Grouping similar design elements on your web page helps the user quickly decode a web page layout.
Proximity, Alignment, Containment, Rhythm and Styling are all tools that help indicate grouping.
The power of proximity in web page layout
The simplest way to associate a number of elements is to group them together.
What grouping does is make similar things appear similar.
That way, the scanning eye can decipher a title (for example) and immediately associate that title with all the objects around it. By making similar things similar, grouping makes different things appear different. “Why are the objects in that group instead of the other group..? They must be different.”
2D design uses a range of grouping techniques, from paragraphs and margins to navigation bars and clustered form elements.
As with other design tools, grouping with proximity relies on contrasting forces, in this case whitespace. If all elements are closely-spaced, proximity becomes less effective.
Simple example of grouping through promximity
These icons on designer Jakub “Jimmac” Steiner’s site are clearly grouped into 2 sets using proximity, and subtle containment.
Web page grouping problem
Grouping needs whitespace, its opposing force, to exist. These navigation buttons are grouped so closely together, that the buttons and labels are equidistant, which would definitely confuse users.
Grouping form elements
Multiple groups in a page layout
This example uses grouping and whitespace very effectively to identify related elements: