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Keep an Eye On The Negative

Keep an Eye On The Negative

So you are at work, and you have to put out a new document, and off you go putting in the text and the images to break it up…but…did you think about who is going to read this, and is it easy to read? The next time you have to create a document for work, don’t put a document out that is difficult to read. The easier you make it for people to read your information, the more likely it is that the next time you produce a document, they will look to read your information again. We live in a busy world and you might have the most amazing content, but if it’s difficult to read, well, it just won’t get read. So how are you going to get your content read?

Don’t Cram It

When you lay out a document, don’t try to cram everything onto one page without leaving some ‘breathing’ space. Try to look at your text as blocks, and then look to see if you have enough ‘breathing’ space to balance it all out. Look at the white space on the page as much as the text blocks. We call this negative space. Negative spaces are the white areas of the page, with no text or imagery. Negative spaces are just as important as the spaces filled with text and imagery.

Don’t Make it Hard

Long sentences are very hard to read, even if you do have plenty of commas. When you lay out your text, sometimes the tendency is to make it the whole width of the page with very narrow page margins. People do this just to get everything on one page. Please do not do this. It’s very difficult to read, and your user will not take it in. You would be better off to have wider margins, and a font that will give you somewhere between 50 to 75 characters in one line, and that includes spaces. So if you need to make your font size 11 point rather than 12 point, it’s a better outcome.

We read mostly by pattern recognition. If people have trouble reading your information they will transfer the feeling of that difficulty to the meaning of the text and decide that it’s too hard to read, and they stop reading.

Don’t go mad with your fonts and try to keep it to two or three fonts maximum. Using decorative text, or using a mix of too many fonts, interferes with pattern recognition and slows reading down.

Don’t Jumble Up Your Page

You may have come across the drawings that Leonardo Da Vinci did for the publication of a book about the Golden Ratio, otherwise known as the Divine Proportion. It is a pattern that can be found in nature, and when it’s found we naturally see it as beautiful. In the spiral of a seashell to the patterns of leaves and plants, once you are aware of it, you see it everywhere. In its most basic form, the idea is that space should be divided as two thirds against one third.

So when you go to lay out your page, think about where you are putting your images. Don’t put a huge block of text, and then a tiny image, or the other way around. Try to follow the two thirds, one third formula.

Don’t have your page elements jumping all over the page. Think about the alignment of every element of your page. If you insert an image, is it aligned to something else on the page? For example, don’t put a photograph on your page and then text opposite it that does not align to the top of the image. This looks wrong and makes it difficult for the reader. Align the top of the text to the top of the image.

The easiest way to align your pages is to use a grid system. For example, an A4 page might have four columns across it, but you can put text across two of these columns, or an image across three and the caption in the fourth.

Don’t Topple the Page Over

Readers will scan your document first to decide if it’s worth reading. Don’t give them a reason not to read your information.

Don’t ignore the visual hierarchy of your page by having all your headings in the same style or weight. Consider having an A-head, and then a B-head which might be a slightly less weight, for example medium weight instead of the bold weight of the A-head. You might also like to have a C-head, which could be a smaller version of your B-head. It depends on your information as to how many headings you might need but try not to have too many and keep everything simple.

Do not make any of your headings the same size as your text. Don’t cram your headings against your bodytext. Give your headings some air, generally two thirds above and one third below, back to the golden ratio again.

Don’t put all your headings in the same colour as the text if you don’t have to. Use colour to differentiate the headings.

Italics should only be used to highlight something, usually the name of a publication or organisation. Do not put whole paragraphs in italics. It becomes very unreadable and does not give you the opportunity to highlight texts elsewhere. Captions are usually in italics. Try to match the font you choose to the mood of the content. It all has to make sense.

If you are designing a page with the intention of it being read on a screen, don’t choose a narrow serif font with a small x-height. X-height is the height of your lower case ‘a’ or ‘e’ in relation to your cap height and your decenders, the parts that hang down such as a lower case ‘j’. Choose a font that has a large x-height, and is clean and simple.

By the way using all capital letters could be considered shouting if used within the body of your text, so please do not use them in text, save them for headings.

A Quick Recap on What Not To Do…

  • Don’t cram the page, be aware of positive and negative space on the page.
  • Don’t make it hard, keep sentences short and limit the varieties of fonts you use.
  • Don’t have a jumble sale of a page, remember to align everything on the page, and use grids to help you.
  • Don’t have your page topple over because things don’t look balanced. Use your headings carefully and use a visual hierarchy.

 

Top Tip

Remember to keep things aligned on the page and to make sure there is plenty of ‘breathing’ space on the page, even if this means pushing to another page in the document.

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