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Beauty emerges spontaneously when you make decisions on the basis of function. If you start out trying to create good-looking pages, however, you're likely to end up with pages which obscure, rather than enhance, your message. The following are some ideas to bear in mind as you refine your design efforts.

1. Design should be purposeful

Begin by reviewing the reason you're designing- -as contrasted to setting everything in 12-point Times Roman. Start by thinking in terms of opposites. Ask yourself: "Am I designing for attention or designing for transparency?"

You "design for attention" when you design a poster or the front cover of a book. Design for attention is intended to get prospective readers to notice you. Design for attention is different than "design for transparency" where the success of your efforts is measured by the ease with which readers can "see through" your design and assimilate your message.

When you succeed at designing for attention, using striking colors and visual images, your reader or viewer should say: "Wow-look at that!" When you succeed at transparent design, creating an easy-to-read column of text, for example, your reader shouldn't be aware of your work. Instead, they should be in silent communion with your message.

Most design falls somewhere in between the two extremes, but thinking in terms of opposites in order to determine the appropriate degree of "noticeability" provides a useful starting point for your efforts.


2. Design should simplify

Good design makes complicated information easy to understand. One way design simplifies is by breaking long messages into a series of bite-sized chunks. Easy-to-notice subheads are an example of design's ability to simplify. By breaking long text blocks into a series of smaller, bite-sized chunks, long messages become easier to read.

Remember, each subhead "advertises" the paragraphs that it introduces. Each subhead provides an additional entry point into your text. Brochures and newsletters containing numerous subheads are far easier to read than brochures and newsletters containing paragraph after paragraph of text.

You can also use design to simplify by replacing text with visuals. Look for opportunities where you can replace text with tables, charts and information graphics. These communicate at a glance. Information which would be hard to locate and compare in paragraphs becomes easy to understand when reformatted into visuals.


3. Design should organize

Good design helps readers immediately separate the important from the unimportant. Good design reveals the structure of your message's information hierarchy. Important headlines attract more attention than secondary headlines, Level One subheads appear noticeably larger than Level Two subheads. A clearly-defined design hierarchy helps readers quickly grasp the importance of each element of information on a page.

You can also use white space and graphic accents, like horizontal rules, to organize your message by making relationships visible. Distance, for example, implies separation. Proximity communicates connection.

Design also provides organization by grouping, rather than scattering, visual elements. A page with photographs aligned with each other is more pleasing than a page with photographs randomly placed on the page.


4. Design should provide contrast

Good design provides visual stimulation which prevents reader boredom. Your primary tools of contrast include white space, typography and size. Pages filled margin-to-margin with text present a gray, boring appearance which discourages readership. Boredom is further enhanced when headlines are set in a typeface and type size only slightly different the body copy.You can add visual interest to your pages by using white space to provide a counterpoint to columns of text and by setting headlines in a noticeably different, typeface and type size. Size presents another opportunity to add contrast to your pages. A page with two photographs of dramatically different size is more appealing than a page containing two photographs of equal size.

5. Design should compete

Design should be viewed as a competitive tool. Your marketing materials should project a distinct image, one that clearly sets you apart from your competition. It should be impossible to confuse your brochures and newsletters with those sent by your competition.

The tools of "competitive design" include colors, layout (i.e. margins, columns and borders) and typeface. Accordingly, the first step in creating your design should be to analyze your competitor's marketing materials. By analyzing what the techniques your competitors use, you can identify the techniques you shouldn't use.

Design also adds competitive value to your message by projecting an appropriate image, or personality. Just as new acquaintances judge you by the clothes you wear and the sincerity of the smile on your face, readers make immediate assumptions about the importance and credibility of your message from the way it appears on the page.

Readers are more likely to respect the message contained in an organized document than a disorganized document. Design can visually pre-sell readers on the importance of your message and the professionalism with which you conduct business. Just as you feel safer getting in a clean taxi than a messy one-and you unconsciously form your first impression of the competence of a new dentist or lawyer by analyzing their waiting room--your documents should immediately communicate an image of professionalism.

After all, as many have said, you only get one chance to make a first impression!


Before readers, web site visitors or members of your audience begin to read your words, they begin reacting to the design- -the way you have placed the words on the printed page, computer monitor or screen. The appearance of your words immediately begins to influence the acceptance or rejection of your message


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