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Page layout is the part of graphic design that deals in the arrangement of visual elements on a page. It generally involves organizational principles of composition to achieve specific communication objectives. In short, it is the visual organization of all the elements (graphics, text, pictures, white space) on a page. This is achieved by a structured approach to determine the sizing and placement of these elements.

The highest-level of page layout involves deciding on the overall arrangement of text and images, and the relationship of their size and/or shape to that of the entire medium, page or format. It requires intelligence, sentience, and creativity, and is informed by culture, psychology, and what the document authors and editors wish to communicate and emphasize.

Beginning from early illuminated pages in hand-copied books of the Middle Ages and proceeding down to intricate modern magazine and catalog layouts, proper page design has long been a consideration in printed material.


Grids and templates are primary page layout tools used to give a proportional structure when organizing elements on a page and especially valuable to create unity and harmony when applied to the design of a multi-page document.

A grid is a set of guidelines, able to be seen in the design process and invisible to the end-user/audience, for aligning and repeating elements on a page. A page layout may or may not stay within those guidelines, depending on how much repetition or variety the design style in the series calls for. Grids are meant to be flexible. Using a grid to layout elements on the page may require just as much or more graphic design skill than that which was required to design the grid. The two types of grids most often used are the baseline grid (determined by the leading of the text type being used) and the document grid (also determined by the same leading amount). The baseline grid produces horizontal lines only while the document grid produced cells made from both horizontal and vertical lines. Normally the spacing between these lines is the same both horizontally and vertically.

Both Illustrator and inDesign allow for grids in the form of a page filled with colored lines or dots placed at a specified equal horizontal and vertical distance apart. Automatic margins and booklet spine (gutter) lines may be specified for global use throughout the document when applied to Master Pages. Multiple additional horizontal and vertical and shapes may be placed as guides at any point on the page.

In contrast, a template is more rigid. A template involves repeated elements mostly visible to the end-user/audience. Using a template to layout elements usually involves less graphic design skill than that which was required to design the template. Templates are used for minimal modification of background elements and frequent modification (or swapping) of foreground content. (Template design is an example of user experience design, where the designer of the template is attempting to create a structure for content that is yet to be determined.)

Software templates are achieved by duplicating a template data file, or with master page features in a multiple-page document. Master pages may include both grid elements and template elements such as header and footer elements, automatic page numbering, and automatic table of contents features.


The process of layout design follows the following general process:

  • Intuition (first place and size elements based on your interpretation of the content)
    As you work pay conscious attention to how White Space is being shaped
    Look for ways of unifying or visibly connecting all elements. Grouping and Hierarchy is vital in this respect.
  • Invisible Glue
    • Lines of Continuation/Continuity (basically, this can be interpreted as simply lining up elements along dominant edges)
      • With Interruption (something the crosses between elements that are lined up)
    • Repetition with Variation (anything repeated several times where at some point some aspect changes like size, color interval, etc.)
  • Finally tweak your intuitive arrangement by aligning to a grid


Layout is to design as composition is to the studio artist—both require specific attention paid to how the visual elements are sized and positioned on the page. Essentially it is just that, the arrangement of things. However, to do it well requires equal awareness paid to how the white space is shaped, where it is, and how much there is. Success is achieved when that arrangement places great attention and importance on not only the aesthetic appeal, but also the hierarchy of each individual element as compared to the rest. A specific focal point commands attention or first attracts the viewer’s eye. This focal point initiates both a visual hierarchy (relative importance when compared to one another) and a visual grouping of objects that are similar in some way (shape, size, color, etc.)

The focal point may also be used to establish an internal structure of organization that holds the entire composition together. This may be achieved by creating a main guideline running both horizontally and vertically through this area of initial focus. These guidelines may be thought of as axis, or a teeter-totter, where elements are placed on either side of the implied line in balance with one another.

Nesting, (or fitting together groups of text or other elements) with one another much like puzzle pieces is another common technique for unifying content yet creating dynamic visual relationships.


The basic design principals of line, shape, value, color and texture must be considered as they effect rhythm, balance, contrast, and ultimate unity. The visual grouping principals of Gestalt are used to help gauge the amount of how each is treated in relationship to one another.

Layout also typically includes the visual relationship between elements from more than one page, a brochure, book or magazine for example. Because of this, some elements are frequently grouped into categories such as “Master” page elements. This helps to clarify visual hierarchy by ordering those things that appear on each page from those that are specific to and only found on individual pages. Common tools use in creating coherent layout include grid systems, rule of thirds, Golden Section, Gestalt principles of Grouping, color theory (particularly the psychological use of color), style sheets and master pages

All the Gestalt principles of Grouping have a direct impact on how we perceive grouping and hierarchy of elements within a layout. Finding ways to vary the repetition or predictability of strong visual groups can add an element of dynamics to what might otherwise be a very rigid structure.

Aligning text blocks with one another or with images is a good way to create organization. Alignment is normally thought of as being vertical or horizontal along shared implied lines of continuation. Theses lines can be in any direction, however.  A second grouping of elements (text, pictures, graphics) may be aligned with one another independent of the first group. Then as an entire group, it might be positioned so that it interrupts the implied line of alignment that unites the first group. The result is kind of an interwoven effect between the two.