21. The layout

Laying out the newspaper is creating the shop window. The goal is highlighting the articles. The rules are the same as for paintings. Each page must be treated as if was going to be framed : you need to assemble around a main pattern secondary organized ones. The whole should be clear, readable, and look good. 

A well-organized page has a geometrical composition that gives off a sense of balance and harmony straight away.

The journalist laying out is less a painter than an architect. He works his magic in the frame imposed by the format. He makes the technical operations necessary to organize the main element and the secondary ones so that the layout looks best.

Finding a double balance

A general balance in the page, between black and white, the white of the page and the black of the printed letters. If there’s too much white, there aren’t enough things to read. If there’s too much black, the page will become hard to read. Too much black : ¾ black, ¼ white. Ideal balance: 2/3 black, 1/3 white. Artistic balance: 3/ white, 5/8 black.

A special balance, inside the black mass, for one part between the main pattern and the secondary ones, and on another part between the secondary patterns. The primary pattern’s preeminence should not eclipse the secondary ones.

The page architect solves that problem by working on :

  • the margins around the printed text 
  • the amount of columns and their width 
  • the fonts used 
  • the width and weigh of the characters
  • the lines length
  • the spaces between words, between the lines and the columns

The architect builds drafts. These are the models. He can use various models, but can also work on custom-made designs. When it comes to layouts, there are traditions, habits, and uses, but no rule save for common sense and good taste.

Highlighting the main story

The highlight of each page, its focus, is the main story. There’s only one per page. It gets the best placement: the top of the page. It also gets the biggest headline. The rest of the articles are placed according to its format, the strength of its headlines, the eventual illustration. But the main pattern’s preeminence should not eclipse the other stories, which also matter. The architect tries to find the best combination. He starts working his way in a rigid framing.

Finding harmonious proportions

Knowing the best way to balance the parts of a whole among themselves and with that whole is as old as music and paintings. The architectural act of lay out finds its inspiration in the harmonious proportions used in other arts.

Typographic harmony avoids the effects of symmetry by using the 4-2-1 key : when the main story has a 4-cols headline, the other headlines on the page should not cover 3-cols, only 2 or 1 columns.

Typographic harmony helps avoid visual fog thanks to the 6-3-2 rule. When the main story’s headline covers 6 columns, there should only be one 3 cols in the page, preferably at the bottom of the page. Over the rest of the page, there can be 2-cols headlines.

The golden ratio

The best way to give harmonious proportions to the layout is to divide it in four spaces by using Phi, the golden ratio (1,618), for these space to be divided, according to mathematician Euclid, in “extreme and mean ratio”.

The arithmetic is easy, whichever the page dimensions :

Divide the width (L) by the golden ratio :

Page width : 1,618 = x

Subtract the result to the width :

Width – x = y

Take that “y” and report it to the top width of the rectangle (AB), preferably starting from the top right angle (B).

This « y » indicates the location of a point P1 on the width AB.

Starting from P1, draw a vertical line dividing the page in two unequal parts proportioned by the golden ratio.
You can do the same with the height (H), dividing it horizontally thanks to a point P2 measured by starting from the bottom right angle of the rectangle.

The page is now divided in four rectangular surfaces that form a harmoniously proportioned, clear and simple ensemble.

Each one of these surfaces can be divided following the same rules. It’s an ideal canvass that allows for various adjustments, vertically or horizontally so, including “staircase” breaks in the columns.


  • Choose your characters wisely : too much diversity will tire the reader. Stick to two fonts, for the text, something with serif, like Times, and for the headlines, something without serif, such as Helvetica. Play on the bolds and the italics.
  • Careful with your leads. They’re the beginning of the story, written to introduce it and make the reader want to keep reading. 
  • Watch out for the jumps ! You don’t stop just copy any and everywhere, and certainly not in the middle of a sentence, even it’s it front page copy, when the rest is to be read a few pages later. The jumps should not harm reading fluidity.

The teams able to establish precise budgets and to respect them have better manage directly the designs of the models that concerns them and to send them to the proofreaders for verification and execution.