Design slipups: avoid these 10 desktop publishing mistakes and look like a pro – Technology Tutorial
Roger C. Parker
You wouldn’t show up for an important client presentation wearing scuffed sneakers and gym sweats, so don’t make the mistake of sending out sloppy, underdressed documents. Anyone can afford good desktop publishing tools, but it’s how you use them that will set you apart. A well-designed document can quickly and easily convince prospects of your professionalism, attention to detail, and ability to get the job done.
Design integrity is something that should permeate and unify all aspects of your business. There’s no such thing as an unimportant letter or memo. You defeat the purpose of a “perfect” brochure if it’s accompanied by an amateurish cover letter.
The widespread use of desktop publishing and word processing programs has made prospective clients more critical than ever. Many people notice design errors that were once overlooked, and such mistakes can quickly undermine your image. But you can’t pick up a set of design skills at Egghead or CompUSA – even though you can get the tools there. If you want to look like a pro, use the following tips to avoid 10 all-too-common design slipups.
1. Use uppercase with care.
Often your attempts to add emphasis backfire and simply make your messages harder to read. Using uppercase text is an example. Long blocks of words set entirely in capital letters take up more space and are harder to read than text set in a combination of upper-and lowercase letters.
All-uppercase text is also less attractive because most capital letters were designed to be used in conjunction with their lowercase brethren. Instead, use italics or boldface for emphasis – but use them sparingly.
2. Avoid underlining.
Underlined text virtually shouts “Amateur!” to your readers. Underlined headlines and subheads, especially those set in italics or, worse, bold italics, are noticeably harder to read than plain old Roman (upright) text. This is because the underlining interferes with letters that have descenders (such as g, p, and y). Instead of underlining, use bold, italics, or small caps for emphasis. Better yet, resist the temptation to use design tools as a weak substitute for clear writing. Like good food, strong writing doesn’t need artificial flavoring.
3. Remove excess space.
When design books talk about adding white space, they’re not referring to the kind that causes unsightly gaps between words and lines. First, never press the space bar twice after a period. This practice creates noticeable gaps between sentences.
Next, choose one – and only one – way to indicate new paragraphs. If you choose first-line indents, don’t indent the first lines following a headline or subhead, which is generally enough to indicate the “newness” of the paragraph.
Finally, modify tabs and indents. Replace the unnaturally deep default setting (one-half inch in most word processors) with a smaller one, or use your word processor’s first-line indent feature. As a rule of thumb, a first-line indent should be only as wide as one or two em spaces (the width of a capital “M”).
4. Hypenate by hand.
Most word processors don’t hyphenate automatically. But when words at the ends of flush-left/ragged-right lines are not hyphenated, the right side is likely to be too ragged. Failure to hyphenate words at the end of justified lines results in lines that are both too tightly or too loosely spaced.
Three things to keep in mind before you go hyphen happy: Don’t have more than three lines in a row that end in hyphens; always check your dictionary for their proper placement; and when you edit text and the words move, look for stray hyphens with an eagle eye.
5. Choose the best text
If your columns are narrow, avoid justified text. Your software justifies text by increasing or decreasing the spaces between words so that the last letters of each line align. Because narrow columns of justified text contain fewer words per line, they’re likely to be awkwardly spaced, and hyphenating won’t help much. Instead, choose a flush-left/ragged-right layout if your design calls for more than three columns on a page.
6. Use white space wisely.
Avoid pressing the Enter key twice at the end of each paragraph, centering the subhead, then pressing the Enter key twice more. This creates floating subheads – those without a logical relationship to the paragraph above or below them.
It’s better to use white space to create a barrier between the preceding text and the new topic introduced by the subhead. The proximity between the subhead and the paragraph that follows will make its connection obvious. To emphasize the subhead, set it flush left by “framing” it with white space to the right. This will also help the reader make the transition to the first line of the paragraph that follows.
Furthermore, place horizontal rules above, rather than below, subheads. Horizontal rules create divisions, and it doesn’t make sense to place a barrier between a subhead and the text it introduces.
7. Break for the border.
A deep left-hand indent can make even the most text-heavy document easier to read by providing white space that contrasts with the grayness of the text. The resulting margin also provides space in which you can hang headlines or place margin notes.
8. Cut, don’t comprise.
It’s almost always a mistake to reduce your type size or line spacing to fit everything in. Even well-written copy has extra, additional, unnecessary, extraneous, unneeded, and repetitious (not to mention redundant) words and phrases. As a bonus, your copy will be punchier.
