• everything is designed--whether by accident or not! Once you know the basics, it takes just as much time to create something that’s designed well as it does otherwise! • Teenager Alec Maur e said in a recent issue of Communication Arts magazine that teens today “are hit in the face every day with design. It has a larger effect on us and we’re more conscious of it.” • Paul Sproll (RISD): “ Young adults are major and sophisticated consumers of design…[who]…influence design trends. [Kids] are much more in tune, than in years’ past to the role that design plays in creating status.”
We all remember the Florida ballot disaster, right? This is an extreme, but very real example of bad design. The users couldn’t make sense of it, which defeats the whole purpose of design--effective communication!
The Bush administration has effectively used good design to enhance their messages. Without hearing even a single word of this speech, we are still, at a glance, able to glean the heart of the message. (of course, it’s never a good idea to be less than authentic….the “Made in USA” boxes are printed on a scrim, in front of a large stack of actual boxes that were stamped “Made in China.” Remember: authenticity matters. Good design is just creative problem solving: an invaluable skill for leaders in all fields.
Poor design doesn’t have to mean “ugly.” (Although oftentimes it does!) Frequently, it’s a case of design refuting or contradicting an intended message. The headline on this Panasonic web site reads “Advanced. Stylish. Personal.” I would argue that this page is none of those. Its design seems dated, clunky, and impersonal. Dated and clunky are not great choices for a company that is trying to sell high-end home theater systems. If they’re selling “personal” as an attribute, they could at least have included a photograph of a family watching tv, rather than a cold, reflective and metallic product shot at the top.
Anyone can do it. It’s simply a matter or being intentional about what you do and how you do it. It can be intimidating to be sure, but, like anything else, it’s all about a little education and a lot of practice. Maria Emmighausen, AIGA: “Design is no longer considered a superfluous subject, but rather a process that can be applied to any problem in order to ensure an appropriate, well-informed solution.”
• The good news for you guys is that you are already familiar with your story! So you’ve got a head start! • But it’s essential that you evaluate all potential audiences--are you only designing for women who are active in the conference or would you like to appeal to a wider audience? Who are those women and what do they like? Remember to try to meet people where they are instead of placing the burden of action on them. • Once you’ve evaluated and decided on your intended audience, it’s time to apply that to the design phase of the research process. It doesn’t have to be some elaborate process of focus groups and surveys. Just look around! What styles of design are the pros using to appeal to different demographics?
Each of these ads materials appeals to a different demographic. They each have very targeted, very specific, markets, and you can see how the design of each would appeal to those markets. Real Simple: Simplicity (duh), organized, modern, home-oriented, nesting iPod: Modern, edgy, individual, reinforces Apple brand through clean design, combines humanity and technology (focus on only two elements: person and product) WSJ: Business-oriented, serious, stodgy but reliable Loreal: luxe, glam, sexy, sleek, but serious Cosmo Girl: Fun, fresh, light, young, modern,casual, energetic and exciting, girl-focused (as opposed to fashion--no full-body shots on the cover, ever.)
Ok, so now we can get down to the actual nuts and bolts of something you all may be designing. Here’s a sample newsletter that I created based on some common mistakes.
Ok. So we’re not going to talk about this yet, but you can clearly see that it’s not WELL designed. And we’re going to approach the rest of the essentials through this example, so you can see how easily they will can make proper design.
No one would ever say that. They simply won’t read it. Or they may blame lack of clarity on the content. Either way, there goes your chance to communicate. Typography is the art of communicating with letterforms. And it really is an art. I could spend decades on this! Luckily for you, we won’t! I’ll just narrow it down to some simple basics that will make any of your communications efforts more effective.
• keep it simple! You never want to use more than 2 or 3 fonts for a project. And you want to be consistent with all your communications, so your audience will begin to recognize your messages at a glance! Plus, it will make your life easier as you won’t have to constantly be making decisions. • Proper sizing is essential! Minimum of 9 pts, and a maximum of 14 pts for smaller copy blocks. • ALL CAPS is very difficult to read! Keeping that in mind, let’s go back to our example.
Ok, so there are 8 different fonts used on this page! It makes the page busy and hard to read, for sure! And just because something is a message from someone doesn’t mean you have to use a handwriting font. No one will actually think it’s their handwriting. I promise. And the all caps is NOT readable!
• You’ll want your headlines to contrast with your copy blocks as much as possible, so use a different style face for them. Remember, you want them to STAND OUT. So, don’t be a wimp! Make them big and bold!
