Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.

Tom Peters (*1942)
US management leader

Composing a presentation or training material like handouts is a question of layout: you assemble different things on your slide or canvas and place them in a certain order. We talked already about structure but layout follows different laws. We cannot provide full details here for reasons of space, but we will highlight a few important aspects of layout.

Once they are on the layout, the different elements (text, photos, images etc.) are placed in a relationship to each other. This relationship should be harmonious and logical in order not to confuse the viewer and make him feel uncomfortable.

Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio — or Golden Mean or Golden Section — is the guiding principle for harmony in design: φ [phi] = a+b/a = a/b. In other terms: a+b is to a as a is to b.  Usually you do this according to your sense of proportion. Put simply, this is expressed in a percentage: the longer part is 61.8% and the shorter 38.2%.

Layout should definitely follow logic. Have a look at the three sequences below. A viewer may not often be able to understand why she or he feels uncomfortable, but he will not ‘buy’ the content as easily because he knows there is ‘something’ wrong — even if he cannot define it.

Additionally, things are not always how they seem! The Optical Centre for example is 2—3 per cent above the geometrical centre. That means you should place things slightly higher than the exact centre of the page to give the viewer the idea of being centred.

Layout Principles

Layout follows certain principles, also sometimes called Layout Laws. We have assembled here a small selection of these Laws in order to highlight the most important for you. Thus, you can avoid the most basic mistakes and have stunning results.

Layout helps the reader to understand and navigate through the structure. Layout is orientation. If the structure is unclear, you yourself are unclear.

  • Use white (also called negative) space around the positive space (form and text) in a balanced manner.
  • Double marking, e.g. bold and underlined text, two or three exclamation marks, is excessive and considered bad style.
  • USING CAPITAL LETTERS IS SHOUTING. Please don’t shout at your audience!
  • Proximity: what belongs together should be placed together.
  • Contrast: what is different, looks different, e.g. headings of the first order are larger and have more negative space than headings of the second order.
  • Conciseness: If several interpretations are possible, the clearest and easiest is preferred.
  • Balance: A balanced layout will provide harmony. Unbalance will make the reader feel uncomfortable. For balancing options have a look on the right page.

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