Utilizing CARP Principles for Good Design

*This particular post is for my Webinars and Synchronous Learning Events course.  To see other posts on design, click here and here.

When creating any type of visual design, there are dozens of rules one should abide by and several guidelines and principles to consider.  One such set of principles is referred to as CARP, which stands for Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, and Proximity.

Here are simple explanations of each principle as they pertain to designing presentation slides (from Garr Reynolds’ book, Presentation Zen, page 163 to be specific):

  • Use the principle of contrast to create strong dynamic differences among
    elements that are different.  If it is different, make it very different.
  • Use the principle of alignment to connect elements visually (through invisible
    lines) on a slide.  Grids are very useful for achieving good alignment.  This will
    give your slide a clean, well-organized look.
  • Use the principle of repetition to repeat selected elements throughout your
    slides.  This can help give your slides unity and organization.
  • Use the principle of proximity to ensure that related items are grouped
    together.  People will tend to interpret items together or near to each other as
    belonging to the same group.
CARP Poster from Teaching the Teacher

Infographic from Stephanie Thompson

The value of the CARP principles in my design work is highly regarded.  I take them very seriously as they portray me not only as someone who designs aesthetically pleasing work, but as someone who truly cares about how I present myself and whatever it is that I am teaching. Implementing these principles together makes my work look clean, consistent, reliable, visually attractive, and easier to understand.  CARP also helps me in my design process – it gives me a sense of boundaries and a set of rules to work by.

When designing visual materials for webinars specifically (this post is for my Webinars course after all), I believe the most important CARP principle is Repetition, with Contrast coming in as a close second.  Because most, if not all, webinars are presented as a deck of selected slides, webinar designers are able to utilize each slide for different points or topics, thus making Proximity and Alignment somewhat easier to achieve.  When designing, Repetition and Contrast need constant attention.  I feel Repetition is the most important because it develops good organization and creates a strong unity throughout the entire presentation piece of the webinar.  Consistency can help to build a theme for the presentation and help create visual elements that direct the viewer’s eyes and attention to necessary points or objects.  I personally feel that when consistency, or repetition, is ignored, I am easily distracted and focus more on the inconsistencies in the design than on what is being presented to me.

There is a wealth of information out there on how to be successful at creating any type of visual design.  But understanding and utilizing the CARP principles is a great place to start!  And please, for the love of all that is good and designed well…do not call it CRAP.

Here are examples of websites that do and do not utilize the CARP principles.  Can you guess which one does and which one doesn’t?Good CARP