tying it all together, rugs and headlines There’s a scene from the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski where Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude, walks into a local bowling alley lamenting the ruination of a living room rug vandalized by intruders. “That rug really tied to the room together, did it not?” asks a concerned John Goodman, who plays fellow bowler and screwy Vietnam Vet Walter Sobchak. “F@*#ing A!” says Bridges, beer in hand. Translation: You’re darn right it did. As an art director who has designed layouts for print and online, it’s easy to understand The Dude’s frustration (if not his use of colorful language). Similar to a carefully chosen rug or picture in a room, few elements tie a publication together like a well-placed headline. It’s the key ingredient. That critical jumping off point upon which all else rests. Take it out and your layout, much like The Dude’s living room, no longer feels like home. Well-placed headlines can be subtle and stately, as in this example from the New York Times magazine.

The Triump of the Repressed headline from NYT

Credit: New York Times magazine, Art Director: Janet Froelich

Headlines can be deconstructed and rebellious, as seen in this example from a recent issue of CDW’s BizTech magazine.

Ready, Set, Relocate headline from Biztech Magazine

Credit: BizTech magazine, Art Director: Gregory Atkins

The white space around or between words can tell a story. It might seem strange at first, but when it comes to how a reader interprets a page, emptiness or silence can speak. Poke your head into any art director’s office and you’re bound to find him or her sitting in front of a computer meticulously tweaking headline alignments and line spacing. Why so obsessive? The best designs don’t simply look good; they encourage readers to focus their attention on the words. Spacing and alignment are a big part of that seduction. Human intelligence and inquisitiveness are two elements upon which many art directors play. Take, for example, the radical step (seen below in Faster) of removing letters from a headline. In this way, Art Director John Gall and Designer Jamie Keenan trust that their readers are smart enough to make the leap.

Fstr by Jms Glck headline of a book

Credit: Faster by James Gleick; Art Director, John Gall; Designer, Jamie Keenan

Headlines can also set the tone for an article and help readers connect emotionally to its content. In the following example from Independent School magazine, the art director challenges the reader to read backward, experiencing for an instant the sensation someone who is learning disabled might feel.

Coping headline from Independent School

Credit: Independent School magazine, Art Director: Glenn Pierce

Scale combined with careful placement is a very effective tool. It’s a guaranteed attention grabber, especially when paired with a great photo. In the sample below, Grand Times, Hilton’s Vacations Club magazine, creates a lush and tropical atmosphere, combining two full-bleed photos on a spread and linking them with carefully scaled type.

A dream come true headline from Hilton Grand Times

Credit: Grand Times magazine, Art Director: Gregory Atkins

BizTech again ramps it up with huge letters carefully balancing the rest of the headlines. White space combined with scale is a low-cost but extremely powerful solution available to any publisher.

Rev it Up headline from BizTech magazine

Credit: BizTech magazine, Art Director: Gregory Atkins

It’s carried out to perfection in this elegant spread published in Residential Specialist, the magazine by the Council of Residential Specialists.

Exit Signs headline from CRS magazine

Credit: Residential Specialist magazine, Art Director: Josh Coleman

Just a few simple tips to improve your layouts to which even The Dude would abide. [image: dehuacarpet]