graphic design

Graphic Design Principles: Alignment

This is part three of a series on the fundamentals of Graphic Design. In this series I will help you make your design look better, no matter what your current skill level. You’ll learn key concepts to make your graphic design easier, and more professional. Whether it’s an email to clients, an ad for a newspaper, a business card, a t-shirt or a website, these principles apply across the board. 

In part one I talked about the principle of contrast, which is probably the most important thing to remember. You need to have variety in your design, and you do that by making some things the opposite style of other things. If some text is skinny, make other text heavy. If some elements are small, make other elements large. You get the idea.

In part two I talked about the principle of repetition. Repeat fonts, graphics, lines, alignments, photo/art style in order to create a brand or theme in your document. Look for things that are already repeating in your design, and embellish that. You might even consider adding graphics to your document just so you can have a recurring theme. Limit yourself to just a few fonts and colors in the publication.


In part three we’re going to talk about the principle of ALIGNMENT. Alignment is what tells us where to place things on a page. As I’ve said before, staring at a blank page can be intimidating, and it’s hard to even know where to start. Equally, trying to organize a whole page full of text and images can be overwhelming, and that’s where the key principle of alignment comes in. The rule of alignment says that everything is connected to something, no matter how different. Which in turn means that nothing should be placed arbitrarily on a page. Everything has a place, and there are invisible lines connecting all the elements together. 

How to Add Alignment

What does this look like in real life? In its simplest form, just choosing whether to left-align, right-align, center or justify your text will make a huge difference. When you left-align text it creates an invisible straight line down the left margin of the page. You can have elements on a page that are far away from each other, but if they both align themselves to an invisible line in the document it connects them and is pleasing to the eye. Indenting the first line of every paragraph of text is another pleasing way of adding alignment. Each paragraph starts a quarter inch further in than the rest of the text, and creates an invisible line connecting all the paragraphs to each other. Wrapping text around an image is another great practical use of alignment. This forms a bond between the text and the image by matching the edges to each other.

The purpose of alignment is to organize your design. This is akin to picking up all the toys strewn around the kids’ bedroom, and putting them back where they belong. It makes everything feel cleaner and tidier. And it also tells us what things are important. If you look at a newspaper (remember those things?) you’ll see very distinct lines running through the layout. There are multiple columns of text, and the edges of the text all match up to straight lines. And headlines span multiple columns, telling us that the text below belongs to the text above, and they’re both fitted inside an invisible box. Be conscious of where you place elements, and always find something else on the page to align with, even if it something far away, or even the edge of the page.

An Example of Alignment

Look at a billboard next time you drive past one. You’ll notice (if it’s well designed) that even though there aren’t many elements on the billboard, they all have a connection to each other.
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Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT

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