Design Principle: Alignment, Grids, and Spacing
So now we're going to move into more hands-on type things. These principles that can help you design better things. Not just things that are aesthetically pleasing, but serve a function. Whether that function is understanding, or someone taking a specific action. So, these principles though, are really guidelines. I wouldn't say these are strict, strict, strict rules, because if I were to ask any of my designer friends, we would know we all break our own rules all the time. So, use these as a guideline, but I think too, just as now, when you're going to a casino, you're going to a grocery store, you're going to be thinking about all these things, just by thinking about these principles, you're going to be able to have this bank of knowledge to design better things in the future. So use these principles as guidelines, and refer back to them as almost a checklist as maybe you're designing a business card, a brochure, or whatever it is, and think, 'Did I apply that principle,' or 'Why hav...
e I changed this alignment this way? 'For what purpose?' Because when we use these principles correctly, they can really influence what people think. The information that jumps out on them on a page. The meaning of an actual chart could be influenced by these principles, and by how we put them into practice. For better or worse. So, the five principles that we are going to first talk about will be: alignment, contrast, repetition, hierarchy, and balance. And we're gonna see examples of these. And then I promise you, you're probably thinking where is this going? We are then going to talk about typography. So, choosing fonts. Not just choosing fonts, but maybe things like line height, or alignment, or what to do with a bulleted list. Should you center text or should you not center text? Things like that. So, we're gonna get to the more how-to, what you would actually do inside your Keynote, or your document, but we need to understand these principles first. So let's start of with the principle of alignment. Alignment can really be thought of as something that helps create cohesiveness in a design. And if every element is aligned, it's going to make sure that everything is what I say visually connected, so that nothing seems out of place. So that someone looks at it, their eye is not kind of going everywhere, that there eye is able to focus and kind of have this sense of calmness. And some of those words might seem a little vague or fluff, but you're gonna see all this play out in a lot of examples here. In Canada, so I mentioned I grew up in Canada, and we would always go to this science museum. Maybe you have something like this in Seattle, but we would go to this science museum, and there was this thing called the Crazy Kitchen, and I loved this thing. And you'd go into the Crazy Kitchen, and it was like all tilted, so you're inside of it but you feel like you're gonna fall over, just the optics of the whole thing. And I love that example, because a lot of times, when we don't use this principle of alignment, and you look at something, it just feels to me like I'm in the crazy kitchen. So we wanna make sure that everything is aligned, and we're not dizzying our people, literally dizzying people. Some people with motion sickness can look at something and need to turn away, especially if it is something that is video, or animation on a website. This just happened to me the other day. I pulled up a website and it was not aligned, very off, and there was motion, and I had to shut it down, because I get sick from that. So alignment has real, real impact, not just to what people think, but sometimes a physical reaction as well. So, alignment really helps us group objects, organize things on a page, it helps us create a sense of balance, so we don't feel like we're going to fall over, or we're not sure to look. Helps bring structure to the information. And it helps create connections between elements, so what does that actually mean? So when we see all these squares, what kinda words would we use to describe this? I don't know if anyone wants to shout them out. Disorganized? It it aligned, no.
Interesting. Does your eye really know where to go? You don't really know where to start, and you're not sure which box is important. How do you know which one you should give your attention to first? You don't, because things are scattered. Things are really rigid, it's inconsistent. It kind of just looks like someone had a deck of oddly-shaped boxes with glue, and threw them on this page without any thought or care. So whoever created this just was not attentive, and just kind of did it... Unless you're at the Sculpture Garden, it's supposed to look like this. I was just running in the Sculpture Garden, but this to me is not aligned, it's not organized. Yes.
And Ringo online says it's chaos.
Chaos, yes, it just looks like chaos, you don't know what to look at. And we're purposely using just boxes for now, to drive home this point, but then we're going to see this play out in real examples. But it's important to just see, fundamentally, just bad, bad alignment. So it's super, super chaotic. And if this were a webpage, or if this were a brochure or something, we would not know where to start, we wouldn't know what is most important, and intuitively, we would just be cognitively overloaded, and we would probably turn the page, go to the next browser tab, delete the email, whatever it is. Because our brain needs a starting point, and this does not give us a starting point. So what might be some words to describe this? The important thing to note is, exact same number of shapes, I promise.
