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C.R.A.P. — ‘R’ is for repetition

April 22, 2010

A last look 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 needs visual connection to related things and visual separation from unrelated things.

‘R’ is for repetition


Contrast is a way to make one thing jump out, it separates an element from its surroundings. Alignment and Proximity create relationships between elements by visually tying them together. Those three concepts primarily apply to what’s on a single page or a single slide.

Repetition is like Alignment and Proximity in that it helps create visual relationships: tying things together.  Also like those, Repetition can be applied to a single page or slide, but it’s also unique in that it’s real power is creating relationships across multiple pages or slides—it’s a way to pull the whole thing together. It does that by creating a sense of unity across the whole document or set of slides.

How to get it

Robin’s rule for repetition simply states: “Repeat some aspect of the design throughout the entire piece.”  The repetitive element can be lots of things including a:

  • specific and noticeable font
  • bullet style
  • specific accent color
  • format or page layout

Something I use in presentations that falls into this category are transitions. In a presentation, I’ll pick a simple transition and always use that between slides. But I’ll also pick one other transition, simple but distinct from the first, that I’ll use between slides where there’s a section break or  topic change. The audience never notices the transition itself, but the repetition within sections and the contrast between sections seems to help the flow.

Essentially, what you use for repetition can be any visual element(s) that the audience would recognize (if they think of it) as being common across the document or presentation. By creating a unity across the presentation you give the entire thing an organized, polished “feel”.

What to avoid

Don’t carry the repetition to the point it’s calling attention to itself. Excessive repetition can be annoying or distracting and that’s not what you want at all.

Bottom line on C.R.A.P.

So that’s it for Robin’s CRAP.  Separately, each piece is useful but their real power is when combined.

Robin’s book by the way is much more than just this. In fact, these items take up less than half the book! There’s a tremendous section all about fonts and typography, one of the best explanations of how to use color I’ve seen plus tons of tips for creating web sites and specific kinds of documents (business cards, resume’s, posters, flyers… and more). There’s a very good reason this book is considered an essential by a lot of people (me, too).

Amazingly, thinking as a designer isn’t hard once you get into it—the hardest part is that first step, deciding that your presentation needs to be designed and not just assembled. Once you’ve gotten that far, you’re well on the way to making an Impact!


Up next is a review of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, by Carmine Gallo.

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