Ok, so this is a little better. It’s certainly easier to read! Still not great, obviously. I know it just looks boring now, but that will be corrected through some of the other essentials. Fear not. But we still have some type issues to address.
Leading is just a fancy word for line spacing (it refers to the amount of lead the printer would put in between lines). Make sure you have enough--these lines are too close together and it makes them difficult to read. It also makes the page look dense and uninviting.
Kerning is the amount of space in between letters. Because people read by recognizing the shape of words rather than the individual letters, proper kerning is essential. Most digital typefaces will be properly kerned enough for your purposes, but adjusting this can come in handy if you’re dealing with space issues. You can also overexaggerate for effect, but that is an effect that should be used sparingly, if at all, and only on small sets of copy (3 short words or less, for example.)
This is a prototype for a logo that I created. You can see that I have exaggerated the kerning on the words “the” and “fund.” They are both short words, fairly unimportant in the scheme of the thing, and still readable. The key word here obviously is “legacy”; and that is emphasized by its large size and exaggerated descenders, and by the conrtast between its typeface the formal, serious one of other two words. Also, the face selected for those two words adds a level of trustworthiness and solidity, which is important for a financial logo. The “swooshiness” (for lack of a better term” of the “legacy” adds a more personal and graceful feel, which is an important asset for a charity or mission program logo.
• Look at the word “Klingons.” It breaks in a really bad place. It’s hard to read only half of a word all by itself. Plus it adds awkward looking white space to that part of the page.
• And here, the first line of that paragraph is all by itself above the artwork. Not good. You want at least 2 lines together at all times. 3 is better. And see how the word “tickled” is all by itself on the left of that column?
Both of these words are stretched due to forced justification. To correct, you can change the preferences/options in your software, or adjust it manually. Make sure that the last line of a paragraph is NOT fully justified.
These two columns are so close together that it makes them difficult to read.
This indent is way too big and will stop the reader’s eye--preventing good flow of copy. You can change the tab setting in your preferences/options, or if you HAVE to, use spaces instead of a tab. A tab should approximate the width of about 5 character widths of the font you are using.
On the left: the microsoft default tab that is inserted when I hit the tab key. On the right, it’s adjusted for proper spacing.
Digitized typefaces only require 1 space after a sentence. This is a hard habit to break.
It’s important to use the proper characters. Usually you can set the preferences in whatever software you may be using to correct this automatically. The proper quotation marks are usually called something like “smart quotes.” The bottom set contains marks that have other uses: feet, inches, latitude and longitude are some examples.
Which looks easier to read and more accessible? Remember that your audience is looking for information--make it easy for them to skim your newsletter if they have to.
Each of these typefaces portrays a different image.
You want to remember to aim for consistency. If you have a lot of subheads, you may want to center them all. But for the bulk of your project, you will probably want to stick with left or full justified (just remember to not force the ends of paragraphs or you’ll have a lot of widows!) Large amounts of centered or right justified text are hard to read. RIght-justified text can good for photo captions, or to create contrast.
So, let’s check in with our example. Not bad! It certainly has a long way to go, but it’s already looking (and reading) better.
Contrast is how we know where to put our eyes. What do we look at first? And then what order do we look at the elements on the page? Elements with more contrast will be seen before those without, so the use of contrast is great for highlighting special information.
Make sure that contrasting things are REALLY different--otherwise, it just looks like a mistake.
Squint your eyes when you look at something. Your eyelashes will filter out the more neutral areas, and the areas of high contrast will jump out at you.
You can use value/color contrast to highlight special information. Because the gray block contrasts strongly with the areas of large text, your eye is drawn to it.
The white space above the subheads helps to draw your eye to those areas. It gives you a visual “break” in between blocks of text.
The use of a pull quote creates 2 types of contrast: value (because of the white space around it) and type (because the font is so much larger than the other text.)If someone doesn’t read the whole “Treasurer’s Letter,” you can be sure they’ll still get the information contained in the pullquote.
Adds visual interest! There are several elements of this type treatment that use contrast. Serif/sans serif, size, and color are all contrasting here.
That does it for contrast. Let’s check out our example. Coming along!
Even more than contrast, layout is the roadmap for the reader/viewer. It can also speak strongly to your core message. Are you stodgy and proper? Or trendy and edgy?
There are other types of balance as well, such as radial balance.
