6 Basic Rules of Design Composition


graphic design layout grid

We often hear “rules are meant to be broken”. Sure! Why not? The thing is, to break rules we first need to know what they are before we just start breaking stuff. If we haphazardly threw elements on a page as if we were rolling dice, we would not have order, we would have chaos. Though chaos, incidentally also has its place in design, but that’s an all together different subject. To keep things simple, we’ll stick some basic fundamentals of ad design.


An ad layout always begins with a given area. The area of an ad is dependent on the publication and the ad space in which was purchased.  For example the ad dimensions for a “full-page” ad vs. a “full-bleed” ad will be dramatically different and is a consideration the designer must factor into his design given the ad space.


Size is not the only factor when composing a layout. Intensity of color and contrast also gives areas of the layout “weight”. The hue and value of color in addition to negative space are often overlooked as weighted elements.


The word “balance” is often used and abused in graphic design, web design, photography and all other forms of art and design. The common misconception is that balance connotes absolute symmetry in a layout. Actually, flawless equilibrium is boring to the eye because there is nothing unexpected about it. Weight of the design elements is the factor that will ultimately determine the balance of the layout.


Typographical consistency is another way to assure viewer is looking at a single ad, not two or three. We see often see this rule deliberately broken by some company’s ads masquerading as editorials when they are actually trying to sell you a commemorative gold coin or some type of medication. Normally you’ll see “this is a paid advertisement” either in the header or footer of these ads. Other publishers will simply reject the ad for being misleading.


Repetition of design elements in the same visual family is another device for unifying an ad. Affinity between shapes ad colors will tighten the layout composition.


When we overlap elements of a page, we are telling the viewer that these elements belong together. Two companies may have ads side by side but they never overlap, unless they are somehow affiliated with one another.

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