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  • Writer's pictureAlex Connolly

Outline the Layout

Today, I thought I'd go back to a graphic design study project; break it down and muse on development.

Layout design skills are great to have, and while I have much to learn through sheer industry seasoning, it was excellent to learn the fundamentals over the last few years. Concepts like hierarchy, the mighty grid, rule of thirds/golden ratio; it all reads as obvious until formulating and effecting your layout. Dry at first glance, it is a really meaty part of creative consideration, and offers some interesting feedback loops to illustration.

This was an assignment where we were asked to produce a brochure or booklet for a business, which included front and back cover, with at least two two-page internal spreads. I selected one of my favourite game developers, Screwfly Studios. They craft what could be best described as pressure simulators, examining group dynamics within extraordinary circumstances. Zombie apocalypse survival, deep space exploration, strange twists on Eldritch concepts. Interesting takes on arguably tired tropes.

I wanted to hit on a few subtle elements with the project; namely direct reference to Screwfly's games, but also to tap into the golden era of Australian gaming magazines of the Nineties and early Millennium, where hand-drawn art was often a key component of layout. Evoking the likes of Hyper Magazine, PC Powerplay and Nintendo Magazine System, full-page advertisements and luxurious features were to be design touchstones.

Not only were we marked on the end design product, but encouraged to present the development with a similar compositional flair. As such, I really wanted to leverage print media of the era, and produced the following assignment cover page.

The composition of this cover was effective in areas like linked points of interest — 'magazine' masthead colour and vertical blood trickle — and proper use of hierarchical cover lines. The hand-drawn element worked well in contrast again an ambiguous background, and while I could have produced a little more visual crunch, this was merely the development log.

However, in saying that, it always pays to keep limber, and every chance to arrange something is worthwhile.

The development document drew more from the likes of magazines like Juice and FilmInk, where a certain bohemian chic dominated their respective layout decisions (and undoubtedly still do).

If I were to be critical of the final brochure product, it would be small niggles like using full-width justification with either left-right flush, or ragged right alignment. Before I started learning the tenets of copy arrangement, I thought justification was the height of typographic aesthetic. However, it has its own inherent problems, such as rivers or poor aesthetics when compacted. And heck, clarity and readability should be the order of the day.

On the flipside, both the wraparound cover and first internal spread felt like real achievements. The cover told a story much akin to Screwfly's simulate, don't show raison d'être, and telling a tale of misadventure, loss and impending strangeness in deep space. Funnily enough, the background image was actually care of NASA, with Earth taking on a more sinister atmosphere with a bit of colour tweaking and some vector-based sci-fi dressings.

The internal spread, drawing from their game Deadnaut, was the biggest nod to the Australian games print media heyday, with hand-drawn images spread across margins and gutters. Again, justified copy notwithstanding, I feel the composition was strong enough. But as anyone knows, it's far too easy to rearrange for an eternity.

The second internal spread did feel a touch dense, trying to balance all the product information on a single page, while accommodating the full-page 'print' ad on the right. That said, the contoured text arrangement on the ad worked quite well, and offered a striking conclusion to the booklet.

Were I to do it again, I would expand the brochure by another spread, allowing for more images and less compact copy. I would also experiment a little more with overlays and colour, try and hit some aesthetic beats Screwfly are known for. However, it was a highly enjoyable project and whets the appetite for more layout projects in the future. The upskilling will continue.

Oh, and I did promise some illustration in the last post, so here's one asset from the project! Go play Deadnaut!

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