Designing isn’t easy, but not everyone can hire a designer at the drop of a hat. I understand that. But even if software enables you to do mind-blowing stuff, it is only a tool. It will not tell you basic principles, nor will it shout out “Yo, Mary! Grab the life-saver! Massive overcrowding aboard the SS Business Card!”
That is why I want to share a few super quick-and-dirty basic principles to look out for, and I hope this will be helpful to some (and I do mean super quick-and-dirty. I will probably kick myself later thinking of things that needed to be here, but I want to get this out for some folks whom I know who might find it useful.) The following may not substitute for hiring a designer, but hopefully it will provide some guidance, so that with your creative eye you will be able to produce something attractive.
1. Watch your margins. There’s a natural tendency to use up space. Resist it! You do need some white space around your text, not only to accommodate most templates that need to allow for trimming, but also to avoid crowding that makes it hard to read.
2. If typesetting, proofread. Get another set of eyes. Few of us can proof our own stuff… I know I can’t!
3. No widows or orphans. What are those? They are, respectively, the last line of a paragraph that winds up by its lonesome on the next page, or the one or two words left all alone on a line of their own. Sniff. Take care of them. See below.*
4. Do try left or right justification (depending on your layout and see how it looks. Centering can sometimes be hard to read when it’s not a title or list.
5. If you are having a hard time fitting stuff in, try a different font, or maybe even a slightly narrower font, but make sure it’s readable. Try not to give up your margins and line spacing to accommodate a font — those are important.
6. Not a design thing but when writing, try to use active voice whenever you can.
7. KISS: Keep it simple, Sally! And squint — seriously, I mean it, squint at your design and see if something looks unbalanced, overcrowded or simply unnecessary. Then move it or remove it. Obviously this is not a principle or technique but it can help sometimes! It’s sort of like that fashion tip that advises you spin around, look in the mirror and remove the first accessory you notice.
8. Hey, did you know that it is not necessary to add a double space after a period? Yup, computers automatically put a space and a half after periods. You can always tell who is old enough to have learned on typewriters this way, and no one wants that, right?
9. Make sure your typeface colors and sizes are legible. The rule of thumb is to never go below 8pt for print, but that depends also on the individual typeface. Also, a skinny font layered on top of a photograph or pattern, or a color that does not stand out against the background, might not print as well as you’d like for easy reading. Easy reading is what you are aiming for. That brings me to…
10. When you are done, print out a sample on your desktop printer and make sure everything is legible. Remember, unlike your car mirror, objects on your monitor appear bigger than they really are.
Yes, rules are meant to be broken. But it’s always good to know the rules first.
Did you find this helpful? Would you be interested in a Google Chat/Hangout about it? Let me know.
A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page/column, thus separated from the rest of the text.
• A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page/column.
• A word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph.
Orphans result in too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.