Friday Design: Low-Hanging Fruit of Alignment

Happy Friday, dear readers! Well, it’s been a summer. I was planning on being back with some posts a lot sooner, but was felled by a summer fever. But I’m back and wanted to share a design tip about alignment today. It’s going to be part of a series, maybe, on the low-hanging fruit in graphic design that can help you create better looking designs quickly. I believe it is John McWade of Before & After who talks a lot about low-hanging fruit in graphic design as a good place to start in cleaning up designs and I tend to agree. So consider this Friday’s Design your quick checklist for alignment on your next project.

So what are we talking about with alignment and why are we talking about it?

Alignment refers to how items on the page (text, graphics, borders, etc.) are positioned in relationship to one another and to the page in general. There are three basic overall alignments: center, right, and left. Everyone’s seen centered alignments; they are used almost as defaults on a lot of flyers and posters and are, of course used heavily in wedding invitations. Right alignment means the text block or image are aligned to a guide on the right side of the page creating a straight right side and ragged left. Left alignment is the opposite and how we read texts in English.

Got it? Great.

Alignment, and consistent alignment, is important for creating visual hierarchy and ensuring that it is easy for your reader to get the information they need from your flyer, newsletter, bookmark, website, etc. There are valid reasons for using each of the alignments described above, but we’re not going to get into that today. Instead, we’re just going for the super low-hanging fruit of consistent alignment.

Consistent alignment means that if you have a guideline (aka guide), you use the same one to align all your different components of your design. For example, if you are using center alignment, it means you pick one guideline to center everything on and you don’t change it. This is especially important (and looks especially egregious, if not followed) on small promotional items such as mini-flyers or handouts for library programs, for example.

So let’s move on to the low-hanging fruit of consistent alignment. If you every create a flyer or notice, don’t do what is shown in the example below. This example shows the start of a flyer for a computer workshop. What can you see that’s wrong with the alignment?

image of a desktop with caption for computer workshop that is not in alignment with the image or with the other text block

So what’s wrong with the above alignment? There is no alignment! Well, actually, there is alignment, just not among the various pieces of the design. So the text blocks themselves have left alignment. Notice how the left side of each text block is totally straight. However, the three components (computer graphic, date/time information, and workshop details) are not aligned with each other. It looks like the graphic and date/time text block might be going for centered alignment, but didn’t quite make it. And the bottom text block is just hanging out by itself.

So what should you do? Stick with a consistent alignment as shown below in the next example:

example of correctly aligning image with two text blocks, everything has left-alignment

All three components are now on the same guideline so they are all left-aligned and aligned with each other giving a consistent and easy to read start to the flyer or handout or web announcement for this workshop.

Why use left alignment here instead of centered alignment? Left aligned components are more active than centered, which is a better choice for a computer workshop. But we’ll get more into that another time.

Your takeaway to remember is that in most projects keeping consistent alignment throughout the design is important for both creating useful information hierarchy and for creating a beautiful end product.

Simple, right? Totally. And that’s why it’s an important, low-hanging fruit in graphic design that you should remember and double-check for before hitting publish or print on your next project. And that’s Friday’s Design Tip.

Bonus tip: for some design inspiration, get outside and take a walk unplugged from all your devices. Summer is a wonderful time to get inspired outside, just remember your sunblock and bug spray! Enjoy and maybe you’ll find some fresh ideas breathing life into your designs soon, too.

Have a wonderful day and weekend. I hope you have plans (small or great) for a lovely weekend. I’ll be back soon with some more news and notes. Allons-y!