Layout Elements

There are basic design elements we will discuss throughout this book. You need to know their names, since all in-house designs use some of these elements. There are dozens of other objects familiar to professional designers, but most are related directly to these major items.

Layout elements serve to either provide information to readers or to attract their attention. In the best situations, these elements accomplish both tasks. You might have a newspaper, magazine, and a few business documents at hand while reading this chapter.

Identity Tags

Textual and graphical elements that identify your company or publication are known as identity tags. Tagging your documents is of obvious importance. There are two major elements used to reinforce identity. We discuss designing these elements later.


A logo is a graphical element or stylized treatment of text used to quickly identify your company. If text has not been stylized, the result is not considered a logo. A modern logo should not contain your full company name. Ideally, a logo can be reduced to less than one-inch square and still be recognized by your clients.

Some companies develop more than one logo – one for each corporate division or product line. These companies want clients to think of these units as distinct entities. In these cases, you still want to strive for a consistent look among logos, unless the products are contradictory. For example, a conglomerate would not want a cigarette line associated with a health food line.


The Newspaper

When you combine a logo with a publication or company name, you create a nameplate. Some companies have a nameplate with no logo. In these cases, text has not been stylized to attract attention. Text-only nameplates are preferred by companies and publications wanting to appear “serious.” Of course, you have to select a correspondingly serious typeface.

The name on the cover of magazines and on page one of newspapers is known as the publication’s nameplate. Some designers argue that only publications have nameplates. It’s possible that you will design both corporate, division, and publication nameplates.


Lines of text that are set in larger type for the purpose of attracting readers are headlines. Most documents contain headlines, though most people call them headings when discussing documents other than periodicals such as magazines and newsletters.

Special Headlines

Traditional and banner headlines are over-used by most beginning in-house designers. More modern tricks can spice up a layout with a little extra effort. Newspapers and magazines make frequent use of additional, smaller headlines to add flair.


In a lengthy article, subheads can be used to break text into shorter segments. Subheads can also appear beneath a headline, but should not be too detailed. Remember, you want your article to be read – headlines should tease readers and pique their interest.


A kicker is a smaller-font headline, often underlined, just above the main headline. Kickers are often a one or two word identifier used to help readers select articles. Ideally, kickers classify articles.


A hammer is a larger headline above a smaller main headline. Using just a few words – three or less – you can attract attention to a major article. A hammer should be obvious, such as “Desert Storm” or “Stocks Plummet.”


A deck is a short summary of the article. Decks are often confused with subheads. Decks allow a reader to get the main point of an article without reading further. Because of the nature of decks, you might want to reserve them for analysis articles, since the facts are generally already known by readers.

Document Text

Communication is the primary purpose of any corporate document. As an in-house designer you must pay special attention to textual elements. Most documents feature several textual elements – otherwise they would be bland columns of text.


The name of a writer and his or her staff position appears as a byline, usually preceding an article. Bylines are generally a smaller size and in a different face than the text of an article. Bylines appear in newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. If a newsletter is predominately a promotional tool, we suggest not including bylines. Readers associate bylines with unbiased reporting.

Body Copy

The primary text of an article is known as the body copy. Any text is generically referred to as copy, while body copy refers specifically to the bulk of the article. In upcoming chapters, we discuss the importance of selecting a readable font for body copy.

Initial and Drop Caps

Older books or stylish magazine layouts often feature a large capital letter at the beginning of paragraphs. These large capitals are known as drop caps or initial caps. While most large initial caps drop into text below the first line, some sit on the first line of text.

Pull Quotes

When you want to draw attention to a dramatic quote, you can reprint the quote in larger type within the article. The second, larger version of the quote is known as a pull quote. The phrase pull quote refers to the fact that the quote is pulled from within the body copy.

Headers and Footers

Text appearing above the top body copy margin is a header. Below the bottom body copy margin, text is referred to as a footer. Headers and footers usually contain a document name, page numbers, and other reference information. Newspapers and newsletters feature special headers and footers, known as datelines and folios.


When you include photos, artwork, or infographics, you might need a caption to give readers a bit more detail. Captions are generally set in a small but easy to read font.


