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Basic Elements of Design


Annette Flanagin

Basic Elements of Design

Good design arranges text and objects in a manner that invites and leads the reader through the composed page or material and enhances legibility and comprehension.1,2 The basic elements of design that affect typography include the following:

  • Contrast: This refers to the contrast between dark and light type and large and small units of information (such as title and byline, side heads and subheads, and text). In addition, the evenness of darkness or blackness of letters and characters affects legibility; this evenness depends on the specific typeface used as well as spacing between letters, words, and lines (see also 22.3, Spacing).2

  • Rhythm: The rhythm of the design refers to repetition of similar units, in both opposition and juxtaposition, eg, spacing and proportion of type to the page and other design elements, and repetition of graphic contrasts or similarities.

  • Size: The size of type and other elements affects legibility and the overall appearance of a composed page. The size relationships within the design refer to the optical images of the type and graphic elements and the relevant and proportional manners in which they appear on the page.

  • Color: In this context, color has 2 meanings: (1) the darkness or density of the type (letters and characters) and the typeset page and (2) the use of contrasting nonblack colors, which attracts attention and creates associations. In scholarly publishing, however, the use of color for these purposes is limited.

  • Movement and Focal Points: The elements of a page should guide the reader’s eye along the lines of composition unconsciously, from large to small, from top to bottom, from left to right, from dark to light, and should follow the gravity of reading.

In scholarly publishing, a number of typographic and design elements, such as prescribed text format, titles and headings, bylines, abstracts, tables, figures, lists, equations, block quotations, and reference citations and lists, must be considered and incorporated. Consistent use of typographic style within a specific work (eg, journal, book) enhances readability and is recommended for scholarly publications. This often requires programmed style sheets based on standards for a specific publication.

The examples of journal pages shown in Figures 1 and 2 include some of these typographic elements of design as they are used in the print versions of JAMA and the Archives Journals.

Figure 1. Layout of page 1 of a JAMA article.

Figure 2. Layout of page 1 of Archives Journal article.

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