Tuesday, April 7, 2009

6 Design Distractions

Everyone who sits down to prepare a document for their Printer has a vision of what they want to convey to their audience, whether it be customers or patrons. Elements that distract from clearly portraying that vision need to be corrected.

We get files in many formats, but no matter what program was used to create the document, we see the same problems over and over. Unfortunately, these items reflect poorly on the creators and their organizations. Some elements make them look unprofessional, some are distracting, but most are both.

  1. Distorted Graphics (Extremely distracting and unprofessional - especially if someone is paying you to do the layout).

    Observation: It seems some people loved the House of Mirrors at the local fair, because that is how their pictures look - tall and skinny or short and fat. It appears that the authors who do this first type all of their articles, then put in the pictures to fill up all the space.

    Correction: Put in the pictures 1st - then flow the text around them. Programs such as Microsoft Publisher, Adobe InDesign, and Quark Express all have excellent text wrapping features. You can even curve text around the contours of the graphic.

  2. Ragged Edged Lists

    Observation: Does it ever appear that the paper is distorted when it really isn't? Instead of tabbing, the author typed periods to space to the other side of the page. But since type is proportional, each line ends at a different spot.

    Correction: Use the right tab with a leader.

  3. Borders / In-Document Spacing

    Observation: Borders are all over the place - we will do a separate blog on this soon! The most distracting infraction is that the author isn't consistent in each section of the document - as in a brochure. The 2 outer panels have large margins and the middle panel has none. A system problem is that the margins may automatically adjust to the author's printer, which is usually an inkjet and requires about 1/2" or more - but printers have equipment that can print to 1/4" or 3/8". (Let's not even talk about printing to the edge in this posting.)

    Correction: Print it out and fold or cut the document the way you want it to turn out. Never rely solely on the on-screen version. If your printer won't print to the margin you want to use, allow it to cut off and then mark a line. I know it's low tech - but draw out (story board) your layout and then physically measure it.

  4. Low Resolution Graphics

    Almost always the problem is that the authors use web graphics, and then, to make matters worse, try to enlarge them. On screen graphics are low resolution - only 72 to 90 dpi. Printing requires anywhere from 200 to 1200+ dpi, depending on the printing process and what quality the author wants to produce. (dpi is dots per inch and is the number of pixels in 1 square inch).

    Correction: Try to get the original graphic and be sure to embed it in the file (do not link). Also, do not enlarge a graphic - it keeps the pixes packed together. If you have a 72 dpi graphic and enlarge it, it may end up a 12 dpi graphic! Conversely if you have a 72 dpi picture and make it smaller, you are "packing in" those pixels and the dpi increases.

  5. Caps and Underlining

    Authors use all caps or underlining for emphasis, or sometimes everything is in caps. When we all (yes I'm dating myself) had typewriters, this is what you did. But now we have colors, italics, and a bazillion fonts! Also, underlining is now associated with links - its an on-line world after all.

    Correction: Be creative - use other formatting tactics - but don't go overboard.

  6. Use Of Everything Imaginable.

    Observation: Nothing is more distracting than every line or word being in a different color, or font, or size....etc. It's like the author cannot make a decision, so just uses everything! Nothing stands out and the reader is not sure what to look at.

    Correction: I believe that less is more. Stick to 2 or 3 fonts and use colors for emphasis.

If you have any questions or observations, lets discuss them in future blogs.

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