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Alignment along with grouping are the two most powerful design principles you can apply to your projects. There are two types of alignment. You can have obvious alignment as seen in the image below. The windows in the center of the page align with the bottom of the second floor. The windows to the left align next to the vertical steel element that becomes the roof.
Skylab architecture Skyline house.
Photo by: Skylab Architecture: http://www.designboom.com/architecture/skylab-architecture-skyline-residence/
Or you can have hidden alignment. Hidden within this image is the alignment of the “Goal Setting” text with the iPad and keyboard. “Time Management” sits in the open space while the “T’s” heel rests on the guideline. Use your environment to guide your placement.
Most designs start with many variables, whether you are putting together a PowerPoint, organizing tasks, or placing windows on the exterior of a house. Taking another look at where you can group and align objects could do wonders for your project.
From a broader perspective, Alignment is about aligning the method, tools, and materials to the outcome you are targeting. If you are doing a creative project, does your process reflect your desired outcome? If you are creating a building that conveys strength, do your material choices reinforce that concept? If spending time with your family is important, does your calendar align with that goal?
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Design often starts as many fragmented pieces. Your job is to group those pieces into an aesthetic and valuable whole. When designing a house, for example, you must consider the organizing rooms in conjunction with coordinating: materials, windows and doors.
Frank Lloyd Wright provides us with an excellent example of how to group elements in his design of Falling Water, a house in Pennsylvania. Here you can see the exterior is simplified by using three material choices: stone, stucco, and glass. By doing this, he reduces the elements his mind needs to organize and can thus focus on refinement and creating a system that works.
Photo by: Brian Donovan - https://www.flickr.com/photos/58621196@N05/6134336955
Frank also simplifies by creating rules.
#1 - All horizontal elements in a stucco material.
#2 - All vertical elements are made of stone.
#3 - Glass is the glue that fills the gaps
These rules create a cohesive whole. You will notice that the glass is not “punched” in walls creating holes of light, but grouped in vertical and horizontal slivers of light. By simplifying and creating rules, he was able to make a creative and complex design from simple rules.
Grouping is not just an aesthetic principle, you might know it best as an organizing principle. Grouping tasks, items, or projects together can create better efficiency. If something feels off about a project or design look at it through the lenses of grouping and see if this organizes the project better.
As a teacher at the University of Colorado Boulder, this principle along with next week’s principle, makes my job easier. I can often look at a project, scan over the elements, and suggest grouping certain elements. When the students move the items on the screen, they light up at the improvement this simple suggestion made. If you are looking to take your design game to the next level. Pick up The Creativity Code for a deep dive into the power of visual thinking.