The Fung Shui of DesignFung Shui is defined as the ancient Chinese practice of placement and arrangement of space to achieve harmony with an environment. It is not simply a decorating style, but a discipline with guidelines compatible with many different techniques of design.
The same principles hold true in graphic design. Good design supports the message - not obstructs it. There must be harmony in all elements for the goal to be met - for the message to be communicated. One element out of place becomes a distraction and dilutes the message. One bad piece of clip art or too many typefaces and you lose... you lose the attention of your audience but most importantly, you've lost the opportunity to communicate your message.
Good layout is the foundation of good graphic design which is the foundation of good communication, whether it’s a brochure, a PowerPoint presentation or a simple letter. If the layout is weak, the entire thing will fall apart and the message lost in the rubble.
Layout & ContentGood design is sensitive to its audience. Understanding who will be viewing the piece you are creating is extremely important. This is where understanding psychology and the personality types comes into play.
There are basically two types of readers: the left-brained and the right-brained. The left-brained readers are analytical engineer types who want as much information as you can give them... and then some. The right-brained readers I refer to as the Readers’ Digest readers... they like the main points as call outs and don’t have a problem skimming content and grasping the message. Oftentimes, you’ll find you need to design for both types. This is where sidebars and pull quotes serve their purpose. Give the lefties all they want but sum up your message in sidebars for the righties and you have all your bases covered.
Less is more. We are all from the instant gratification, TV generation. We’re accustomed to 15 second sound bites and getting things as soon as we decide we want them... that includes information.
The internet has had a remarkable role in feeding our impatience. We wonder, we Google, we know. All of this has changed graphic design in a big way: no one wants to weed through a document to find out an answer... they want it right in front of them. They want to find it fast and not feel exhausted once it’s found.
There’s a subliminal pecking order in good layout. One must be organized in thought and know the pecking order of importance of content in order for the design to make sense. It's the basics of 1-2-3... what do you want read first, second, third and so on then design accordingly with size, weight and color.
Again... less is more. A good marketing piece includes all pertinent information – not a single word more – and uses white space to it’s advantage. White space is simply areas on a page which are void of content. White space is almost as important as the text or images... it allows the reader’s eyes a place to rest. It helps establish the flow of the page and keeps the eye focused on that which is important: the message. With thoughtful use of white space and thoughtfully establishing a pecking order of content, the page takes on a self-contained energy of its own. It holds the reader in place.
Eye Candy: Color & ImagesColor
Yes, there are a lot of colors out there. Yes, they are all lovely. But color can be dangerous! Just because whatever program you are using has a really fun color wheel of colors from which to choose, don’t go crazy. Here are a few color rules:
1. Pick two or three colors and stick with those
2. Keep all type in the same color, except possibly subheads
3. Use your third color sparingly unless it is subdued
4. Make sure you pay attention to the intensity of colors
Don’t ever use clip art! Why? Because it looks like clip art! It’s low resolution, outdated, adolescent and makes everything look like it was produced by Suzie Secretary with Publisher. (A footnote on Publisher: don’t use it to design a professional piece... laser copies: fine... but professional printers hate Publisher - it’s not a tool meant for commercial offset printing.)
One exception: if you’re putting together a flyer for the Spring Carnival at a preschool, use as much as you’d like.
Unless a piece is promoting art or photography, images should be used sparingly and only if they support the written message.
NEVER snag images from the internet and try to use them in a professional piece. Two reasons: one, if you snag an image from the internet you’ve stolen that image - you don’t have the right to use it and it’s illegal; two, internet images are low resolution.
Be very careful if you decide to use drop shadows, oval frames, or rules around images. Remember, don’t let you image become distracting. If you use drop shadows, use them delicately and consistently throughout.
San serif vs. serif: San serif type doesn’t have the little flourishes on the edges of the letters and is best used in informational content. Serif type, on the other hand, has the flourishes and is easier on the eye in lengthy documents.
Type is like color... use different ones sparingly. Pick two... or no more than 3 typefaces and stick with those. This makes the piece stronger. You wouldn’t want to use a dozen different bricks on your house would you?
Type size is important too. Pick two to three sizes and keep all content in those sizes, based on your pre-established pecking order of content. Be careful in running type too large as it will overpower you piece.
Informational documents are best with "space after" commands as opposed to indents, as indents tend to distract, especially if there are bulleted lists. You want the content to be as clean and clear as possible.
Flush left is also best for informational documents as it is easier for the eye to follow. Flush right should only be used in extreme cases such as brief photo caption. The key here is brief... flush right text is very difficult to read unless it’s brief and used as a design element... sparingly.
Save centering text for headlines or poems... it’s just too difficult to read.
Justified text should be reserved for books, newspaper articles and formal documents. Justified text is for cramming as much information into as little space as possible. Ever get notices from your credit card company with the tiny type at the bottom telling you all the legal stuff? Notice its always justified? That’s because they really don’t want you to read it!
Studies have found that line lengths longer than 6 inches are too difficult for the human eye to track... can’t track the lines, can’t read the content... message lost. Keep line lengths under 6 inches. This includes letters which are usually the worst culprit.
Use bold and italics sparingly. Bold helps to emphasize subheads while italics helps to emphasize a point. Never underline and never make type all caps... it’s too hard to read unless it’s a headline of a few words.
Computers & SoftwareSoftware programs such as PowerPoint and Word have so many capabilities - so many bells and whistles added now that it’s tough knowing what to use.
I envision the PowerPoint developers at Microsoft getting giddy when they realize, “Hey! Look what I can make this do! Isn’t that cool? Let’s add this zooming, noise-making, swirling, throbbing option to the program so everyone can see how talented I am! It will almost be like video!!” Yeah... like a mobile home is almost a house.
First rule of thumb with all of the bells and whistles: Don’t use them. They are distracting to the point of being annoying. They detract from the message. You lose people when you’re trying to bring home a point if they are sitting back there thinking, “How’d they do that? I want my type to grow and shrink and fade!”
The same goes for text effects in Word. Don’t use them unless you’re working on a flyer for a first grader's after school program. It all goes back to the “less is more” concept. If you’re designing for adults, give them some credit for having intelligence.
ConclusionKeep these points in mind: you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover but everyone does. What are they judging? The design.
Don’t forget that you only get one chance to make a first impression. The look of your project is the cover of your book. Be thoughtful. Your clients are professionals. They are accustomed to seeing good design whether they recognize it or not. But you can be assured they will recognize bad design if they see it.