Symmetrical balance is all about mirror images. It usually is not so great for newsletter or publication design, although the version on the left can sometimes be successful. Symmetrical balance, however, usually feels very static rather than dynamic. Why? Not enough contrast.
Uneven elements present us with more possibilities for arranging the page and creating interesting designs than perfectly symmetrical objects. Asymmetrical layouts are generally more dynamic and by intentionally ignoring balance the designer can create tension, express movement, or convey a mood such as anger, excitement, joy, or casual amusement.
This page uses a 3 column format to create a neatly organized asymmetrical layout. The two columns of text are balanced by the blocks of color in the lower left topped by a large block of white space. In this case, because the white space is in a block shaped much like the text columns, it becomes an element of the design in its own right.
Take this concept a step further, especially in photographic composition, by dividing the page into thirds both vertically and horizontally and placing your most important elements at one or more of the four intersections of those lines. You can use the rule of 3rds in flyers, notices, photos, etc. You can see how we used this in our example newsletter.
Check the sample grids in the notebook.
There are 4 alignment mistakes here... 1) the top text boxes, 2) the “very important” box, 3) the pulquote, and 4) the bottoms (the most difficult!)
On the left: BAD. On the right: better.
The pullquote doesn’t just slightly jut out from the text box that surrounds it--it makes a definite statement of contrast by deliberately violating the established margins. That shows an intentional violation as opposed to a mistake.
The pinball theory says that your eye travels around a page like a pinball. It sees the first element, and then bounces off other items on the page. In our example...
The items that have emphasis are strategically placed on this page, so that the eye never “falls off” the page.
Luckily, a lot of software applications have grids built in, so you don’t have to sketch one from scratch!
Grids are present when you don’t even notice them! Real Simple almost always uses an asymmetrical 2 column grid for their covers. (See how it divides along the break in the title?)
These and many more are free online!
• Remember that if a story seems too long for the alloted space, it’s usually a better idea to make it shorter (or allot more space) than to cram it all in and violate all the rules of both typography and layout!
We’ve all seen these a billion times, right? Do they even say anything? Not really. If something doesn’t add information, and it’s not all that pretty, don’t include it!
So try to use it a NEW way.
Repetition--use the same image several times to make it more interesting. Or use a bunch, and change the color of one of them.
There are several issues here. On the left, the text is too close to the image. On the right, the same problem, but the image has also been incorrectly cropped.
The use of the dollars signs behind the copy is an easy technique. Since the piggy bank image only told the reader that that section was about money, we might as well still say the same thing and have room for more text! It also creates more contrast since it adds a larger block of color, and because the dollar signs are so huge. They also balance the hugeness of the “our” in the masthead. Be careful as this can sometimes be distracting, but as long as you make the color very pale, and have the context of black type on white paper, you’ll be ok. The cropping of the globe in an unexpected way makes it a little more interesting. You can still tell that it’s a globe, but the white space within the box creates some tension and therefore is more interesting.
Do the photos you use tell the story?
These photos don’t tell us any story, other than that there were some people who stood around!
• Action shots are just more interesting to look at. We’ve all seen the classic, boring group shot where everyone is just standing in rows. Try to get action shots. • Make sure they are in focus, and have a clear foreground and background • Move higher than your subjects if possible. The shot will be more interesting and the people will look better. • Move as close to your subjects as possible. Then move closer. Faces are the most interesting! • Take a lot of shots in rapid succession. If possible, put your camera on “burst-mode.” This will help to prevent the dreaded blinkers.
Don’t let your people turn blue! If you’re printing black ink on blue paper, this is what will happen!
Now these children are just creepy!
So, our newsletter cover has gotten us pretty far. But I don’t want to add a photo to it at this stage because I think it would just be TOO much. Less is more! So, let’s look at a sample interior page to see how we can use images. See how they follow the rules of layout that we talked about earlier? • properly aligned with the type at the top and the bottom, and aligned with the columns as well. • The contrast at the top between the white space on the left and the headline adds interest, and the headline is still on the original grid, aligned with the second column. • The top image is effectively placed as well: the eye reads top/bottom and left/right, so the headline is above the photo but to the right; making them fairly equal in importance. • And notice how the folio at the bottom help out with the pinball theory by bouncing your eye back up. This is only a standard letter size page, but it seems much bigger because of the ample white space.
• Ask for a sort of “peer review” from someone who doesn’t have a stake in the project. • Compare your final project to the projects you liked during the research phase. • No matter what, relax and just do the best you can. This should be fun!
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