Layout Fix #1: Part 1, Title & Contrast

I've been thinking about layout design lately, and how to go about teaching it. It's a complicated subject since there isn't really a "right" answer, and also I don't know what I'm talking about. I have no design training and work almost entirely off of instinct, which is obviously not helpful to anyone. So I've done a little reading, and I thought perhaps a quick way to try and figure out what I'm doing when I work on a layout would be to try and "fix" someone else's.

I say "fix" since just because I've moved things in a certain way doesn't make it right. With this exercise I'm trying to isolate different design principles that you can use in creating and fixing your own layouts. However, it's totally possible that you may prefer the original layout, or some step along the way. Please feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments.

So here's my first attempt. And thanks to Catherine for being the guinea pig in this project! (See instructions at the end to submit your own layout.)

Here's the original. Overall, it's a nice layout. I like how the colors complement the photos and make it feel fun. The thing that jumps out at me right away (or actually, doesn't jump out) is the title. It's small and blending into the background, making the layout feel unfinished.


So here's the same layout, just with an adjustment to the tile.


You'll notice that I chose a black alpha to use for the title. The second issue I noticed was a lack of contrast throughout the layout. Because the papers match the photos so well, and are all quite close on the color wheel (and BRIGHT!), everything gets mixed up together. So the next change I made was to add a little contrast to the page. The title already added a nice break from the bright, and now I just mixed in one contrasting paper.


Now to finish up, I've just moved around a couple of the papers, since adding in the black paper changed what papers were touching (I didn't like the purple stripes next to the black stripes). I've also readjusted the elements, switching the ones on top and bottom. The "hole" at the top was bigger, so I thought it needed the larger element. Now that the title is bigger, it doesn't need such a large element next to it. I also changed the crop on the photo to the left, so that it filled up more of the frame.


Before and after. What do you think? Does it actually look better now? Or did you prefer the original? Any other changes you'd have made?

I think with just a few tweaks, the layout has a more finished look. I'm pretty happy with this as a final product. I did make another version, that has been altered quite a bit from the original. I'll be sharing those changes with you next week.

If you have a layout you'd like me to "fix" please email it to [email protected]. You'll likely need to zip the file and use a file sharing service (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc) to share such a large file. I will reply to your email to let you know I've received it. If you haven't heard from me after a day or two, try sending it again.


Recent Comments

Donna Bell
Donna Bell Thu, 03/27/2014 - 21:08

Nice layouts!

Laura Wellinghoff
Laura Wellinghoff Thu, 09/19/2013 - 14:41

Wow...Great work Catherine, Marisa,...observers and the Catherine on her redo, taking into account Marisa's direction and tip.

First let me say that I found myself having to open the window twice, so I could see the before and after while I was reading the comments left by folks. I LOVE how Marisa walked us through her steps and reasons as well....that what I was going for when I ended up opening 3 windows, the last was Catherine's own redo.

I think what she eventually did was what I had in mind. Marisa helped her think of popping or "contrast"...I to thought the first step was to strengthen the Title. Both Catherine and Marisa did this not only by increasing the sizes, but with contrast as well.

I leaned with some of the others and loved the purple paper, but that was just personal taste. The other thing that many went one way or the other on was when Marisa moved the flower up. Many including Marisa commented on the "weight" and size of the space when moving the paper flower to the top. But I think it was more that just weight and size, (heavy on the bottom, and also a balance) - I think part of why Marisa moved it up was because she was balancing the white. When she introduced it with the title, it needed to be separated and balanced on the page with the paper flower. Which leads me to my 2nd thing...after the title.

I would have loved to have been able to introduce a slight white shadowing behind the crowned emblem, if I could have...and then we have Catherine's redo. She switched to the white for the pop, using it in the title, and mats of the photos, and even the Love tag. If I would have stayed with Marisa's dark pop/contrasting, I personally would have probably double matted the photos with some of that purple paper.

Thanks Catherine & Marisa, for making us think about why we do some of the things we do, and giving us a place to chat about it!

Cynthia Arnett
Cynthia Arnett Tue, 09/17/2013 - 04:55

I like your changes. I think adding black to your layout makes everything pop. It brings out the pictures more. The text change adds more visual interest also. But really I think it just depends on the look you want. First layout is a more muted soft layout.

Christine Bilek
Christine Bilek Mon, 09/16/2013 - 21:55

I like the black background with the lighter foreground. I think it makes the black around the pictures stand out more, which in turn draws your eye to the pictures. I also like the title change. However, I liked the flower at the bottom rather than at the top.

Leablahblah Mon, 09/16/2013 - 15:04

I do like the newest layout best but I would have added another paper between the black and the one on top so we wouldn't see as much dark in the page. Also I would add some deeper shadows. I can't actually tell if there are any shadows because they appear so small. I like my pages to appear realistic.

Nadia Slegers
Nadia Slegers Mon, 09/16/2013 - 04:44

Love all the comments that you all wrote! Makes it hard to write mine ;) I like both layouts! But the change of alpha gives it more body. I don't know if I would have taken the black paper in because now it looses the focus on the pictures (in my opinion, because my eyes get drawn to the black). And I would add a little bit more shadow. Designer rules or no rules at the end you just have to create something you love with the colors you love. Just playing around and stick to a idea makes you grow.

