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July 14, 2021

Web Design Pro Tips: Alignment and Proximity

Hannah Arroyo

In a document or an outline, you can use things like headings and indentations to separate ideas and to show how elements are connected. But how do you keep elements individual or grouped together when doing web design? 

Using similar tactics in different ways is key. The reason that indentations and headings work is because they cause a visual separation between elements. On a website, you’ll create a visual separation through your alignment of items and the proximity you place them with one another. 

Grouping

Grouping is an element of design that uses proximity and alignment of elements to show what is connected. It helps create a better understanding to clients of what topics are fully connected, even if the proximity and alignment has to be the same to make the page cohesive. 

web design- proximity and grouping web design- proximity and grouping

Alignment

Having a specific alignment for all related items on your page makes it easier to follow. It helps create a pattern, and it makes it easier for users to understand what is going on and what they are supposed to use. Web pages where the content isn’t aligned are more difficult to follow and difficult for new participants to use.

For example, web pages have tabs where users can access other pages on the site. These elements can occur anywhere on the page, but they always appear on the same line with one another. They have to be in line either horizontally or vertically, but they also have to be spaced apart the same amount and have their “weight” centered, whether left, right, or centered. 

You’ll want most of the content on your page to have the same alignment, even if they aren’t the same type of content. It can be difficult for users if you flip back and forth between different types of alignment and layouts. If the content on the page isn’t properly aligned, it won’t be very easy to read and understand and can drive users away from your site. 

For the majority of what you’re putting on your site, or at least on each section that will be on the individual’s screen at a time, keep it within the same alignment. Separate alignment usually indicates that something is less important than the other information being displayed. Usual alignment in the US is either left or center aligned.

Proximity 

The next element of web design and creating a usable page is proximity. While alignment details that the elements are all centered along the same point, proximity is what determines how much space will be left between elements, such as where on the page they will be, how much of the page they will take up, and primarily, how close and far the elements will be with one another. Proximity can be impacted by alignment; for example, if the “weight” of the element is left aligned or right aligned, it should be placed on the side that it is leaning towards. Proximity determines that the connected, centered page tabs would go along the top right or that left-aligned tabs go on the left hand of the page. This element keeps items from feeling scattered and uneven on a page.  

Other Web Design Technical Terms to Know

Whitespace

One of the main reasons that proximity works is the principle of whitespace. Whitespace refers to the unused space between elements on a page, even if it has a background color. It’s a principle that ensures a page doesn’t get over-full of information. Without enough whitespace, your page would look cramped and likely unreadable, like a page of pop-up ads. 

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is an aspect of alignment. The rule states that it is best to have content on your page arranged according to the spaces of a three-by-three grid. This gives clear top, middle, bottom, left, and right categories for your content to go in. Although your page doesn’t have to follow this exactly and of course does not need to have content in every square, it helps with knowing where content should generally settle. 

Flow

The flow of the web page is a more abstract concept. It indicates your eye movement and what you’re drawn to elements on the page. The flow for a website design should be one movement, whether it’s up, down, left, right, or a U-shape. Flow is important because it shows where the user’s focus will go. 

Usually the largest, brightest, or strangest thing takes attention first, then secondary images, text, and buttons. Because we know this is the pattern, sites should design pages with content in a line of a single movement so that all of it can be processed in the right order and keep the user focused instead of confused. 

Conclusion

Making sure that you have an intent for layout when you go to design your site is important. It isn’t too complex to make sure that your similar elements are aligned the same and your separate elements are spaced out enough, but it can be difficult to determine how much space you want, what section of the page you want your information in, and which alignment will be best. There are all kinds of beautiful websites out there utilizing these tactics, and looking at these tips, you now can too.

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