What if any differences are there between the terms layout and composition when talking about graphic design?

  • 2
    “When talking about graphic design” seems a bit broad to me. Which aspect of graphic design, exactly? If you're talking about setting books, that's one answer: composition is setting type, fiddling around with kerning, spacing, justification, flowing text, margins, etc.; while layout is the broader act of placing all the required elements on to pages so that they look good (including composition, but also image positioning and cropping, colour schemes, choosing page sizes, etc.). If you're talking about UIs or logo design, the answer will be completely different. Which is your focus on? Jun 28, 2017 at 22:27
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet it stemmed from this meta post - graphicdesign.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3258/… -- so really all aspects of Graphic Design. If you think different parts have different connotative meanings please post it as an answer, I would be very interested in it.
    – Ryan
    Jun 29, 2017 at 0:49

2 Answers 2


Layout is position, composition takes in to consideration stuff like color etc.

Imagine if this site decided to use a black background with white text instead of black text on white. It'd be the same layout, but a very different composition.

An example:

Click for full size

  • 1
    I actually use a dark reader extension, so I am seeing a black background with white text. So I added a screenshot for you to illustrate your point.
    – PieBie
    Jun 29, 2017 at 8:35
  • I've been thinking lots and lots about this and I'm inclined to agree. Would you say then if you likewise change the font from sans-serif to serif you're changing the composition not the layout? What if you make the text much bigger, then would you be changing composition and layout?
    – Ryan
    Jun 29, 2017 at 10:50
  • @Ryan To me, the font change would be mostly composition but it could also affect the layout depending on if anything is moved around. For the text size change, that's probably changing both Jun 29, 2017 at 13:07
  • @ryan - if you change the size of the text block (point size, font, amount of words) then that affects the layout, yes. Layout is a subset of composition, but it's not isolated; it has ties to other aspects. Generally content dictates layout, but sometimes layout dictates content a bit: javascript/php that cut off text paragraphs for preview pages, and of course CSS image scaling. Jun 29, 2017 at 14:31

There is a difference that I think is best summed up by Robert Lane as seen on the Elements of Visual Design website:

Composition is the manner pieces or components are combined and arranged visually to tell a story. Proper composition considers alignment, grouping, placement, space, and visual flow within a layout. This layout can be any medium. Once a proper audience and purpose have been determined then composition, components, and concept can encompass that identified purpose allowing a successful design.

In other words, Composition can be seen as the elements that make up the design:


• the nature of something's ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up.

Whereas layout is the organization of said elements:


• the way in which the parts of something are arranged or laid out.

  • 1
    Your quote seems to use layout and composition interchangeably, or, confusingly, refer to layout as a medium. I'm having a difficult time learning anything from this quote. This person discusses their idea of the meaning of composition.
    – Webster
    Jun 28, 2017 at 20:54
  • Makes sense to me, but I can see how that quote is a bit confusing. Edited to include a more concise explanation of how I interpreted it. Jun 29, 2017 at 13:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.