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Niki Jacob - Advertising Art & Design Instructor


Graphic design layout refers to the way in which we arrange the elements on a page which make up the content of a design. The aim of layout is both to convey the message correctly and to present information in a logical, coherent way making the important elements stand out.

Graphic Layout

Layout basically means the arrangement of predetermined items such as image, text and style on a page. It establishes the overall appearance and relationships between the graphic elements to achieve a smooth flow of message and eye movement for maximum effectiveness or impact. 

You just decide on placement, color, text, etc for items you already have. 

Graphic layout plays a very important role in creating and achieving a successful design that easily attracts potential customers, is user-friendly, easy to understand has a universal appeal.

Graphic Design Layout Rules

A layout is the heart of any design. No matter how skilled you are there are chances that you might find it hard to try to fit the elements onto the page because they just don’t look or feel right.

It is therefore extremely important to stick to these layout rules to create the best designs. 

The number one rule in the layout is to balance all your elements so that the message is not distorted.

1. CHOOSE A design composition and layout

1. Composite Grids

Most designers see an invisible grid running through all their designs. In modern design, clean grid lines have become popular and almost impossible to avoid.

There are a few simple reasons for this: grids make your designs cleaner, more efficient, and easier to adapt.

Grids bring organization not only to the design but to the process of creating the design.

Say you want to create a poster for a touring rock band. Create a strong grid and if the dates, times, images, and colors all change, your basic designs will feel related. Instant consistency and less time updating and adjusting.

Grids give order to graphic design.

They speed up the design process by helping designers decide where content should be placed rather than where it could be placed.

When talking about a page layout, graphic designers often employ distinguished layouts according to their preferences. We will go over them below.

Parts of a Layout

  1. Heading: A title at the head of the page.
  2. Subheading: a heading given to a subsection of a piece of writing, smaller than the heading.
  3. Copy: The body text or body copy is the text forming the main content of a book, magazine, web page, or any other printed or digital work.
  4. Visual: Visual is any type of image that is meant to attract the consumer, including product images, logos, icons, etc.
  5. Legal Copy: Legal Copy means any legal or contractual information required to be used in connection with a Licensed Product or Product Information, including but not limited to copyright and trademark attributions, contractual credits and developer or distribution credits.
  6. Logo: a symbol or other design adopted by an organization to identify its products, uniform, vehicles, etc.

2. Rule of thirds - Composition Grid

The Rule of Thirds is inescapable in design. It’s a fundamental guideline that’s so simple and effective, that it often feels like a cheat: divide your design into three rows and three columns.

The points where the vertical and horizontal lines meet form natural guidelines for where you should place your subject and supporting elements.

Struggling with finding balance in your designs? The Rule of Thirds is about to become your best friend.

For the clearest examples, look at photographs. In the example below, the focal points (the tree and horizon) are perfectly aligned with the grid created by the Rule of Thirds. If the tree was dead center horizontally and the mountains were directly in the vertical center, the composition would not be so pleasing.

A well balanced t-shirt mock-up using the Rule of Thirds.

Choosing the Right Grid for Layout Design

Choosing the best grid will depend on what kind of design will you be working on. Designs with lots of text, need layout grids. Designs with lots of abstract color and shape compositions do better with the rule of thirds or golden mean. 

Templates exist to save you precious grid-building time. 

2. Think of your design principles

1. Hierarchy

The use of large headlines grabs the reader’s attention, while the sub-headings allow you to see an obvious hierarchy of information. This means you can easily get the gist of the information, without needing to read the whole piece.

So when planning a graphic design layout, you should make sure that the layout has a sense of hierarchy in its type.

Digital Ad
Print - Business Card
Print Ad

2. Emphasis and scale

The eye generally needs a place to rest or something of interest to hold it, otherwise, people will look at your design and quickly move on.

Say you take a photograph of your mom at a family reunion. Your purpose is to bring attention to the moment and the joy of the gathering by making your mom the subject and focal point of your composition.

