Design on the Line

Photography is a keystone in visual design. Few things can capture a reader’s interest quite like an engaging photograph. Pictures draw a reader’s eye and, if done effectively, can direct attention to any point on a page the designer desires. Professional photographers have developed several techniques and standards to help beginners like me master the art.

The Rule of Thirds



It has been scientifically proven that pictures adhering to “the Rule of Thirds” are naturally more interesting to viewers. The rule of thirds is simple. We divide a photograph horizontally and vertically into thirds. The lines that divide these sections are effective focal points for viewers. The points where these lines intersect are the most attractive focal points of the photos.

Above is a photo that I took of the North Quad at Brigham Young University Idaho. Now take a quick look at the division of the photograph into the rule of thirds.

As you can see, I did my best to position the objects in the photo onto the division lines. The tree in the original photo is placed directly on the left vertical line, while the center of the table was placed as best I could on the intersection of the right vertical and the lower horizontal lines. This draws a viewer’s attention to those objects.

Below is a photograph taken by Simon Powell, a professional photographer. See how he positions his model along the right vertical division to draw your attention to her.

Photograph by Simon Powell

Leading Lines

Leading lines are imaginary guides within our photographs directing us toward a focal object. Above is a picture I took in the Spori Art Museum. There are certainly better and more effective demonstrations of leading lines, but I am only learning, so forgive my incompetence.

See how the corners of the podium and the left edge of the informational poster direct your attention toward the guest book, and the corner of the floor guides you leftward toward the red exhibit.

Below is another photograph by professional, Simon Powell. Notice how the edges of the fields, the grass, the shore, and even some of the ripples on the sand all guide your eyes from the center of the photograph to the gazebo on the right. Mr. Powell is better at photography than I.

Photograph by Simon Powell

Range of Focus

Have you ever taken a photograph and the darn camera just makes everything blurry? It’s a common occurrence, and it can be very frustrating. Cameras use various mechanisms to focus in on subjects– sometimes the intended subject and sometimes, frustratingly, anything but the subject. However, the focus can be manipulated to great effect, creating some very very interesting pictures. This occurs more often than one might believe, even in movies. An effective use of this in film can be found in the recent release, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. During the opening credits, the Guardians fight an epic battle against an interdimensional space beast– entirely in the background. The camera chooses instead to focus on baby Groot, merrily dancing to a fun, bouncy 70’s hit. Groot remains in focus through the scene, while the intense fight rages behind him, blurry and out of focus.

Above is the photograph that, of the three posted, I’m most proud of (or perhaps least ashamed of). Taken, again, in the Spori Art Gallery at BYU-Idaho, the subject of the photograph is bold and in focus, while the background, including another exhibit further back, is blurred.

Following is yet another photograph by Simon Powell, utilizing the range of focus to maximum effect. Notice first that the cliffs in the background are completely out of focus. Then try to find the subject of the photo. Oddly enough, it’s not the model, but the shoes he is wearing. The shoes are crystal clear, while the model is a bit blurry- not overly so, but subtly.

Photograph by Simon Powell


So you see, these techniques can be used in every photograph you take to capture and direct your viewer’s attention. Even more astounding is that these techniques do not have to be used alone. Take a look back at the photo of the woman in the white dress. I used that picture to demonstrate the rule of thirds, but now that we’ve discussed range of focus, you can easily see that photograph utilizes this technique as well. Master these tools to help maximize your pictures’ effectiveness and interest, and you’re well on your way to becoming a professional designer!


Typography at the Book Festival

Design By
Studio Ace of Spade

Above is a poster for a book festival in 2014. I’m not exactly sure what happens at a book festival. I’ve never been invited. Anyway,┬átoday, I’ll be analyzing the typography in the poster above. It features a couple of different categories of typefaces to draw attention first to the title and then to the information below.

Slab Serif

The title on the poster– “The Book Festival”– is written in, I believe, a Slab Serif font. The letters are large and thick, with no transition from thin to thick like one might find in a Modern or an OldStyle font. Now the Serifs do have a bit of diagonal slant, pointing toward an Oldstyle font, but the fact that the serifs are generally the same size and thickness as the letters, paired with the aforementioned lack of thickness transition, I am inclined to believe this is, for the most part, a Slab Serif.


Sans Serif

Now that the audience’s attention has been grabbed by the title, the designers need to draw the attention further to find out when and where. The information is in relatively close proximity to the title, but is inherently very different. changing the color of the text alone provides some contrast, changing the text size provides even more– one further way to differentiate this text from the text above is to change the font type. The typeface used for the information appears to be a simple Sans Serif font. Sans means “without,” and serifs are the tiny little decorative bits you see on the ends of the letters in the title. As you can see, the information text is without the tiny decorative bits. This doesn’t draw as much attention as the Serif text does, but it is easier for the audience to read. This is particularly effective for this passage, as there are quite a lot of small words to read.



