A Page Full Of Letters

Familiar paper, postcard, and brochure sizes are useful because they work together. An 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper folds nicely in thirds in a standard envelope. An 8.5 x 11 sell sheet fits perfectly into a 9 x 12 folder brochure, and so on.

But these standard paper sizes have evolved for more than convenience’s sake. They are the result of aesthetic choice and function based on language used, the direction that a person’s eye moves as they read, the speed, or fluency with which the eye moves, what kind of images are displayed on the page, and many other factors. Different paper sizes were favored by different cultures and eras, but throughout, those varying proportions have fallen within a set of ratios we are familiar with; correlating to the golden mean sections, or to the chromatic scale! The Renaissance era favored more narrow pages, and today we favor the wider 8.5 x 11 page.

Similarly, text is usually organized on a page within certain dimensions. It is rare to see a square block of text on a square page, which would feel very static to the eye. In contrast, a vertical block of text or columns on a page is an invitation (for those reading in English) for the eye to move from left to right, falling down each column of text.

Newspapers, websites, and magazines tend to have more narrow columns of text, to accommodate multiple random page elements, screen resolution, and different sized images. Longer reads like books tend to have only one, wider column of text. By association, the width of a column of text and the number of columns on a page has begun to imply whether we’ll be reading an article or something more in-depth.

As a designer, knowing these rules gives me the opportunity to break them, to draw attention and interest.