More design

Choosing type

There are a few general 'rules' to help avoid reader-hostile typography.

Lower case is more readable than upper case

Rapid reading is really pattern recognition. The mind reads quickly by recognising words and phrases by their shape. Lower case is very readable because the ascenders and descenders give each word a distinctive shape that is easy to recognize. UPPER CASE BY COMPARISON GIVES WORDS A PLAIN SQUARE OUTLINE. The mind must therefore read the individual letters to work out the word. This is much slower.

When does upper case work?

Upper case has one real advantage over lower case. Upper case turns words into neat rectangular blocks. This makes them easy to build into ornamental titles and headlines. They are not as easy to read as lower case, but that doesn't matter, as here the looks count as much as the meaning, and you are not expecting people to read in bulk. Titles and headlines still work best when they can be taken in at a glance. Hence long headlines or headlines over four lines high should be avoided.

Serif is more readable than sans serif

The serifs are the wiggles and caps on the letters you are reading now. Serifs provide a sub-conscious cue to help eye movement. They form linearities which help the eye to slide easily from left to right along each line. Hence they also make it harder for the eye to wander off a line or miss a line. Serif type is therefore ideal for large bodies of type.

When is sans serif useful?

Sans serif types (like this one) are often more elegant and modern-looking than serif types. They are fine to use anywhere except with very large bodies of type.

Coloured text

Text printed in coloured ink has low readability, especially when colours are bright. However coloured headings and patches of 'spot-colour' in a publication are good ways to make it attractive and attention grabbing.

Tinted backgrounds

Black text on a light tint is effective for emphasis

Reversed text

Blocks of have low readability. However reversal works well for page furniture (running heads, page numbers) and major headings.

Bold and Italic

Blocks of italic and bold text are a good way to create interest and emphasis in your text. Italic has slightly better readability than bold in large blocks of text.

Justified is easier to read than ragged

(see diagrams below)

Ragged left or centred text are very hard to read because the start of the lines is hard to pick up. Ragged right text is good to create a sense of informality. Justified text is the most readable form for large bodies of text.

Maximum line length

There are three useful rules to decide the readability of column widths:

  • Lines should not exceed 12 words.
  • Lines should not have less than 20 characters or more than 60 characters (these lines have about 26 characters).
  • The maximum line length in ems should be no greater than 3 times the point size ie. 11pt = max 33 ems. These lines are about 13 ems long.

Survivors guide to dealing with graphic artists

What is a graphic artist? A graphic artist is someone who takes your raw text, ideas, photos, drawings and turns them into finished 'art-work' ready for the printers. They may also be able to do or arrange illustrations or photographs for you.

Where to find one? Try asking similar publications or printers. When you meet them ask to see examples of their work - make sure it suits your needs.

It's a good idea to get your own ideas about the 'look' you want by browsing through magazines and other publications in a bookshop or newsagent.

Brief them thoroughly, describe your audience, the type of 'look' you imagine, your constraints of time and money. Since they know more about graphic design and printing than you do it's important to listen to their advice.

Get an estimate of the number of hours, and hence the cost, for your publication. Remember that this will usually be an under-estimate, especially since you are sure to be making last minute corrections or changes. A private or 'freelance' graphic artist (charging $20-$35 per hour) is much cheaper than an advertising agency or design house ($40-$100 per hour). It's a good idea to agree about how extra time will be charged.

Graphic design has several stages - you will want to see roughs of what the artist intends, when you are satisfied with these the graphic artist will go away and produce the finished art. It is essential to check this thorough-ly. The more times you see the artist, the more control you will have over the publication, although you may drive the artist mad. Just remember to be tactful - they are sensitive workers.

PS. One of the major expenses in graphic design is typesetting. This may be $30-$80 per page. Make sure you get estimates in advance. Alternatively you can use 'desktop publishing' on a personal computer (usually an Apple Macintosh) usually at $10 per page (the Apple Laserwriter usually costs $2.50 per sheet at various city 'bureaus', but each page takes an average of four reprintings during production!).