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Some design tips

By: Avinash Narula

There are a number of decisions to be made regarding the various design elements of a design as well as visual signals. These decisions will largely determine how well the printed message comes across. For instance, you have to make decisions about fonts, line length, number of columns, justification, space above and below the sub-heads and leading, to name a few.

Each one of these decisions is important. For instance, if text lines are too long or the leading is not adequate, the readerâs eye will get lost dropping from one line to the next. Here are some tips on making your design more effective in terms of relaying your message to the reader in a clear and concise manner.

Headline & Visual

There is sometimes a conflict between the headline and the visual in terms of dominance. When the headline is positioned above the visual, one problem that arises is that either the visual is too dominating or the headline is not clearly dominant. In such a situation, the reader is attracted to look at the visual and then the headline. This reduces the probability that the reader will read the headline after looking at the visual. If the probability that the reader will read the headline after looking at the visual is low, needless to say, the probability that the reader will read the copy is even lower. In such a case, there is a high probability that you would lose the reader as he will turn the page after looking at the visual. Taking the above into consideration, it is advisable to position the headline directly above the body copy from where the headline can guide the reader into the body copy.

Make the reader look in and not look out

Visuals face towards a particular direction. They could face left, right or look straight at you. While positioning the visual in a layout, make sure that the visual is positioned in a manner that it is looking into the layout and not out of the layout. The direction of the visual directs the reader as to where he should look and we certainly donât want him looking outside the layout.

Headlines must be broken properly

Headlines must be broken properly for easy readability and quick comprehension. Most of the times, headlines are easy to break. However, quite a few times it is difficult and requires coordination between the designer and the copywriter to find an effective solution.

To have the maximum impact, the headline should be broken in three ways, that is, on spoken pause, a phrase and/or by sense. If care is not taken to break the headline properly, the reader may have a difficult time following the sense and meaning of the same.

It is primarily the job of the copywriter to write copy in a manner that it breaks well. However, there are instances when he will need the assistance of the designer. The designer can help in a number of ways as follows:

(a) Choose a font size that makes the headline break properly in the available space.

(b) Design the advertising and promotional material in a manner which allows the headline to break properly. One way to achieve this is by changing the position of the visual.

(c) Choose a font that makes the headline break properly in the available space.

(d) Choosing a vertical format instead of the landscape format or vice versa.

Provide for more white space above the
sub-head than below it

It is recommended that there should be more white space above the sub-head than below it. This suggests to the reader that the sub-head and following text are related and should be read together as a unit.

If, for some reason, you canât position more space above the sub-head than below it, it is suggested you provide a full line space above the sub-head as well as below it. Another option available is that you can provide a full line space above the sub-head with no extra space below it. More space below a sub-head suggests to the reader that the text is not related to the sub-head above it thereby confusing the reader.

Use more leading for sans serif or bold type

As mentioned earlier, leading is the amount of space between the lines of text. When using bold or sans serif fonts, use slightly more leading to enhance legibility. In addition, bold fonts sometime need extra leading to lighten its colour or weight.

Text matter formatted in sans serif font may cause "doubling." Doubling occurs when the readerâs eye doesnât drop to the next line of text but remains on the same line of text that he has finished reading. Appropriate leading helps avoid this.

Descenders and leading

Fonts with short descenders require extra leading while fonts with long descenders do not.

Donât hyphen left justified text

Hyphenation is not recommended when you choose to left justify your text matter in an advertising and promotional material.

Avoid leaders

Leaders are the rows of dots used in a table to direct the reader from the text matter in one column in a table to related text matter in another column of the table. Leaders are considered ugly. As such, it is recommended that you avoid them. In case you do have to use leaders, go for leaders which have more space between the dots.

Avoid solid block of a single color

Large blocks of solid colors can cause problems in printing. In case you are using solid color on light weight paper, chances are high that the ink will bleed through or show through on the other side of the paper. This will result in poor legibility and readability of the matter on the back of the page. It is also possible that the solid color area requires so much ink that adjacent print areas receive too much ink adversely affecting the integrity of the design.

A large block of solid color also picks up "hickeys" during printing. Hickeys are bits and pieces of dirt which result in a lot of wastage.


When you use words like red, yellow, brown and green to describe the colour that you desire, you are not saying much. As we have already explained in the chapter on colors, there are too many variations of each of these colors. The best way to specify a color these days is by its CMYK combination. One can also use the Pantone Matching Systems (PMS). Always use a the CMYK or PMS system to suggest the color that you want your printer or designer to use.

Break text matter into sections

Organize the information in the advertising and promotional material into logical sections and give each section its own page or panel or section. Such a layout will assist in improving the readability and understanding of the material.

Use Visuals

A picture is worth a thousand words. Use visuals such as graphs, pictures, illustrations and charts to get your message across more effectively.

Use bullet points

Information presented as bullet points are easier to scan and read than information in continuous text format. Use bullets wherever possible and appropriate.

Avoid Widows

When the last line of a paragraph ends with one word, it is known as a widow. You are advised to avoid widows for improved layout and readability. You can shift a couple of words from the lines above to the last line. Another alternative is to squeeze a few lines above the last line or just the second last line a bit to accomodate the last word.