Smaller articles or lists of facts appearing in boxes alongside the body copy are known as sidebars. Often, sidebars provide additional information not included in the body of the article.


Most newspapers feature little boxes with artwork and headlines on the front page. These boxes are teasers – they tease you to read the article. Teasers should be creative, since they are not inherently informative. Some newspapers even avoid printing scores in teaser boxes for sports stories.

Other Text Elements

Text elements with limited uses are discussed in future chapters. These elements include folios, jumplines, and other specialized layout text elements.

Visual Elements

In-house designers should borrow great design elements they see in other documents. The odds are that you have seen most of the common elements. Three visual elements attract the most attention: photos, artwork, and infographics.


Nothing attracts attention – and provides insight – better than a good photo. Photographs are difficult for most in-house designers to incorporate into their documents. If you plan to place photos in your layouts, be sure the quality is acceptable and not amateurish.


Any graphical element can be referred to as artwork, but in most cases we are discussing cartoons or illustrations. Most artwork serves to attract attention. Editorial cartoons express ideas, but most artwork is meant to appeal to readers.


Charts, maps, and diagrams are infographics. Just as the name implies, these are informational graphic elements. Use infographics sparingly, since they have to be reasonably large for clarity. If you have ever tried to interpret a small graph, you understand why infographics need to be at least several square inches.

Other Visual Elements

Subtle visual tools help unite the dominant elements in a layout. While these elements are easy to overlook, failure to use them properly ruins a layout. If these minor elements are too obvious, not blending into the layout, then you need to redesign your document.


Straight lines are known as rules. Rules are frequently used to separate columns of text or information about a publication from text. Many beginning designers use too many rules, creating a confusing road-map effect. Often, the thinner you can make a rule, the more effective it is.

Boxes and Borders

Designers use boxes and borders to group related elements. Boxes are used to clarify the edges of photographs, artwork, or infographics. Sometimes, teasers or sidebars are boxed, as well.

Borders group more than one box or group an entire page. Do not border unrelated elements. Artistic borders are easier to use and abuse thanks to computer software. Be sure you do not use borders that overshadow their content.


Designers like to accent items in lists with bullets. Bullets are usually simple shapes, such as small circles or squares. Bullets should not be larger than the font used for the text of a list.


Often used as bullets, dingbats might be regarded as artwork. Dingbats, while packaged as fonts, contain such items as international symbols, computer icons, and other small drawings.

Invisible Elements

Invisible elements anchor printed ones to the layout.

Just as a house’s foundation is invisible – disregarding floods and earthquakes – the foundations of documents are invisible. These invisible elements form the foundation and frame of solid designs.

White Space

Just as the name implies, white space refers to any spot on a page without ink. White space can be increased or decreased to change the “openness” of a layout. Too little white space results in gray pages; too much white space looks as if you failed to compile a complete document.

Margins and Gutters

Several types of margins keep printed elements from bumping into each other or running off a page. A margin is an area of white space serving as a buffer zone. The most obvious margins are at the four edges of a page. Boxes also have margins. These margins keep the rules and text apart.

The margins between columns or between pages in a book are known as gutters. Often a gutter margin is greater than an edge margin to allow for book binding.


Grids are the underlying geometric patterns found in layouts. These patterns might not be rectangles.

Each page of a document is based on a grid. A grid is the underlying pattern of geometric shapes guiding the placement of visible objects. While a newspaper or newsletter is likely to use only rectangular grids, many magazines and flyers use triangular and oval shapes.

Use tracing paper to outline the grids of documents available to you. Each object should be outlined separately. Remember that a good design foundation might be hiding in even the worst layout.


The individual shapes in a grid are frames. Some computer software allows you to create frames and then fill them with the appropriate content. Other programs create frames as you place elements onto a page.


Text frames are divided into columns. You might have thought that each column was a frame, but this is not always the case. Columns must be constructed carefully. If text columns are too narrow or too wide, they are difficult to read.

Summary & Tips

  • Printed elements have unique names in publishing.
  • Good designs balance the use of elements.
  • Grouping elements, such as rules and boxes, should be used with restraint.
  • Invisible elements help designers place visible ones properly.


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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 08-Mar-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach