Graphic Design Fundamentals are C.R.A.P.

Most of us know when we see a poor design.  We’ve all seen a poorly designed full page ad, web page, business card, trade show booth, etc.   Most of us, however, don’t know why we think it’s poor or how it might be fixed so it looks better.   Do not fear, my fellow Modern Marketers, there is a simple acronym that can help evaluate the problem and propose a solution. 

C.R.A.P.;  Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity

Not to be confused with the word that means something that is rubbish or substandard.

Contrast.  The eye is drawn to contrast.  Contrast could be in color, size, font or white space.  When contrast is used in a design, the differences must be large.   The difference between a 12 pt font and a 14 pt font is not contrast.  Nor is the difference between a bold italic Times font and a regular Times font. 

This is not contrast.    This is contrast.

For some reason, it seems that white space is the bane of many CEOs and other senior managers without an eye for design.  If I had a nickel for every time a senior manager chided me for not using all the space in an advertisement space, I’d be a wealthy man.    White space is a powerful tool in design.  White space exploits the concept of contrast, don’t try to fill it up, use it as an integrated part of the design.

Repetition.  This does not mean repeating the same word or phrases in a space although careful use of word repetition can be powerful.  Using bullet points is a form of repetition, for example.  The eye likes organization and repeating images, words, design aspects, etc. reinforces the message and feels comfortable.

Alignment.  As said above, the eye and the mind like organization because it is easier to make sense of it.  We humans are generally lazy creatures and will usually take the easy way to make sense of something that is presented to us.  Alignment makes it easier to comprehend a message or idea.  Use left alignment of everything on a page or, one of my favorite design techniques, right side alignment.  A word of caution about alignment, resist the urge to design with everything aligned centered.  The center alignment tricks the mind because it feels good because it’s symmetrical. Centering is typically a sign of amateur hour and non-professionalism.  There are times when centering is appropriate, but less often that one may expect.  Use center alignment very sparingly.

Proximity.  This could also be called ‘grouping’.  The eye tends to jump from one group to another.  Group words, images, or messages for easier reading and for organizing your message.  Proximity goes hand in hand with white space to draw the eye.

Next time you pick up a magazine, look at the ads and apply the C.R.A.P. criteria.   I guarantee you will quickly see that most ads are truly crappy because they do not follow the basic C.R.A.P. design criteria.

Robin Williams (not the actor) authored a great book called ‘Non-Designer’s Design Book‘ that goes in to detail about these principles.  


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