Most over-used techniques
DT&G What do you think is the single most misused design technique being popularized today?
I'd have to answer the overuse of color, particularly the use of too many colors. Color works best when it is used with restraint. Too many clients and managers evidently feel that: "Since we're paying for the second color, we should get our money's worth!" As a result, the second color is used not only for the restrained highlight in the newsletter nameplate or the firm's logo, but is also used for headlines, subheads and end-of-story symbols.
As a result, what could be a dramatic point of second color emphasis becomes lost in the clutter caused by the overuse of the second color. The overused second (or third) color cancels itself out, replacing impact with chaos.
DT&G Okay, following that -- which technique do you think is the best to employ in both print and web?
Simplicity. Keep it simple. Use a minimum number of typefaces and colors. Keep change to the minimum. Use white space and organization to showcase your message, not your typeface collection. Avoid showing off your, or your software's, many capabilities by eliminating unnecessary text wraps, computer-manipulated photographs and other special effects.
Design is simply a tool to help reduce the distance between message and audience. Use design to provide selective emphasis by highlighting important thoughts. Use design to and typography to enhance and ease the reading experience, rather than making your text a puzzle that has to be deciphered. And, above all else, avoid setting headlines entirely in upper case letters!
DT&G Roger, what's your favorite trick (or ahem, technique) for getting the reader to read beyond the first few lines of text?
Chunking refers to breaking large text blocks into manageable, bite-sized chunks. People don't want to encounter a print or web page filled with paragraph after paragraph of text. Accordingly, provide numerous subheads. Each subhead "advertises" the text that follows and provides an additional entry point into the text. I like to see subheads every two or three paragraphs, definitely whenever a new topic is introduced.
Next, use call-out's (or pull-quotes) to summarize important ideas or phrases located in the adjacent text and use sidebars to further break out topics within long articles that go into detail on a specific aspect of the long article.
And, most important, pay attention to line length. Readers simply don't want to read text that extends in an unbroken line from margin to margin of a page (or edge to edge of a computer monitor). Bordering your text with margins to the left and right provides white space, or "breathing room," which makes the text appear easier to read (by requiring fewer right-to-left eye movements on each line) and also provides visual contrast.
DT&G Do you ever get feedback on how well these techniques work in terms of readership?
Funny you should ask: just last night, a student at my class told me she had redesigned the Quarterly Report she creates for management using a three-column grid. She used an "empty" column of white space to the left of the text, placing only the firm's logo and subheads in this space. Previously, the Quarterly Report was based on a "margin to margin" single column of text.
She proudly told me that she had received three phone calls complimenting her on the improved appearance and easier reading of the redesign!
DT&G Man, that's a home run isn't it! (Nothing better than compliments from readers -- particularly when they're pointing out why!)
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