it will be, and what colours you will use – usually, warm colours appear closer to the viewer than cool colours. The main purpose of hierarchy is to guide the readers eyes across the page so that they see what you want them to see, when you want them to see it.

Symmetry vs. Asymmetry: 

Symmetrical design is very traditional but conveys a sense of elegance. The key to a powerful symmetrical design is to include elements of contrast whether it is in colour, texture, or fonts. Avoid the pitfall of creating a dull symmetrical design by creating a “thermometer” layout, where everything is centered and stacked with nothing to engage the reader.

Asymmetry is modern, fun and engaging.  However, you need to have a certain level of consistency, proportionality and repetition to keep your design from looking busy and unappealing. For example, if your asymmetrical design has several text boxes, make sure the alignment of all the text is the same.  You can also create this optical similarity using colours, textures and spacing.


Square Proportions:

In order give your image, especially an asymmetrical design, a sense of visual harmony and balance there are 3 ratios to consider. The first is the square proportions rule. This rule is extremely simple to execute and is used blatantly by Windows and Netflix. If you put all elements on a page within a square, then no matter how big or small you make each of them they will always have a sense of balance.

Golden Ratio:

The golden ratio is another way to make an asymmetrical design seem balanced. It is can be found in art, architecture, mathematics and nature. It occurs when the larger area of an object is 1.618 times the size of the smaller area.

When you use this ratio in a rectangle, as shown above, the centre of the spiral is the focal point. For some reason this ratio is the most appealing to the human eye, so by using this ratio, your design becomes more appealing. There are many ways to apply this ratio, and for some great examples click here.

Rule of Thirds:

The rule of thirds is the third way to make an asymmetrical page seem balanced; it is commonly used in art and photography. You take your image space and divide into third horizontally and vertically – forming a grid. The point where the gridlines intersect should be the focal points of the page. This will give you a balanced but off-centered image.

Break the rules

You can write several books with the amount of theory that surrounds layout, so this blog just covers some very basic general rules. With all of them you must remember, that as a designer you are an artist and are allowed to break the rules! These are simply guidelines, and safe ways of making an image look good, but don’t be afraid of experimenting and creating an appealing image in an unconventional way.

Here are some examples of BTI’s designs which followed these rules:

We used a grid template for this design and made it more interesting by breaking the rectangular images

Hierarchy was created through layout to lead the viewer effective through the graphics and messaging

This sell sheet is a good examples of both symmetrical and asymmetrical layout


This responsive website uses the theory of square proportions to create an interesting grid


The shape and layout of this poster utilizes the golden ratio by comfortably leading the viewer through the image and into the text

We used the rule of thirds to ensure that the food was the focal point of this image, while maintaining asymmetrical balance

I hope that this series of blogs has helped educate you on what it takes to make a great design. If you need to create effective designs then contact BTI, and let us be of service!