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C.R.A.P. — ‘A’ is for alignment

April 19, 2010

In a prior post I introduced Robin William’s acronym, C.R.A.P. While exploring the elements of 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.

‘C’ is for contrast which is about creating visual separation—a way of making one thing stand out in a crowd.  Both ‘A’ (is for alignment) and ‘P’ (is for proximity) are more about creating an organized crowd instead of a confused mob.

Alignment seemed pretty obvious and simple—well, it did until I read Robin’s discussion. It’s the facet that surprised me most because there’s actually far more but subtle power here than I realized.

What it is

In her words: ‘The basic purpose is to create unity and organization. The choice of alignment(s), combined with appropriate typefaces creates a sophisticated, formal, fun or serious look.”

Her alignment guidelines are:

  • Be conscious of where you place elements on a page. Find something to align it with even if the elements are physically far apart.
  • Avoid center alignment. It’s overused and weak. Never use it as default.
  • Stick with one type of alignment on a page for a single element type, e.g., don’t center some text and right-align other text.

Alignment isn’t just about the usual, left, right, center or justify in text. It’s also about how you line things up on a slide or document page. For instance you can line up various visual elements and text against a vertical line (doesn’t need to be visible) and suddenly these elements all have something in common–they’ve gained a visual relationship that can reinforce the logical relationship.

Another very specific example of something I learned from her for making slides was aligning text on the edge of a graphic. I often have graphic elements on the slide and it makes a world of visual difference by simply making the text alignment match an edge of the graphic.

Image at the right is an attempt to illustrate that. Simplistic example maybe but the principle is anything but simplistic. Seem obvious–yeah, to me as well once I’d seen it but it’s surprising to me now how many times I see slides and reports that are oblivious to this “obvious” idea.

I also learned some other nice “tricks” for using alignment as a design feature—cool stuff and really effective.

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