As most layout editors and designers are quick to tell you, striking an harmonious balance between text and graphics is no simple task. An ill-placed sidebar or text box can disrupt the flow of a page or even an entire article. So where should design items appear on a page? What should designers avoid when placing text boxes, graphs, and sidebars?
In the March 2009 issue of the Editors Only newsletter, design consultant John Johanek tells us to “avoid creating visual hurdles for the reader”. In other words, don’t insert design items in places that will break the reader’s concentration. Often, it is instinctive to place these items, particularly graphs, in the center of a page, surrounded by white space. Not a good idea, says Johanek. A better course of action would be to keep graphics and sidebars in the margins, or embedded in the text in such a way that the text envelops it. Too much white space creates a “visual hurdle” that will distract the reader. It is vital that your spreads flow well, and there is no better way to disrupt that flow than with clunky formatting, over-sized graphics, and design items that “interrupt” your story.
Johanek also warns designers not to place design items at the very end of a given article, manuscript, or spread. Such placement can reduce valuable sidebar and graphical content to mere “filler” status in the reader’s mind. It is important, Johanek tells us, to place content within the story, preferably as close to the pertinent text as possible. After all, you want important data to be a valuable resource to readers, not an afterthought.
Also, think about adding some graphical relief to your sidebars with charts, photos, etc. Sidebars that are simply large blocks of text can be visually intimidating to readers. However, take care not to overwhelm your sidebars with oversized images, eitherthese, too, can overwhelm the eyes. This can be a difficult balance to achieve as you design your spreads, but it should remain a central focus during your design process.
The most important thing to remember is that your story is the main event; for the most part, graphics should be supplementary in nature. While you want your design items to “pop”, you do not want them to do so at the expense of your story. Experiment with style, photos, color, etc., but do so in such a manner that will stimulate, not distract, your readers.