Graphic Design Tips & Tricks: Applied Layout Techniques from Andrew Loomis

If you haven’t paid a visit to the FIDM Library, you’re missing out. As graphic designers, it can seem that everything we need is online, but nevertheless, sometimes a book is the best resource. For example, I always have a hard time with using layouts. There are a plethora of techniques for achieving a good layout through the golden ratio, rule of thirds, grids, etc. Unfortunately these techniques can lend themselves to a rigid design, or the designer feels restricted by them. Where’s the freedom to create?

Fortunately, I found an excellent solution in a book titled Creative Illustration, by Andrew Loomis. Here, I’d like to demonstrate a technique for achieving dynamic layouts which he developed. I will use an illustration which I am currently working on, but this works just as well for something like a magazine layout.

To start, here’s the result:


Keep in mind that this is still in progress, so there are a few “empty” areas. Now on to how I got to this layout.

Step 1. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t matter what size the page or spread is. Although, it’s probably important that it be some kind of polygon.

Loomis says that at the beginning you can draw any line across the page, but to avoid drawing a line close to the one-half, one-third, or two-thirds mark, horizontally or vertically. A diagonal line must go to the corners of the layout. I will explain why I think it’s best to just start with a diagonal line like below.


Step 2.

The next step is to add a vertical line and horizontal line which will intersect the diagonal line in the same spot. You could have started with a horizontal or vertical line first, and then done the diagonal line second. I say the diagonal should be first because you are always going to have to hit the corners, so doing the diagonal first means you have more control over where your lines will intersect.



Step 3.

Now you have created eight sub-rectangles on your layout (some rectangles are a combination of two smaller ones). The next step is to repeat the first two steps within one of those rectangles.

line4                  line5-6-7

The important thing to note is that you should have spots where one vertical, one horizontal, and one diagonal intersect, but you do not need to draw horizontal or vertical lines to intersect with two diagonals. Simply repeat these steps to generate a region filled by this organic grid system.

line5-6-7                 line11-12

Step 4.

Now you can use this grid system to set up your focal points, and with practice you could have more control over the process than being completely free-form, but less restricted than with a preconceived grid. Your focal points are the spots where a diagonal, horizontal, and vertical line cross (or any combination of two).

focus               illo_focus_grid


What I’ve done is circled the Hard Focal Points in red and the Soft Focal Points in blue (and another potential diagonal line). You can see where I’ve overlaid the illustration, that each character or at least their face lies on a focal point.

Step 5.

A final thing to consider about building the grid is how the focal points will guide the viewer through the layout. I think that a good way of thinking about focal points is that they are like pinball bumpers, so the viewer bounces between them. The green and yellow lines show how the eye might travel through this illustration.

illo_grid_focus_path              Illo_nogrid


The reason this technique works is that it never breaks up any region of space in exactly the same way. It also gives the designer more control. But again, it takes practice to really master. Feel free to try this technique out on your own!

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Author: Alex Jimenez

Alex Jimenez is a Graphic Design student at FIDM with a BA in Geography from UCLA. His favorite activities are drawing and reading, and his deepest desire is to get paid handsomely for doing both. Given the chance to be a world dictator, he would force everyone to draw daily. To that end, he spends his nights trying to take over the world. Most days he can be found enjoying long, frequent walks to refill his coffee mug. Check out his work and political ravings at

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