Fundamentals of Composition


A successful publication, either print or electronic, will derive from having an in-depth understanding of basic compositional skills and techniques, knowing how to effectively use the grid system to dictate pace, and knowing how to create a cohesive design system.

Knowledge of compositional principles are fundamental to each and every design process and a good designer will understand how to form build in a way that successfully translates abstract thought into a concrete visual language that is enticing to the viewer. A good designer will have a working knowledge of the relationships between visual elements and how that relationship will influence and be perceived by their audience. To create visual interest, a designer will use positive and negative space to create harmony, repetition, movement, depth, and hierarchy throughout their project. Utilizing the Gestalt Principles of Design, a designer can manipulate these elements within a composition to tell a specific story to their audience.

The grid system can be used as a way to structure a multi media composition. If a designer is working on a project that includes both text and image, the grid system is the best way to organize this information and provide an underlying structure that can be carried throughout the entire publication. There are different kinds of grid systems with different functionalities. For instance, a three column grid works well for layouts with a good amount of text, and for achieving an asymmetrical composition, well a four column grid, or more, allows for more flexibility.

Lastly, successful publications will have a cohesive design system that is consistent throughout the piece. This means creating a set of rules for the grid system, typographic elements, and color restrictions.


This article goes over the basic elements of creating a good print design. Although it is minimal in content, I did like how the author talked about creating Eyelines. Eyelines are made by lining up the horizontal axis of an image or text segment which then leads a viewers eye across a spread. This creates a natural movement between pages as well as a sense of unity.

This is an article from Smashing Magazine that showcases 40 different creative ways designers have approached layout design.  In the first layout, the designer chose to place each element on the underlying grid but did not have any gutters. Designing a layout like this created visual tension. Another layout series I as drawn to was done by Jason Santa Maria. His series of website pages each had a different layout structure, but maintained strong adherence to typographic systems and color rules.

The article goes on to discuss various other ways to design a print or web layout, but what I found most interesting was the emphasis by the author on object size and placement. This article does a good job of explaining why each layout is successful and I like that the author is clear about exactly what compositional elements made these layouts visually interesting.



This layout effectively uses negative space to create visual clarity. The designer also made the width of the images equals the width of the content blocks.


The designer of this poster was very successful in incorporating text and image. I like how line was used to create texture in the form and that the choice of type is well married with the size and strokes of the image.


This layout is successful in using proportion to create visual interest. The relationship between the large V and the A drop cap, makes the overall spread feel balanced.


I like how the designer of this spread used a photograph to create depth. I am drawn into the article because of the use of negative space as well as the successful visual hierarchy and the designers choice of typography.


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