Page layout for marketers: Eight key concepts for more effective documents

Page grid example

Before we get specifics about using PowerPoint for page layout, let’s talk about page layout itself. Most marketers do one of two things:

  • Accept the page layout built into programs like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. This results in monotonous pages of grey repetition, with no hint of information flow or hierarchy.
  • Doll up their documents with all the bells and whistles built into programs like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. This results in a riotous maze of confused shapes, information flows, fonts, and colors, with little hint of order or consistency.

Neither approach supports communicating your ideas. What’s needed are a few principles to guide your use of the programs to structure your pages and documents into something attractive and, more importantly, communicative.

Imagine your page as a grid. This is what designers do. Open your favorite magazine and notice the pages are often divided into columns, usually three to six. Ditto for newspapers. When I was publisher of a newspaper, our basic page design was four columns. We further divided those into four rows, and sold our displays ads in units of 1/16th of a page.

Once you’ve envisioned the grid of your page, here are eight main concepts you want to consider:

  • Emphasis and hierarchy: Some things are more important that others. Some things come before others. How will you show that in the layout of your page? Size and placement of headlines, graphics, and fonts help orient the reader to relative emphasis and hierarchy. Sequence of information also conveys emphasis. In our culture, we read left to right, from the top to the bottom of the page; use this in determining emphasis and hierarchy.
  • Balance, symmetry, repetition, and proportion: These come together to give your pages flow and variety. Again, study your favorite magazine for examples. A full-page picture may announce the start of the cover story. If the publication uses a 6-column page grid, they might combine 3 or 4 columns into one larger block on a page. This helps separate and highlight information. Page numbers and article titles repeat to help orient you. An informative sidebar across the bottom of a page may use 3 or 4 columns instead of 6.
  • White space and graphics: A major problem with documents from the public sector is wall-of-text syndrome. A page that’s nothing but solid black text, all the same font size and black, is uninviting if not daunting. Leave space between paragraphs and around section titles. Insert graphics that illustrate your work. Pictures of clients served by your program also help.

For examples of these eight concepts, check out my posts about the NASA graphics standards and the Vignelli Canon. Both books are available in the bookstore.

Other principles like color, line, shape, texture, and typography also impact the communication of your ideas. I’m leaving those for potentially another series, mainly because I’m less good with these. Also, I think most people can see large improvements just in using a page grid and the concepts introduced here.

In the next post, we’ll get down to the nitty gritty of how to actually layout pages in PowerPoint.

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