Ten Little Tips

You don’t always need a designer, so here are some thoughts to help guide you through those little everyday tasks.

Step away from the computer, please!

That’s right, off you go...and take a pencil and paper with you. Start designing away from the screen.

This helps you to work out what you really want to do without being channelled into what the software designers think you should do.

Focus on how your document will be read and what the reader might find useful to see at a glance.

Whiter Shade of Pale

Too many designs fail in their primary task—to get read—because the designer has made the classic error of trying to fill every last square inch of space.

Remember, you are placing a proposition in front of a reader and what you want to be saying is ‘This won’t take too long to read’.

White space can help you do that.

Menage à trois.

Consistency is a reader’s best friend so sort out a type heirarchy—and stick to it.

Use no more than three typefaces per page. Try a sans-serif face (e.g. Arial or Gill Sans) for the titling and a serif face (e.g. Palatino or Garamond) for the body copy.

If it looks like a wild west ‘Wanted’ poster, you’re losing the battle.

Order in Court!

If everyone shouts it is often hard to work out what's going on. It is the same for a page of text.

If everything is multicoloured, emboldened, italicised or set in leap-at-your-throat 48 point, what is the reader supposed to notice?

Set everything in your plainest style, then bring out only the most important points. Try and stick a limit of three per page.

Become a stylesheet ninja.

Changing styles handraulically is a major-league headache.

Take time to learn how to use the stylesheet tools found in most modern wordprocessors and page layout applications. Document-wide style changes will only be a few clicks away.

Don't gild the lily

Your software will no doubt let you artificially style your text (e.g. shadow, outline, emboss or engrave).

But just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

Typographers have already added just the right amount of styling to each face. So less is more…trust them.

Never mind the quality, feel the length.

The length of a typeset line is known as a ‘measure’. Research shows that there is a direct relationship between line length and readability.

Too short and it’s tiresome to read, too long and they'll have trouble finding the start of the next line.

Aim for a measure of between 65 to 85 characters. It works for everything from legal fine print to posters.

Build ski-slopes, not obstacle courses

Practiced readers don't look at every word in a sentence—they ‘fixate’ every few words and their peripheral vision does the rest.

They can do this because lowercase letters are loaded with visual clues. By using underlining for emphasis, all you're doing is removing some of those clues.

Use CAPS and you might as well put a ten-foot wall in their way.

Have a cup of tea

Screen breaks are important but it isn't just a matter of resting your eyes. Few design projects can be solved in one sitting so you’ll need to rest your brain too.

Twenty minutes of doing something else can often allow your subconcious to find an answer to that niggling problem.

“Consult with your pillow”

There's a lot of wisdom in that old proverb.

Also known as the ‘24-hour Test’, many professional designers build in an overnight break before declaring a piece finished.

And if your pillow hasn’t got the answer, maybe its time to call Em Quad.