Locate and use typographic punctuation rather than typewriter punctuation. For example, use the proper open and closed “smart” quotation marks (” “) rather than up-and-down inch marks (“), and try a typeset apostrophe (‘) instead of a foot mark (‘). To introduce a a parenthetical expression, use an em dash (-) in place of two hyphens, and to indicate duration, use an en dash (-) rather than a hyphen. Equally important, use symbols instead of spelling out such terms as registered trademark ([R]), copyright ([C]), and trademark ([TM]).
Check your software manuals (you do know where the are don’t you?) and find out how to insert these symbols in your program. But don’t rely on your software to make the proper substitutions. There will be times when you need inch and foot marks.
10. Rely on your eyes.
This might not sound like a design tip, but it may be the most important one. Flawless typography will fail to impress if the words themselves are misspelled. So even if you’ve changed only one word, run your spell-checker one more time before sending that letter to a client or bringing your file to a service bureau. Last-minute changes have the unfortunate tendency of introducing last-minute typos.
Don’t rely too much on your spell-hecker, though. Most are not context-specific. For example, two, to, and too are all acceptable spellings, and your program won’t know if you meant to say for form, or from.
Even this article almost fell victim to overdependence on a spell-checker. For a long time the last word in the first paragraph of this column, “done,” was spelled “doe.” Because “doe” is a perfectly acceptable word, the spell-checker didn’t flag it. Deer me!
Use Uppercase With Care Readers recognize words set in lowercase letters by their distinct shapes. Words set exclusively in uppercase type form blocks and are difficult to read.
Hyphenate By Hand Hyphenating words at the ends of lines makes
flush-left/ragged-right type less ragged (right).
Design is a matter of detail more than creativity. Distinguished designs result from a determination to pay attention to details. You also have to work far enough ahead of time to have time to do the job right. Obvious or embarrassing mistakes, which inevitably project an
Design is a matter of detail more than creativity. Distinguished designs result from a determination to pay attention to details. You also have to work far enough ahead of time to have time to do the job right Obvious or embarrassing mistakes, which inevitably project an unprofessional image, inevi
Choose the Best Text Alignment In narrow text columns, justified text (left) suffers from awkward word spacing. Your best bet is to use flush-left/ragged-right type (right).
Narrow columns of justified text are likely to be characterized by awkward word spacing and excessive hyphenation. Lines containing a few extraordinary long words are often followed by lines with closely-spaced words. Narrow columns of justified text are likely to be characterized by awkward word spacing and excessive hyphenation. Lines containing a few extraordinary long words are often followed by lines with closely-spaced words.
Use White Space Wisely Because the subhead on the left floats between paragraphs, it lacks a logical relation to either. The spacing and the rule above the subhead on the right visually signals the introduction of the next topic.
Introducing a new topic
of great importance
This sentence, however, introduces a new topic. It provides an introduction to the arguments which support the premise summarized in the subhead. It is a grand beginning of a new era in communications. Readers are fortunate, indeed!
Introducing a new topic
of great importance
This sentence, however, introduc It provides an introduction to the which support the premise summ subhead. It is a grand beginning communications. Readers are fo
Punctuate Professionally Topographic punctuation (right) adds a professional touch even to everyday correspondence, and it’ll presell prospects on your professionalism.
It would be nice – however impractical – to give the exact dates of the school’s annual Design Right (Copyright 1995) convocation. Suffice it to say it will be in the September – December period. “Our goal,” It would be nice – however impractical – to give the exact dates of the school’s annual Design Right[C]1995 convocation. Suffice it to say it will be in the September – December period. “Our goal,” according to Sally Owens, MagnaMate[TM]
Break for the Border The page on bottom, with its long lines of text and lack of contrasting white space, is harder to read that the page on the top.
First Level One subhead
This sentence, however, introduces a new topic. It provides an in arguments which support the premise summarized in the subhead beginning of a new era in communications. Readers are fortunate, will encounter new information and perhaps lose weight without
First Level Two subhead
The first piece of supporting information comes from our corresp York. They have found that the Carnegie Deli has the best pastran
First Level One subhead
This sentence, however, introduces a new topic. It provides an introduction to the arguments w support the premise summarized in the subhead. it is a grand beginning of a new era in commu tions. Readers are fortunate, indeed! They will encounter new information and perhaps lose we without dieting!
First Level Two subhead
The first piece of supporting information comes from our correspondent in New York. They ha found that the Carnegie Deli has the best pastrami on rye sandwiches in the city. Although othe delicatessens have their partisans the Carnegie is often the first stop for out of town visitors or
Want more advice on designing professional-looking documents? Chat with Roger Parker on America Online on Wednesday, September 6, from 8 to 8:45 p.m. ET (keyword: rotunda).
Next month, ROGER C. PARKER joins HOME OFFICE COMPUTING as our regular desktop publishing columnist. He’s the author of several books on the subject, including Desktop Publishing & Design for Dummies (IDG Books).
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