Graphic Design for Beginners: Proximity


The principle of proximity is another tool that we tend to use intuitively, though it's not as obvious as the others. It essentially says we should place design elements near/next to each other if they belong together. For example, an image that's part of a magazine article should be placed near or within that article.

Proximity tells us a lot about what's going on in a project. Not only should elements be placed together if they belong together; you are responsible for telling the viewer what belongs together by using the principle of proximity. In other words, we can't assume the audience always knows that an image relates to a certain block of text, or that two text boxes are referring to different things. We have to use proximity to help guide the viewer and avoid confusion.

Take this webinar ad for example:

It's pretty clear that the line "Need more customers?" is a hook for you to check out "10 Tips to Grow Your Network" at 10:00 a.m.

Alternatively, let's take a look at a different version below:

Simply by placing the date and time in proximity to "Need more customers?", the entire meaning of this ad has changed. It now appears that "Need more customers?" is the title and "10 Tips to Grow Your Network" is a highlight, benefit, or something you will learn.

The problem with leaving the second ad as shown above is that it feels unfinished. If 10 tips to grow your network is a benefit, is it the only one? Are there more? It feels more complete to design it like this:

Let's Get Artsy

Proximity can also be used to make a strong statement. While it is true that the general guideline says to put related things next to each other, you can also break the rule if you do it well. And on purpose. (Read more about doing things on purpose here.)

We can take advantage of the powerful photo by really emphasizing the hook line and enticing the viewer to want more:

It is important to note that this last example still keeps the title of the webinar and its correlating date and time in proximity. If all three of these lines were spread out, or if the date and time were up top by the hook line, the ad would lose its impact.

Take Control

Proximity lets you take control of your message. Start by mastering this principle in its normal usage, ensuring that related pieces of information and images are near each other. Once you feel pretty comfortable with your designs, try using proximity to make stronger statements and convey deeper meaning.