Balanced. Structured, I would say. It seems calming to me. It seems like someone put some thought into doing this. You couldn't just throw these and have them randomly, perfectly line up on this. Someone had to design this, to take the care to decide where all these boxes go, and how they fit together. And instinctively, when you look at this, your eye is going to naturally start to jump to certain areas. And it would probably be different for each of us, because these are just shapes, but if this were a website or a brochure or something, it would be a lot clearer. But to me, when I look at this, I really gravitate towards this big box here. Because something about the vertical really catches my eye. Maybe for you, your eye jumps towards this bottom four group of rectangles. But there is some sense of grouping. And also, because of the way it's aligned, we get the impression that these four, probably, have something in common. There's four, ya. Or these four up here maybe have something in common. So just by the way we are aligning things, we can help people form first impressions of groups of things that are relevant, and where, maybe, we should have a starting point. So there's order, it's not chaotic, and someone took the care to align this in this way. And when you see them side by side, you can see how much easier it is, the difference. I think it's important to see them side by side though. But again, exact same shapes, exact same number of shapes. Just, even almost the exact same order. But just the way they're aligned is different. So we wanna use alignment to help bring focus to our eye, and group things that could be relevant to each other. And how do we do this? So, when we are learning design, you can think of something like a grid. And so in order to align things, you need to imagine that there is this invisible grid over whatever you are designing. So the way that you can do this inside a lot of your design tools, you can turn on to view a grid. And if you don't have that option, I often will just draw my own grid with little rectangles or something, if I'm in Keynote, for example, so I can literally turn it on and turn it off, and see how things align to make sure that everything is attaching and aligning to this grid. And this is really important because, as we saw, something can have all the same information, but if it's not aligned, it can be chaotic. And if that were a spreadsheet or something, we probably wouldn't pay as much attention, or it would take a lot more of our effort to understand it than if someone has really aligned it, and used this principle. So I want to move us into an example to show us an alignment. So, now we're all going to want cupcakes for the rest of the day, but hopefully you have a cupcake bakery by your house and you can go buy some. So, we're going to look at a content calendar for this fake cupcake shop which is called Scout Bakery, we're gonna see all about it in a little bit. But, Scout Bakery has this content calendar. We saw a little while ago this example, but they need to know, what are they posting on social media? So imagine we're managing the Instagram and Facebook and things like that. So, take a quick glance at this. And what are some words that we would use to describe this? It's not terrible, but, it is a little... I would say it's a little confusing. If I told you, okay, what is the status of Wednesday? Or, what's the price of Friday? Like if you had to quickly glance and pull a piece of information out of here, it would be difficult. But what if you saw it like this? The before and after here, can you see the difference? Do it again. There's a big difference. That's alignment. So what did we do? Let's go back. Just freeze that in your mind for a moment. So here's what we did. We aligned the days of the week, first of all. Brought them over, they were a bit scattered. We also aligned the post topics, so now we can quickly glance and see video, blog post, announcement, video, photo album. Not very easy to look, but we'll improve that in a little bit. We aligned the status, the ads budget and the goal still have issues, and we aligned all this. So it's getting better. But it still looks weird because of these pricings, this is a big pet peeve of mine. So then, align your pricings, and all of a sudden, things are much better. And even in spreadsheets, you can choose how that is formatted. If it's accounting, if it's whatever, so your numbers and your dollar signs are over at the left. We're not going to geek out on that too much, but it's so much easier. Just that shift, even. Big difference, especially with numbers, because with numbers, you're probably trying to compare things. So that's why this concept of alignment is so, so important. So before and after. So, that was before. And the good alignment is invisible. And we use this grid to help us make sure everything is aligned. So any time you're not sure, just look for that. Either turn on rulers, view grids, things like that. And honestly, it is so easy to do this now. Sometimes if you're in, for example Keynote, sometimes when you're moving things around, you'll notice... Let's say you're dragging a box. Sometimes there will be a line that shows up, or something, to let you know this is in alignment, this is in the center. So there's built-in things inside the software now to help you do alignment, because we know from research that alignment helps us improve people's understanding, and it's going to reduce this idea of overload that we saw, if we think back to that example with the boxes, and then our really, really misaligned spreadsheet in the beginning. And that first version wasn't terrible. You could still get the information. But if you just take the extra five minutes or less that it would take to do that, it's a lot more pleasing, and chances are it's easier for you. It's gonna be much easier for someone who's maybe receiving that spreadsheet for the first time, versus you who has been looking at it maybe for weeks already. Again, getting back to the user, and thinking about the context of who is viewing it, and the return on investment of making it easier? Very, very high there, and your colleagues will thank you for sure I'm guessing.