One of the best practices to adopt when thinking about document design is keeping an open mind. Your routine design and formatting preferences (e.g., bold, centered headlines and underlined subheads) may not offer the best solutions for usability and accessibility. Time spent identifying your audience will help guide graphic design decisions when creating your poster, Powerpoint, or presentation handouts.
Documents with complex layouts will discourage many readers.
• Keep your document layout clean and simple.
• Provide ample white space—indents, margins, and open spaces—to guide the reader’s eye.
• Use paragraphs and graphic placement to enhance the flow of concepts.
a. Planning your design.
• Do you have a production deadline?
• Do you have budgetary considerations?
• Do you have staff available to assist in production?
• Do you have access to the professional services necessary to produce the product you need?
• What formatting choices will best serve your audience and accommodate your content?
— Single or double-sided print?
— Length or space constraints?
— Folded, stapled, comb, or spiral bound pages?
Printing and Mailing Services can assist with this phase of your project planning, providing free estimates and guidance to optimize design, development, and delivery of your presentation materials.
b. Selecting elements of your design.
Structure—Prioritizing content and organization
In traditional typography, the reader’s eye is guided by line length, font style and weight, text alignment, and the use of white space.
• Visual structure is controlled by the alignment of elements.
• Visual importance is created through the use of font size, weight, color, or letter spacing.
• Visual hierarchy is the arrangement of elements from the most prominent to the least prominent.
• Use high-contrast colors for both text and background.
• Avoid superimposing dark print over a dark or patterned background.
• Avoid superimposing print over busy photographs.
• Avoid using multiple colors of text.
• Avoid using more than three font faces or styles per document.
• Restrict color text to prominent elements, such as titles or headlines.
• White-on-black print (negative or reverse print) provides high contrast but is considered more difficult to read than black-on-white.
• Do not use color alone to communicate content.
The four quadrant illustration above shows the words “High Contrast” in black Arial font superimposed on white, buff, and bright yellow backgrounds as well as white lettering on a black background.
High-contrast lettering such as black or dark blue text on a yellow, ivory, or buff background is optimal for all degrees of visual acuity. Notice how the black type on the buff background in the upper right quadrant reduces glare, allowing the eye to relax to make reading easier.
This four quadrant illustration shows the word “Effective” in black Arial font superimposed on a buff background. The words “Less Effective” appear in white type on a black background. The words “Not Effective” are shown in purple against a dark green background and in blue on a blue background.
Compare the visual effectiveness of black text on a buff-colored background compared to white text on a black background. Does your eye feel more relaxed reading the buff-colored quadrant?
Notice how visually ineffective lower contrast type appears on dark background. How does your eye feel as you read the green quadrant?
Avoid superimposing print over busy photographs or patterned backgrounds.
The four quadrant illustration above shows the word “Effective” in black Arial font superimposed on a buff background. The words “Not Effective” are superimposed over a photograph of a pink pansies and appear illegible. The words “Not Effective” are also shown superimposed over two different patterned backgrounds, also resulting in illegible text.
Sans Serif fonts, such as Verdana or Arial are typically considered easier to read than Serif fonts, such as Times or Georgia. For maximum legibility:
• Use 16 to 18 point for large-print documents.
• Avoid using any fonts smaller than 12 points.
• Use fonts with easily recognized upper and lower case letters.
• Avoid using elaborate script or decorative fonts.
• Avoid using condensed fonts.
• Use fonts with medium thickness, not thin strokes.
• Use bold or heavy font to emphasize specific words or passages.
• Avoid using underlines.
• Avoid extensive use of all upper-case letters or italics.
The illustration above depicts four acuity charts showing four different font faces—Times Bold, Arial Bold, Futura Bold Condensed, and Courier Std. Bold—in graduated point sizes: 18 point, 16 point, 14 point, 12 point, 10 point, 8 point, 6 point.
Sans Serif fonts, such as Arial, are typically considered easier to read than Serif fonts, such as Times. Compare the legibility of four different font faces and font sizes shown in the four acuity charts above. For large print documents, use fonts that are 16 to 18 points in size. Avoid using fonts smaller than 12 points.
Avoid using elaborate cursive or script fonts and decorative or “funky” fonts with irregular patterns and difficult-to-recognize letterforms, as shown in the illustration above.
Columns of left-justified text placed in conjunction with ample margins and adequate white space, requires less eye movement and less use of peripheral vision, making content more accessible. This style of layout also makes the use visual aids, such as magnifiers, easier for some readers.
• Avoid horizontal crowding text by pushing letters closer together
• Avoid vertical crowding lines of text by reducing leading
• Avoid spreading lettering out horizontally to fill space
• Use wide binding margins
• Avoid fully justified or right-justified text in the main body of your document
• Keep column width proportional to point size (9 to 12 words per line)
Avoid the temptation to either create or fill space in your document by crowding letters or lines of text or spreading letters out across the page.
The illustration above contains three text samples showing how spacing of letters impacts legibility. The first line of text, “Avoid the temptation to crunch letters together to fit everything you want on a page,” has reduced letter spacing (kerning). The second line of text, “Avoid the temptation to crowd lines of text together in order to fit everything you want on a page,” has reduced line spacing (leading). The third line of text, “Avoid spacing letters too far apart in order to fill excess white space,” has expanded letter spacing (kerning).
People look for familiar letter shapes and predictable spacing patterns when reading. When text has fully justified margins, it may lead to uneven spacing between words that interfere with legibility for people with low vision or lower reading ability. Fully justified margins mechanically determine the number of words per line by forcing spacing from pre-set margin to pre-set margin. The illustration above is a sample of how fully justified margins can cause text to space itself unpredictably, interfering with readability.
Different types of paper react differently to various inks and printing processes. When in doubt about the type of paper your project needs, consult with the customer service representatives at Printing and Mailing Services.
• Paper brightness is measured on its ability to scatter reflected light. The more textured (or duller) the paper, the lower the brightness value and the greater the likelihood inks may run or wick, decreasing legibility.
• Coated papers typically take ink better, improving legibility.
• Select a coated paper with a matte or silk finish to enhance readability.
• Use a light-colored paper, such as warm white, buff, or light yellow, and black or navy blue text to increase contrast and legibility.
• Use an opaque paper with appropriate absorbency to prevent smudging and avoid two-sided printing from showing through the other side.
• Select a paper size appropriate to your project that provides adequate space for legible and logical layout.