Today I want to show you some behind the scenes magic by sharing some bullet journal layout tips and tricks. These tips and tricks are directly tied to design theory and the 5 rules of design composition and layout. You can check out the video where I talk through it here, but otherwise, you can refer back to this post for reference.
Quick Intro to Design Theory
In my studies and research, nothing can be more confusing than explaining design theory. In the words of someone from back in the day (origins are up for debate), “Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder,” but very little is more subjective than beauty.
So to try and capture this subjectivity, design theory was born. Basically, it looks at the relationship of principles and elements in creating visual communication and art. These principles and elements are for another day though. Today, specifically, I am focusing on the 5 rules of design composition and layout as it relates to planners, and more specifically, bullet journals.
Bullet Journal Layout Tips and Tricks
The 5 “Rules” of Composition and Layout
I say “rules” since we all know rules, especially relating to artistic endeavours, are meant to be broken! But it’s still important to know and understand them so that you are able to break them in a visually pleasing way ? . So without further ado, here they are:
If you have a dot grid, or are using a graph paper, notebook, the grid becomes an easy concept to grasp. When you count your boxes when making your weeklies or monthlies, this is taking advantage of the grid.
Having the ability to count your spaces easily allows for your designs to look cleaner, it’s more efficient, and it’s easier to adapt to your particular vision.
Emphasis and Scale
This is the tip that I make the most use out of. I know this for a fact since, when looking for examples for this post, this was the one that popped up the most.
Basically, the eye needs somewhere to rest or something to hold it’s interest. This way, you are able to capture and hold the viewer’s eye instead of having them just move on.
The example I am sharing below is one of my favourites to use for this rule.
In this layout, I actually use white space to draw your eye to the center of the layout. This is where I have written the date. From there, your eye moves on to explore the remaining circles. I’ve used various circles through-out the layout, building a relationship between them by changing size and the design used inside – representing the concept of scale.
Balance is actually both a rule of design composition and layout, as well as a principle of design. It can be the easiest rule to follow, or the trickiest depending on your vision. Basically, you are trying to find harmony between the different elements (the gnome and the lettering in this case).
The most basic example is the one below where I used a gnome to balance out the “cluttered” far left column of the layout.
You can also get a lot more creative with balance and this is where the next rule becomes a critical factor in that playfulness.
Rule of Thirds
Full disclosure: I have a love/hate relationship with this one. It can be super hard to grasp if you overthink it, but the more you play and the more you create, the easier this rule is to incorporate.
Basically, you divide your design into three rows and three columns. Where the vertical and horizontal lines meet form natural guidelines for where you should place your focal point and supporting elements.
The above image isn’t the greatest example of this rule but it still comes pretty close. The fish on the right hand side becomes the focal point. From there, asymmetrical balance is created by the placement of the supporting elements near, or on the grid lines.
As I mentioned above, this rule gets easier to incorporate the more you practice and play with it. This layout was created by stamping the elements onto sticker paper which allowed me to move the elements around until I was happy.
Rule of Odds
The fifth and final rule is the rule of odds. Super, super simple – try and stick to an odd number of elements. For whatever reason, the eye tends to prefer odd numbers of elements, particularly 3. Below is an example of 7 elements (as I apparently like to push the boundaries of the number of elements I can cohesively use ?).
I hope you found this post useful for creating visually pleasing layouts. I know that these tips were game changers for me when I was first starting out. Some of my favourite bullet journalists who incorporate these rules consistently are below. Check them out, they have a ton of fun layouts and content:
- Michelle Baxter: @quirkyheart
- Candice: @candyloucreative
- Char Dangerfield: @chardangerfield.art
- Barbara Haeger: @barbarahaegerart
- Kate Hadfield: @katykatehadfield
As always, reach out with any questions or comments and I will be happy to answer what I can!