The design principle of proximity is pretty easy in theory, but I still see a lot of people struggle with it. Understanding this concept will ensure that your lettering compositions make sense to the viewer.
Proximity is best described as the arrangement of objects to appear as a unit. The closer things are placed next to each other, the more likely they are to be recognized as a group. It is most useful in designs with multiple blocks of text like packaging or signs. You want related information to be organized so that the viewer sees those pieces of text as a whole and therefore reads them together. If information is not grouped accordingly, the meaning of your composition could be hard to understand.
This design principle is also important in terms of letter spacing. I'll elaborate on letter spacing in a future post, but for now just know that kerning is defined as the space between two letters. If the letters are too close or too far apart, the word will become illegible and may even take on a different meaning. A viewer could potentially read a single word as two completely different words if your letter spacing isn't thoughtfully adjusted. This happens because the letters closest together are being seen as a unit.
When you're lettering, make sure that:
- your letters are close enough (but not too close!) to show that they form a word
- your words are far enough apart (but not too far!) to separate those words
- your words are grouped together so that they're read in the proper order
As an example, let's say you're making a sign for a wedding. Maybe you didn't sketch it out beforehand so the spacing ends up looking strange, like what you see at the beginning of the GIF above. Notice the order in which you read the words. You most likely read it as "Just Jack Married (and) Jane." That's because you associate words that are close to each other as a phrase. Poor Jack probably doesn't want to be known as "Just Jack," especially on his wedding day. You can see how I fixed the spacing so the true message comes across more clearly.
Proximity helps you organize your composition to make it easier for the viewer to comprehend the overall meaning. Because in the end that's what really matters: good design is a service to your audience. No one should have to work to understand what you're trying to say. It should be as straightforward as possible so the message is quickly and effectively delivered.