Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.
Not Just for Cars
You've probably heard the term alignment before, possibly regarding your car or maybe even in word processing. Well, graphic design uses alignment as well. In fact, it is one of the key principles of graphic design. You see, just like visual art, graphic design uses a variety of elements, basic components or properties, and the way those elements relate to one another are the principles of graphic design. Alignment is simply the way visual elements are arranged so that they line up in some way. Think about it as an invisible line or a force field preventing your elements, whether they are images or words, from going out of bounds.
What Does Alignment Do?
As simple as it is, it serves a great purpose by helping designers organize different elements in their composition, giving the design a definitive structure, and creating balance. Using alignment well in a design can result in a clear, professional, and sharp finished product. Basically, the individual elements won't be sloppy.
Basic Kinds of Alignment
There are two basic kinds of alignment; edge and center. Edge alignment determines the placement of elements in relation to the edge of the page or canvas. This can mean the elements are aligned to the left side or right side, but it can also mean they are aligned to the top or bottom of the page, so long as it uses an edge to organize everything. When the alignment is right or left, we call that horizontal alignment, though it is still an edge alignment. When the alignment is top or bottom, that is vertical alignment. When writing text, we usually use left alignment, meaning all the lines to the left of the page line up along that side.
The other kind of alignment, center alignment aligns all the elements so that an invisible, central line on the page will always be in the center of the elements. Again, writing is the easiest way to explain this. Have you ever seen a page where every line was a different width, but the center of every line ran along the exact center of the page? In graphic design, the same principle is applied to words as well as other visual elements. Just like with edge alignment, we can have horizontal and vertical alignment. However, when the center line runs vertically from the top of the page to the bottom, we get horizontal alignment. Likewise, when the center line runs horizontally from one side to the other, we get vertical alignment. I know, it almost sounds crazy until you see how it works.
Rarely will a graphic design project create one large space with a single alignment scheme. Usually, the design is more complex and usually requires the use of a grid to define the different areas and their alignment. Using grids will give your work structure and consistency, but when finished, the viewer should not be able to see the grid itself, just the results of its use.
If your work has a strong, consistent alignment, it will look clean and crisp with a professional finish. However, there are some ways to rebel against common alignment while still looking professional. First, you can use mixed alignment where different elements are aligned properly, just in a variety of different ways. This can add a fun, energetic feel to your work. Finally, you can intentionally break alignment, misaligning one part of a design in contrast with the rest of the aligned design, as a way to grab the viewer's attention.
Finally, visual alignment is technically not aligned. At least one element in the design may have features that end up looking misaligned when placed in technically correct alignment. This can make the work look awkward or sloppy. By deliberately shifting that element, even if it is misaligned, it can create the illusion of proper alignment.
In graphic design, the principle of alignment refers to the way the different elements in a design are lined up in relation to each other or to a particular part of the page. When they are aligned with the side of the page, we call that edge alignment. If the side used is the left or the right, we get horizontal alignment as well. If the side used is the top or bottom, we get vertical alignment. If you were to draw a line down the center of a page from top to bottom and matched the center of each line of text or other elements with the center line, you would have center alignment. This goes for a horizontal center line determining how many lines of text must be above and below the line. Finally, you can use a grid to organize more complex alignment schemes like mixed alignment where different areas of your composition are aligned differently. You can also break alignment, deliberately misaligning a small portion of the design, to create interest and focus attention. You can also employ visual alignment when an element's features make it look awkward when properly aligned. In the end, the way you use alignment can create a professional-looking design and help convey your message clearly.
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