More and more of the
research, education, and communication we do involves photons and electrons
flying around cyberspace. Yet a surprising amount of that data still winds up
in a physical format that was invented in China in the early second century c.e.:
You, after all, are still reading
this, as are others, not to mention books, brochures, white papers, and other
documents that grease the wheels of society.
Since the invention of desktop
publishing in 1985 with the release of Aldus PageMaker (later Adobe PageMaker
and first used with the Apple Macintosh computer and the Apple LaserWriter
printer), PCs have greatly facilitated the process of putting words and
pictures on paper.
As powerful as PCs are in making
you look good in print, they can be equally powerful in making you look bad.
Computer journalist and pundit Mitch Ratcliffe once sagely remarked, “A
computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human
history—with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.”
Top high-end desktop publishing
programs today include QuarkXPress (www.quark.com) and Adobe InDesign (www.adobe.com),
while top consumer-level programs include Microsoft Publisher (office.microsoft.com/publisher)
and Poster Software’s very affordable Publish-It (www.postersw.com). They all feature
document templates, and some also have page-creation wizards that can help get
Today’s top word processors—such
as Microsoft Word (office.microsoft.com),
Corel WordPerfect (www.corel.com),
and StarOffice Writer (www.sun.com/software/star/staroffice)—are
richly endowed with design features, allowing you to use them for projects that
would once have required a desktop-publishing program. Word processors are
still not as convenient for this as dedicated desktop-publishing programs,
Pointers and Pitfalls
No matter what software you use
and how much design automation it provides, you still need at least a modicum
of design sense to avoid taking a pratfall.
Many books have been written to
help people minimize desktop-publishing mistakes, but the bible is Looking Good in Print,
which was first published 15 years ago and just celebrated its sixth edition.
It’s the baby of Roger C. Parker, who also does consulting, training, and
speaking, specializing in design and marketing. Parker doesn’t talk to the
press, says his publicist. No doubt he believes that his books speak for
themselves, and with six editions, he’s probably right.
Good in Print is both succinct and
comprehensive, starting with the basics before drilling down into more advanced
Parker covers design concepts,
grids, columns, headlines, pullquotes, fonts, white space, sidebars, photos,
charts, and more in newsletters, newspapers, ads, brochures, catalogs, order
forms, product sheets, menus, letterhead, business cards, fax cover sheets,
resumes, business reports, coupons, and more.
My favorite chapter is “Common
Pitfalls.” Advice includes:
use too many typefaces. This is
one of the oldest but still most common mistakes, and it can make a
desktop-published work look amateurish and confusing.
overuse underlining. Bold and
italic type treatments are better at emphasizing important points and don’t
make a page look as if it came off a typewriter.
use too many text special effects.
Placing text over a darkly shaded or intricately designed pattern, overusing
rotated text, and including too many irregularly shaped text blocks can make a
page look frivolous and reading difficult.
create same-size photos on a page.
Readers won’t know where to look first. Make the most important photo larger.
cram too much information into a chart. Charts are supposed to visually communicate the most important
information quickly. Pie charts with more than six slices and other charts with
text squeezed in defeat their purpose.
create a hole of white space within a page. White space can prevent a page from looking busy and
intimidating, but if it’s trapped inside other elements, it interrupts the flow
of text and graphics.
overindent new paragraphs. Default
tab settings for desktop-publishing programs and word processors create
unsightly indents, particularly for narrower columns.
You can find more free tips,
perhaps all the information you need, at Parker’s Web site, www.newentrepreneur.com.
Reid Goldsborough is a
syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or members.home.net/reidgold.