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
1. Design should
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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