Catherine Olson
Catherine Olson Sat, 09/14/2013 - 12:19

I was inspired to my own retake on my layout for this weeks challenge... with the "Title and Contrast" in mind. Here it is:

Melo Vrijhof
Melo Vrijhof Sat, 09/14/2013 - 12:13

Button = bottom (stupid auto correct)

Melo Vrijhof
Melo Vrijhof Sat, 09/14/2013 - 12:11

Taste is a very subjective thing. There are some "rules" or design principles that help make a layout look easy on the eyes. Create a focal point - you did that very clever by adding the black background. Another thing is to try and put "heavy" objects on the button and lighter or smaller ones on the top of your layout. I would have left the paper flower where it was, I really like how Catherine made it stick out of the paper square just a tiny bit to create a little "tension". I probably would have moved the paper strip and staples down to add a date or place, to 'close' the layout.

Nan Williams
Nan Williams Fri, 09/13/2013 - 19:39

I do like the orange paper on top of the picks up the orange in the dot paper and lets the orange tshirts take the stage.

Rachel Lee
Rachel Lee Fri, 09/13/2013 - 17:45

Thanks for this post. It's nice to see the revisions "in action", and the finished product looks great :)

Retta Sumpter
Retta Sumpter Fri, 09/13/2013 - 12:46

I think it would be fun to have more than one person take the same photos and do 3 different looks and explain what they were thinking. I would love to be part of that team. I have taught classes like this before. There is no right or wrong, but you learn so many different things. You did a good job of explaining your changes.

Amanda Cross
Amanda Cross Fri, 09/13/2013 - 12:32

I really liked your fix except I think the flower looks better where it used to be and the orange paper on top of the black just seems too much. The purple looked better in my opinion.

Lori Smith
Lori Smith Fri, 09/13/2013 - 10:22

This is a great idea, Marisa, and something everyone should try. The way you have explained each change is helpful in understanding the reason behind each one, rather than just posting a before and after. There is much to learn from exercises such as these because, well, they make you think about the whys! I know you say it is intuitive for you, but there is still a LOT of thinking that happens on the right side of the brain - and being able to explain why you have made the change proves it...which is why there are art/design rules in the first place. :) This exercise reminds me of art school when we would all bring in the same 'solution' for a prescribed advertisement poster or album cover - and each would look so different - all good, but a few exceptionally so. I'll be watching this experiment and maybe even be brave enough to submit one for a critique fix! :)

Janet Scott
Janet Scott Thu, 09/12/2013 - 23:56

Creating layouts is so subjective. As you said, there really isn't a right or wrong way to do them. That said, I do agree with your changes. I think that the bold title work definitely enhanced the already beautiful layout. I also agree that there did need to be some sort of solid neutral paper mixed in with all of the color (eek, I can't believe I said that...being a huge color fan myself). Regarding elements...again, it's so subjective. The only thing I try to do (and I'm definitely not a design pro at all) is provide some sort of balance. With the change in title that you did...I think it was the right move to switch around the elements.

Overall, the layout was fantastic to begin with...but I do think that your changes made the photos pop much more...and I think for most layouts, that tends to be the goal.

Lórien Rezende
Lórien Rezende Thu, 09/12/2013 - 16:41

Hi Marisa, Cat =) I like the idea of the black paper, it really made the layout pop, but I´d put it on other position - maybe on the background or on the bigger banner. I don´t like this position that much, prefer the way the pink was "growing" to "become" purple on the third square paper, and it was one of the things that made the LO special to me. I´d also downsize the flower sequin. Love the title work - but, with those big letters. don´t you think that the horizontal scrap of paper behind it isn´t necessary? Also love that the button on the big flower isn´t partially hidden by the photo anymore, but I like the crown stamp - I´d probably find out a form to keep it shown, even if partially hidden somewhere. I agree with Mersija about the tab with staples... I like both layouts.

Catherine Olson
Catherine Olson Thu, 09/12/2013 - 16:41

Now I want to rework it too, lol. :)

Lizanne Killian
Lizanne Killian Thu, 09/12/2013 - 16:08

I liked all the changes you made up until you changed out the raspberry paper & moved the elements. I think changing out that 1 paper to black, and changing the alpha on the "Sisters" title were fabulous - it really made everything "pop" more. But I'm no designer either. ;) JMHO...

Val Spiers
Val Spiers Thu, 09/12/2013 - 14:55

I like all the background changes and the change in the title made a big difference. However, I like the flower down the bottom and I agree with Mersija that the burgundy behind the pictures from the original layout looked pretty good. It really helps to look at the different arrangements side by side. When I am working with quilt fabrics I take pictures of various arrangements then compare them. Digital scrapbooking lends itself to saving several layouts to compare and trying something you think won't work. Sometimes those crazy ideas look the best.

Mersija (Mer-see-ya) Simon
Mersija (Mer-see-ya) Simon Thu, 09/12/2013 - 13:16

I think it looks good Marisa,i do like the small changes you've made on her layout,however you should have taken the tab with the staples on it and moved it somewhere else.It doesn't look good there at all over the flower like that.I am not that great with scrap talk,but i do have an eye for design,tho i have not had time to do any layouts i had planned.Also,i just noticed something else i would change,but that's just my opinion.I would add the black paper behind the pink paper or place that burgundy color behind it,it just blends in with the orange/striped paper a lil' and i don't like that.Again,it's just my own opinion,we all have are own styles and how and what we will add.