Knowledge of design specification a must

Before starting a design, it is necessary to know the specification of the advertising and promotional material that you are designing. What are the measurements of the advertising and promotional material? Is the advertisement design going to be a margin or bleed design? Is the design in black and white or colour? Are there any restrictions on the number of colours to be used? What reproduction process will be used? If the design involves preparation of several pages, as in a folder or booklet, what are the exact number of pages and how will it be folded and bound together. Knowing all the design details will definitely speed up the preparation of a design.

Make a dummy

A dummy or mock-up of a printed and advertising material will show you what the final piece will look like. Development of the dummy will identify problems with respect to the following:

(a) Alignment of text and photographs
(b) Sequence of pages
(c) Margins

How will the material be used?

When you are designing advertising and promotional material like a brochure, leaflet or a mailer, you should consider the following:

(a) Who will use it? Will the salesman use it for his sales calls or will the dealer / retailer distribute it?

(b) How it will get into your customersâ hands? Will it be mailed or be personally delivered by the salesperson?

(c) Whether it is a read and throw away or a more permanent piece of information such as an instruction manual?

All these factors could influence not only the size of the advertising and promotional material, but also the number of folds it will have as well as the quality and weight of the paper that is selected. For instance, you will increase your costs unnecessarily if you use a heavy fine-art paper on a throw-away leaflet.

Use columns

Text matter in an advertising and promotional material is more readable when formatted in columns than when set in one wide column. Positioning of pictures is also easy when columns are used.

Keep your objective in mind

Before setting out to design, establish the objective of your design. Are you designing the advertising and promotional material for grabbing attention of the reader or for just transmitting information. When your advertising and promotional material must compete for the readerâs attention, use attention grabbing designs with dramatic visuals. Posters usually should have attention grabbing designs.

Keep your message simple

Every effort must be made to keep your message as simple as possible. Also, the information should be presented in a simple manner. Various ways in which you can simplify a complicated message / information are:

(a) Insert subheads. Sub-heads assist readers to go through long text matter by breaking it into easily readable chunks of information.

(b) Use tables, charts and other graphics.

Donât overuse emphasis

Through the use of the concept of emphasis, you can improve the readability of your advertising and promotional material. However, emphasis should be used with care. Indiscriminate use of emphasis would adversely affect the readability of the advertising and promotional material as too many elements would be emphasised and no element would be clearly dominant. This is similar to when a large number of people in a room are shouting, one more person shouting is not going to stand out or be heard. On the other hand, a person shouting in a silent place like a library or a place of worship is definitely going to be heard and noticed. As such, use emphasis sparingly for those sections of your message that you want the reader to pay more attention to.

Add contrast for interesting designs

Use of contrast with the help of white space, typography, colour, graphics and size makes the design interesting. For instance, setting headlines in different fonts and bigger size will stimulate and interest the reader.

Donât overdo the design

Too much of anything is bad. This is also true when too many design elements like colour and fonts are used in the design of an advertising and promotional material. With the increasing use of computers in designing, it is easy to get tempted to use too many design elements which not only confuses the reader but also distorts your message. The best designed advertising and promotional materials optimize the use of colours, visuals and fonts.

Be Consistent

Use consistent fonts, colour and design elements for each advertising and promotional material to give it a distinctive and easily identifiable "look." Such advertising and promotional materials will assist in distinguishing you and your products from your competitors.

Use templates wherever possible

Templates are "dummy" documents with standard designs, pre-formatted margins and columns. All you have to do everytime you want to prepare the document is to incorporate the text matter and the document is ready. Templates are ideally used for magazines and newsletters. Template is a tremendous time saving device as everytime you donât have to reinvent the wheel.

Editing is critical

You have to edit every aspect of your advertising and promotional material very carefully. Make sure that your message is easy to understand by the reader. Put yourself in the readerâs shoes. Every word and sentence in your advertising and promotional material should be absolutely necessary to convey your message. If not, you are advised to take it out. Also, as mentioned before, use short sentences.

Inform advertising agency about the preferences of key executives

Preferences of key executives in the organisation play a key role in the decision making process for the approval of the advertising and promotional material. Final approval rests with these key executives and one has to take their views into consideration while developing any advertising and promotional material. As such, ask your advertising agency to give options based on their own creativity as well as those that take into account the preferences of the key executives.

Some of you might disagree and suggest that this would suppress creativity. I am not suggesting that we restrict creativity in any manner. However, I would like to be practical. I believe creativity is what the client likes. Also, this is not an either-or situation. An advertising agency can give options to their client. They can present both their own creative concept(s) as well as those based on the brief given by the client including preferences of its key executives. In this manner, the advertising agency gets an opportunity to not only convince the client to buy its ideas but also to show him that it has worked far and beyond the call of duty. This approach will not only save you time but may save your job as well.

I have observed that whenever the advertising agency or the company executive ignores the preferences of the key decision-makers, it results in wastage of time for everybody involved in the process. Invariably in such a situation, the advertising agency is asked to rework on the creative design resulting in wastage of time as well as discord between the client and the advertising agency.

Recently, we were asked by a new client to work on some designs for their corporate brochure. We were informed by the marketing manager not to prepare any design with a black background as that was not preferred by the top management of the company. This information saved both of us time, effort and money.

Listen to your advertising agencyâs ideas

As a client, you must also encourage creativity on the part of your advertising agency. You never know when the idea of an advertising agency may work wonders for you. You never lose anything by listening to an idea. One of my clients used to design all his own advertising and promotional material. Once he let us design a brochure for him. He was so impressed with the outcome that he now falls back on us to design all his advertising and promotional material.

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