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The way elements are arranged on screen carries lots of meaning that we interpret subconsciously when decoding web pages.
The relative positions implies relationships on lots of different levels.
The key is to make sure you represent visually the correct relationships.
You can use tools like contrast and spacing to help differentiate elements.
Other techniques are useful for visually associating similar elements.
These techniques are often used in combination - when you group a collection of links, for example, you also differentiate the group from the elements around it.
Techniques for creating associations
Associating elements implies a relationship of similarity, e.g. A, B, C are a group of equivalent 'peer' elements.
Groups can be created using any combination of the following mechanisms:
- Grouping - creating association through placing similar elements together
- Containment - making one or more elements literally part of another element
- Alignment - aligning elements along visible or invisible lines
- Rhythm - creates relationships through repeating stylistic features
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