The basics of composition in graphic design

In a way, they’re the foundation of design. They give your work structure and make it easier to navigate, from the margins on the sides… to the content in between.

Of course, it’s not just about working with text. Composition matters in other mediums too, like graphic design, web design, and much more. Without a well-composed layout, your work would basically… fall apart.

The key to mastering composition is to think like a designer. Luckily, it’s easier than it sounds. There are five basic principles that can help you transform your work and sharpen your eye for design. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.


Proximity is all about using visual space to show relationships in your content. In practice, it’s pretty simple—all you have to do is make sure related items are grouped together; for example, blocks of text or elements in a graphic.

Groups that are not related to each other should be separated, to visually emphasize their lack of a relationship. All in all, this makes your work easier to understand at a glance—whether it’s purely text or something more visual.

White space

White space is an important part of every composition. Now, this doesn’t mean literal “white space”—it just means negative space, like the spaces between your content, between lines, and even the outer margins.

There’s no “one way” to use white space correctly, but it’s good to understand its purpose. White space helps you define and separate different sections; it gives your content room to breath.

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If your work ever starts to feel cluttered or uncomfortable… a little white space might be just what the doctor ordered.


Alignment is something you deal with all the time, even if you don’t realize it. Whenever you type an email or create a document, the text is aligned automatically.

When aligning objects by yourself (for instance, images or separate text boxes), getting it right can be tricky. The most important thing is to be consistent. Let’s take a look at what that means. It might help to imagine your content arranged inside of a grid.

Notice how there’s an invisible line centering each image to the text? Each grouping is also evenly spaced and aligned, with equal-sized margins. It’s that attention to detail that makes the composition easier to navigate. Without consistent alignment, your work could start to feel disorganized.


Contrast simply means that one item is different from another. In layout and composition, contrast can help you do many things; for example, catch the reader’s eye, create emphasis, or call attention to something important.

There are lots of strategies or creating contrast. You can use color… adjust the size, shape, or visual weight of an object… or use contrasting styles of text.

Contrast is also closely tied to hierarchy, a visual technique that can help the viewer navigate you work. In other words, it shows them where to begin and where to go next, using different levels of emphasis.

Establishing hierarchy is simple: just decide which elements you want the reader to notice first, then make them stand out. High-level or important items are usually larger, bolder, or more eye-catching in some way.

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Repetition is a reminder that every project should have a consistent look and feel. That means finding ways to reinforce your design by repeating or echoing certain elements.

For instance, if you have a specific color palette, look for ways to carry it through. If you’ve chosen a special header style, use it every time. It’s not just for aesthetic reasons—being consistent can also make your work easier to read.

When the viewer knows what to expect, they can relax and focus on the content. In many ways, layout and composition are the unsung heroes of design. It’s easy to overlook their role, but they’re part of everything you do.

A nudge here… some extra white space there… and voila! With a little attention to detail, you can create beautiful, professional-looking compositions.

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