To communicate the message to the viewer that your mom is the focal point, you want to use scale and emphasis.

  1. You could place her prominently in the photograph and make sure she is the largest object in the photo.
  2. You could emphasize her by blurring the background to make her stand out or focusing on her brightly colored dress.


Figuring out the focal point of the design will give your eye the guide it requires to structure the composition, as well as organically build a hierarchy. In the design to the left, the focal point is the ridiculous cake—our eyes go right to it and then read the rest for context.

This ad uses color and scale to emphasize the cake, which is the focal point of the design.

3. Balance

Left-This web design balances different sized elements perfectly by supporting them with equal white space.
Right-What happens when you don’t have any white space.

Isn’t everything in life a search for balance?

Design is no different. Designers must constantly juggle different elements to find harmony in their design.

Imagine an invisible set of scales in each design and make sure you don’t tip the scales by cloistering elements on one side of your grid.

The website design above does this cleanly by marrying large type elements (“What We Do” and “Our Works”) with smaller, equal-sized paragraphs of longer explanatory copy.

Keep in mind that in terms of composition, white space (or negative space) is also an element.

White space gives our eyes paths to follow through the design. Give each element on the page some space to breathe and balance between positive and negative space will emerge organically.

You can see how moving the elements in the web design above closer together (thus shrinking the negative space and disrupting the balance of the piece) makes the design claustrophobic and ultimately unsuccessful.

Now I know you have heard at least two of these rules already, but this next one I am not so sure of.

You should know all of your design principles. If you need a quick refresher look at the Slideshow below.

But Wait!.... Rule of odds?

Ahhh lastly, The Rule of Odds. I know I can score the internet and find articles saying there are many more rules – and there are. but these are the most important ones, at least to me.

So the Rule of Odds says that pleasing compositions seem to often have an odd number of elements placed in the foreground, most commonly three.

The two objects on the outside both balance the focal point in the center, creating a simple, natural balance.

This is often true in logo design, where a centered mark might be offset on either side by the company name, like in Needle Records’ logo.

A logo design that uses the Rule of Odds to draw the eye to focal point.
A logo design that uses the Rule of Odds to draw the eye to focal point.

Remember that rules are meant to be broken.

In design, rules are made to be broken but you need to know the rules before breaking them.

However there are some rules that endure and for a majority of jobs, the desire will not be to shock, but to communicate ideas clearly.

So without further ado, let’s learn the different types of page layouts.

Analyzing an Ad (Page Layout) ASSIGNMENT #1

There are 10 types of page layouts discussed here. 

  1. Click on each image below, when the image gets larger, this is called a lightbox. To the right of that lightbox, there are 4 icons.
  2. Click on the arrow facing right and download the image.
  3. Download 2 images.
  4. Open each image in Adobe Illustrator.
  5. Choose which Grid Layout (Composite Composition or Mixed) you think should be.
  6. Then using shapes, lines, and text create the layout as a layer on top with an opacity of 75%.
  7. Your template should have grid lines or boxes or even both. Text to tell the Hierarchy of order.
  8. Create a Google Doc that tells me the Layout and information in your template and why you think it represents this layout.

Ad Layout Challenge ASSIGNMENT #2

For homework, you were asked to take in a print ad, like a mailer, or something you get in the mail.

You will need that homework assignment for this assignment, so please get it out.

As we analyze the ads and determine which page layout they most closely resemble we will also need to figure out the color scheme, and type variations for that current ad.

Then, during a roundtable discussion, we will come up with a faux company name, product, heading, and subheading.

Using the information from both pieces create an ad for the faux company’s product.

  • Create an ad using the same page layout, color scheme, and type variation but with the faux company info and your own visuals.

PRINT OUT the original ad and YOUR NEW ad – put them on the Bulletin Board stacked. 


  1. As always start with THUMBS 3
  2. Choose 2 make a 1/2 scale marker comp
  3. Full-size digital
Original American Express
Ginger Works American Express