And so we see this poster is a great example of effective typography. The information below is clearly different from the title above, while the couple of small passages to the right of the information use a repetition of the Slab Serif category of typeface to differentiate it further from the dates and places. Overall, this poster uses principles of good design to direct our attention where the designers determine we should look and what information to absorb in what order.

Designs of Future Past

Designed by BLT Communications, LLC
Photography by Michael Muller
Released in May of 2014, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was an entertaining return not only to the rebooted X-Men universe– established in 2011 with “X-Men: First class,” but also to the original X-Men universe– established in 2000 with “X-Men.” Reviews of the film were mixed, but at the very least, the advertising campaign gave us these two brilliantly designed movie posters featuring four of the film’s stars– Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy.


One of the most prevalent aspects of the original poster is the use of color. As such, color is a wonderful place to begin our analysis of the design. Color is used in this design for a few important reasons. First is the fact that in movies and much of pop-culture, red typically signifies a villain or antagonist or otherwise unsavory character, while blue typically signifies a hero or protagonist (For another example, compare the colors of lightsabers in the “Star Wars” series). From a single glance, it is clear to us through the use of color that Michael Fassbender’s and Ian McKellen’s character(s) are generally antagonistic, while James McAvoy’s and Patrick Stewart’s are generally heroic. Another way the color contributes to these posters’ designs is the fact that it helps our eyes transition to the different actors’ faces and consolidate them into one character. Take a look at the posters below. When the red is removed from Fassbender’s face, it becomes much clearer than in the posters above that we are looking at two different actors. It even becomes clearer that some of the alignment of their facial features is off (see the transition from the bridge of McKellen’s nose to Fassbender’s? Or their cheekbones toward the bottom left of the poster?). Finally, the use of color helps us recognize that the way the faces are overlaid forms the letter “X.” It’s much simpler to see the “X” in the poster on the right than in the one on the left.


Another aspect the color adds to the posters, not mentioned above, is its contribution to contrast in the design. In each poster, we are looking at the same character, played by two different actors, living in two different time periods. This plot point is demonstrated in this poster by the use of contrast. Sirs McKellen and Stewart are featured in black-and-white. They originated the roles and feature in this film to provide context for the rest of the film. The new actors, Fassbender and McAvoy, are featured in vibrant color, as they are the “new guard” and the focus for the majority of the film. We can tell easily which set of actors the film will focus on. Take a look below. Without any contrast, the meaning behind the overlay of Fassbender’s face is completely lost, and we, as the viewers, are confused and unsure where to turn our attention. With too much contrast, McAvoy’s face is lost, along with any intention the poster had.


Any repetition in a single one of these posters would be rather difficult to discern, but the repetition becomes quite clear when the other poster is involved. This is a simple case of repetition across multiple pages. The colored “X” overlays are in the same position in each poster, as are the release dates in the bottom right corners. Additionally, these posters feature a bit of conceptual repetition. Notice that Sirs McKellen and Stewart are clean shaven, while Fassbender is sporting a bit of scruff around his upper lip, and McAvoy has a full-grown beard. This connects the older and younger actors with each other in our minds in a subtle, unspoken way.


There is a subtle alignment in and between these posters. The intersection of the “X” creates some interesting alignment lines for our eyes to follow. See the picture below. The horizontal line created by the intersection follows just above each actor’s eye-line, drawing our attention to the eyes that are staring intensely at us from the page. The vertical lines created by the intersection draw our attention downward to see who made the film and when we can expect to see it in theaters.


As has been mentioned several times thus far, Sir Mckellen and Fassbender portray the same character in this film, as do Sir Stewart and McAvoy. This is demonstrated in the poster by the actors’ proximity to each other– ie. directly on top of one another. Because the faces are overlaid, we can tell quickly and simply that each set of actors is a single character. In the picture below, I’ve marked some places where the picture overlay is remarkably aligned, making the proximity all the more clear. (Note: It was easier to find these spots on the red poster, as Stewart’s clean-shaven face and bald head made it difficult to match up with McAvoy’s full head of hair and beard.)


When each aspect of design is taken into effect, they are combined to make some quite stunning movie posters. The colored, overlaid “X’s” provided most of the interest surrounding the posters– telling us who the film would focus on, giving us context clues and exposition, and telling us which set of actors to support and which set to condemn. Though the posters are by no means perfect, I think it’s fair to say that BLT Communications, LLC did a (dare I say it?) MARVEL-ous job with the design.

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