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From The Design Desk | Learning by Design

Book and Informational Design Tips and Tricks

I was having a conversation the other day about studying Shakespeare in school. For a lot of people, things like Shakespeare are difficult to read because of the florid language and syntax. I always found that if I read it out loud, keeping to the rhythm and cadence of the iambic pentameter, it was much easier to comprehend. This has always been true of how I retain any kind of book, song lyrics, tutorial or other information - if I can see and hear it at the same time, I'm much more likely to retain it.

Everyone has their own methods of learning. Some people learn better hands-on, others can read a tutorial or manual and have all the information they need. A lot of my job as a designer is trying to figure out how to present information in such a way that will be easy to read and understand, whether or not it's meant to grab attention. Design blogs and portfolio sites love to showcase flashy marketing or branding campaigns, but you rarely see anyone praise the more mundane business collateral like manuals, forms and packaging.

Here are a few tips for informational or book design that I try to adhere to whenever possible:

  • Speak on the right level. I call it the "common denominator factor", and I vehemently endorse it in almost every aspect of my interactions with other people, including design. Think of who will be reading or using the piece your designing. If you have highly technical terminology or detailed diagrams, will they make sense to the people using it? Is there any way you could clarify it further? Would it still make sense to someone who has no prior knowledge of the product or trade?
  • Spacing and sizing are your friends. Don't be afraid of white space - particularly when you have a LOT of information to convey. Spacing between lines and paragraphs is critical for differentiation and organization, and changing the size, weight or color of headers or call-out text can help people parse the information they are looking for.
  • Follow a Grid. When you have a lot of information to present in lists or table formats, it's helpful if you can be as consistent as possible with alignments, cell sizes and columns. Word, Excel and Publisher still have decent table tools that can help you keep data organized even if you don't want lines or borders.

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