Design without pictures

Headlines advertise your content

This is a ‘standfirst’. It gives the reader an at-a-glance idea of what the article is all about, while adding visual interest.


REATING AN EFFECTIVE LAYOUT is made very much easier when you have plenty of photographs, charts or other graphics to help you liven up the design. But a lack of imagery doesn’t mean you have to create a dull layout.

The designer’s toolbox includes a range of techniques that can make a layout look appealing without any photographs. For example, the headline doesn’t need to be a simple string of text: it can be a design element in its own right. Shown here are some typical design tricks; you wouldn’t normally use them all on the same layout.

Subheads break up the text

Subheads are routinely added in magazine and newspaper articles to break the text up into more manageable chunks. They also give the reader an idea about what’s coming next, but this is very much a secondary purpose: they’re put in where the designer feels that a visual break is needed. Nothing is more off-putting than a long page of text with no breaks: they’re very hard to read.


Box-outs can provide additional information out of the main flow. But they also make the page more colourful, especially on a tint.

Some design conventions are used so often that we barely notice them. No-one questions, for instance, why  the first few words are so often set in small capitals; or, indeed, why the first character of an article is frequently so much larger than all the rest. It’s called a drop cap, and its purpose is simply to show you exactly where to start reading the story.

Novice designers are often afraid to use white space, as they feel the need to fill every available square inch of the paper with words or other graphic elements. White space gives a layout room to breathe.

“Pull quotes bring the reader into the story
and help to break up the text”

If you add white space at the side of your page, then you can break into that space with sidebars, or pull quotes, or box-outs, all of which make the page more interesting.

Using italics for technical terms and book or film titles helps the reader to recognise them as such; but more importantly, they add colour to otherwise uniform text. And in a magazine, you can signify the end of the story by finishing it off with a large bold icon ?

Note: this page has been designed for desktop view. It may not make much sense on mobile devices.

This is a sidebar. They’re usually used to  caption an image, but they can also add additional information. A sidebar can make good use of the white space at the side of text.

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