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C.R.A.P. — ‘P’ is for proximity

April 16, 2010

Still looking at Robin William’s acronym, CRAP: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity. In visual design, her theme is that a designer must understand that:

Nothing should be placed on a page arbitrarily. Every element it needs visual connection to related things and visual separation from unrelated things.

The ‘P’ is for proximity.

  • The basic idea is simply that you want to put things that belong together close together and separate things that don’t relate. The purpose of proximity to create visual organization for what the audience sees. When information is well-organized, we relate to it better and we remember it better. Plus, it’s an important strategy for creating simplicity.
  • As always, you need to be conscious of how you place things on a page so that you don’t create confusion instead of simplicity.

How to get it

  • Squint at the page so all the details blur and count the visual groups.
  • If there are more than three on a slide (maybe five on a paper page), you’ve probably got too many. Look to see how you can move things to create fewer groups or maybe split the slide into two.
  • Look carefully at captions and text boxes to make sure the element(s) they’re closest to are what they belong to, even a split second of confusion is very bad.

What to avoid

  • Filling the slide or the page—white space is good thing. Don’t fill every corner just because you can.
  • Proximity between unrelated elements. The audience then has to realize they don’t actually belong together and break the visual connection and even momentary confusion means they’ll miss something, maybe the very point you are trying to make.

The idea here may seem obvious, but if you start looking closely it’s amazing how many pages and slides could be greatly improved just by moving things around to get the stuff that belongs together to appear together. Especially with slides, that first-glance look at the page is really important for getting them to understand and remember.

So, use the ‘proximity’ principle to get more impact!

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