By Judy Vorfeld
Do you spend money on a product if the presentation looks unprofessional? Case in point: As my husband and I approached a small family restaurant, I spotted two hand-scrawled signs in the window: Help Wanted. Cook Wanted.
Warning signals went off, but hunger prevailed. Once inside, we discovered that everything operated at the pace of a turtle. Food: adequate. When it came time to get our bill, we waited. And waited. Finally, we left our tip on the table and walked to the cash register. We weren’t upset. The owner/manager had our sympathy (but they lost us as customers).
Whether in the brick-and-mortar or brick-and-click world, people appreciate polished presentations, because this generally means they’ll find a good product and/or service. Let’s define “polish” and some of its components. The suggestions below aren’t for glamour or glitz, but for readability.
FONTS ON PAPER
Most of us use serif fonts (like Times Roman & Times New Roman) for text. This type of font is designed so the reader’s eye moves smoothly from letter to letter. The little squiggles (serifs) that are part of the letters are part of that process.
Traditionally, sans serif fonts (no squiggles) are often used for headings, accounting, data entry, etc. They also complement serif fonts.
Today’s home and office (ink jet & laser) printers usually operate at a minimum of 300dpi (dots per inch). At 300dpi and higher, both types of fonts are readable.
FONTS ON THE WEB
In the past, Web designers offered the best readability by using sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana. This is changing. Most users will not replace their current monitors simply because better resolution is available. Designers may be the biggest exception. And who doesn’t love the wider, bigger screens?
Browsers usually default to Times Roman (Macs), and Times New Roman (PCs). I used Arial and Helvetica for the body text of this article. It may be worthwhile to use a sans serif font throughout the site, but it also takes time to add the required codes. NOTE: Some browsers ignore certain font commands/coding in tables if they are placed only at the beginning and end of an unordered <UL> or ordered <OL> list. You may need to code for each bulleted or numbered item within each table cell or they may default to Times Roman or Times New Roman. It’s a judgment call. This is usually just for HTML. Most of today’s websites use Content Management Systems (CMS).
The text on a user’s screen is almost always controlled by the fonts the user has on his/her system. That’s why most designers using HTML give a minimum of two choices when writing the font face command. Some users, for various reasons, control the specific font and size their browser uses. Size is another, more difficult issue. You may learn that you can’t please all the people all the time!! Read more about both of these issues and see examples in the Web Style Guide. Tip: Regardless of the font size, people using Windows can press the Ctrl key and the plus key together and increase the size.
UNDERLINING ON PAPER
For many years, authors underlined text as a way to instruct typesetters to italicize words. Desktop publishing made underlining popular as a way to provide emphasis. It’s often used that way today, but is no longer acceptable in many typographical circles. Primary reason: underlining interferes with descenders, those thingies on letters that drop below the line: p, q, j, etc. It goes back to readability. Tip: Underlining subtly sabotages the reader’s ability to read with ease. One good way to provide emphasis: use bold. Carefully.
UNDERLINING ON THE WEB
See previous section. Also, today most hyperlinks on Web sites are underlined, and people have come to expect this as the norm. So why not avoid underlining text you want emphasized and go for the bold. Or color.
BOLDING ON PAPER
Bolding can be overdone, but when used cautiously, it is worthwhile. It’s perhaps best used in headings.
BOLDING ON THE WEB
Experts say that people scan text on the Web more than when reading text printed on paper. Therefore, thoughtful use of bolding in text is good. Where too much bolding might look inappropriate in a business letter, it might be fine on the Web. Again, use your judgment. Make it easy for the reader to catch your important points.
ITALICIZING ON PAPER
Italicizing works beautifully on paper with ink-jet and laser printer resolutions at 300 dpi or higher.
ITALICIZING ON THE WEB
Don’t, if you can avoid it. Use sparingly. With the low resolution available on the Web, most italicizing is difficult to read.
WHITE SPACE ON PAPER
The Internet Brothers and many other sources give tips to make your presentations more attractive. One common mistake is that of placing text inside a box too close to the borders. Like Microsoft Publisher. Most Desktop publishing software makes a provision for you to move your text away from the borders. Use it; you won’t regret it.
WHITE SPACE ON THE WEB
In page layout, says Wikipedia, illustration and sculpture, white space is often referred to as negative space. It is that portion of a page left unmarked: the space between graphics, margins, gutters, space between columns, space between lines of type or figures and objects drawn or depicted. The term arises from graphic design practice, where printing processes generally use white paper.
White space should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is an important element of design which enables the objects in it to exist at all, the balance between positive (or non-white) and the use of negative spaces is key to aesthetic composition. (Wikipedia)
Tip: white space isn’t always “white.” Remember, white space means the empty part of the page.
Be an artist. Try condensing words into meaningful phrases and headings. Use bullets, numbering, indentation, etc. to give both variety and emphasis. Exception: if you are presenting information primarily to be printed by the user, ignore the rules for white space. At this point, delivering information takes priority over design. Paper is a precious commodity throughout the world. Unashamedly use the entire screen for your important information.
HEADLINES/HEADERS ON PAPER
If you’re creating a presentation that needs some vitality, try using a different heading font. If your body text is in a serif font like Times New Roman, use a sans serif font like Arial or Helvetica for the heading. Some experts suggest you avoid too many headings in all upper case, referring to the principle that too many caps seem to shout. And, unless the phrases are brief, they may be more difficult to read than a combination of upper and lower case. Again, use your best judgment.
HEADLINES/HEADERS ON THE WEB
Because you have so many more choices: size, color, etc., you can, if you choose, simply make the heading font larger. But if you really want to spiff up a site (and have the time to create the extra coding required), make all your headings in a contrasting font or even use a graphic image.
I chose Georgia for this document’s headings. If you have Georgia installed on your system, you will see it. Otherwise, you will probably see Times Roman or Times New Roman; I didn’t leave any options in my font tags.
On paper, on the Web, everywhere: good grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, etc., makes one a better communicator. If you have trouble with good American grammar, and can’t afford to pay someone to edit your work, go to my Writing Help Section for ideas and resources.
Know your audience, and design your document(s) for that audience.
- Stand back from the page(s) and see if there is balance.
- Are the margins wide enough so the page does not appear overcrowded? If it’s a paper document, did you number each page?
- Did you use your spellchecker?
- Did you read the entire document out loud, looking for errors?
- Have you checked for widows and orphans?
- Mistakes tend to cluster, so if you find one or two close by, search for more. Check the beginning of paragraphs, sections, and pages.
- If you’ve done quite a bit of revision, and have tables and charts throughout your document, make sure that every time you say “see Table No. xxxx below,” the right table is, in fact, immediately below.
- Check quotation marks, brackets, and parentheses to ensure they are always in pairs.
- Whenever you have a question on grammar and style and can’t find an answer, email me. I have some great references in my office.
“When it comes to design and typography,” says Chuck Green, “there are very few truths but many religions.” Amen to that.