It’s All CARP

You’re probably asking yourself “did I read that right?” – Yes, CARP. And no, this post is not about the fish.

If you design presentations, documents, advertisements, web sites, or any other creative product, you should be following CARP rules to evaluate the layout and overall design. You don’t have to be a design student to create visually appealing and engaging designs as long as you think of CARP. 😉

So What is CARP?

CARP aka The Four Key Principles of Design: Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, and Proximity.

Take a look at this infographic about Rewiring the Brain by Csaba Gyulai. What are your first thoughts? 

Infographic_Rewiring the Brain-cropped2


The idea behind contrast is to avoid elements on the page that are merely similar. If the elements (font, size, line thickness, shape, space, etc.) are not the same, then make them very different. Contrast is often the most important visual attraction on a page.

Infographic: We can see examples of contrast all over this infographic. The most evident is the change in text color within paragraphs to draw the reader’s attention. It emphasizes important information the author wants readers to remember.

Although graphics are more engaging, text is just as important. Headings are used to separate different sections of information. For example, the designer of this infographic chose to change the text size and font for each heading and made them stand out further by making them bold. Subheadings, like the ones shown in the synapses section of this infographic, are the the same font as the paragraph text but made bold to have them stand out, e.g., birth, 3 yrs old, and adult brain.


Nothing should be placed on the page arbitrarily. Every element should have some visual connection with another element on the page. This creates a clean, sophisticated, fresh look.

Design beginners tend to make the mistake of putting text and graphics on page where ever there happens to be space, often without regard to any other items on the page. This creates a lack of alignment which is probably the biggest cause of unpleasant-looking documents.

The purpose of alignment is to unify and organize the page.

Infographic: When looking at the synapses section, although each human silhouette is a different size, it is evident they are related to each other because they are equally spaced and aligned. The text pertaining to each age group is also aligned to the related graphic.

Further down the infographic, the use of horizontal and vertical break lines help readers determine which text and graphics are related to the information given. This is clear with the sections about pathways and neuroplasticity.


Repeat visual elements of the design throughout the piece. You can repeat color, shape, texture, spatial relationships, line thicknesses, sizes, etc. This helps develop the organization and strengthens the unity. Repetition adds visual interest which is more likely to be read.

Repetitive elements also help to create movement by leading the viewer’s eye from one area of the design to the next. Sometimes the repeated items are not exactly the same objects, but objects so closely related that their connection is very clear.

Infographic: Repetition is evident with the designer’s color palette. As I mentioned previously, emphasized text is a different color. In this infographic, the reader is trained to pay close attention to maroon text throughout the infographic because it contains information that is more important to remember than the rest of the text.


Items relating to each other should be grouped close together. When several items are in close proximity to each other, they become one visual unit rather than several separate units. This helps organize information and reduces clutter.

Proximity is perhaps one of the most important principles of design because it acts as a glue for all other principles. I recommend starting with proximity when designing a layout.

Be conscious of where your eye is going: where do you start looking; what path do you follow; where do you end up? Then after you read it, where does your eye go next? There should be a logical progression through the piece, from a definite beginning to a definite end.

Infographic: It is common to see many infographics with a narrow vertical layout such as this one. I think this is a logical way of keeping short pieces of information together or condensed rather than spread out horizontally along a page. Using break lines was a great design choice to keep text and graphics from spilling over into unrelated sections.

More About CARP

CARP is also known as CRAP 🙂

Hope you learned something new about design today. Want to learn more about CARP? Take a look at the following video by 2GeeksThinking.

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