Reading Direction Affects Design Layout

In the Western world, people read from left to right. From the time we are young, we have learned to look to the left and read to the right. This almost-instinctive response to any written material affects how a sign or business card should be designed.

The other important design factor is the placement of images. People look at images first. Long before the written language was invented, people used symbols for communication. Thus, language is an artificial part of the human experience when compared to the symbolic communication that was part of the human experience for tens or hundreds of thousands of years before.

Putting these two concepts together means that a design layout should put the images on the left, where people will look first, followed by the text. This takes full advantage of the our tendency to look at the images first and the text second. It also puts our eyes in the right place for reading after we have looked at the images.

Consider the opposite layout, where the image is on the right side of a design. We will look to the right first, then move our eyes over the entire text to the leftmost point to start reading. This is an inefficient layout and makes for a more awkward transition from looking at the image to reading the text.

For signs, billboards and banners, where seconds count, this delay can make the difference between a sale and a non-sale. Consider people driving past a billboard or walking past a sign. They glance at it quickly but they do not have the luxury of stopping or slowing down to read it in its entirety. Each additional second of reading time is critical to persuading the person to take advantage of the good or service.

The image grabs their attention and the text fills in the details. For there to be a smooth absorption of information, the image on the left will accomplish that task better than the image on the right. This goes for any kind of medium, printed or online, where there is a mixture of images and text. It always works better to put the image on the left.

An additional point to keep in mind is that if you include your headshot, you must be sure that you face in rather than out. That is, if your headshot is on the left, you must look to the right to direct a person’s attention to the content. It does not look good for you to look away from the content.

You could flip the image around so that you face the content but you can only do this if your image looks okay reversed. Be careful that text or any other part of the picture does not give it away.