Graphic design is the art of making stuff look good with images, text and the use of the areas around the images and text, ie nothing. I worked for a number of years in a marketing and design agency and acquired a considerable respect for the craft of the designer.

I am a writer. The text part is my thing.  I am not a designer and I will always defer to a designer to concentrate on what they do best, which is the presentation of my content. I also have a degree of awareness about design, so there are a few things I’d like to share with you that will go some way to making the text look better in your important documents like collateral and proposals, without necessarily changing the content.

First of all, widows and orphans. A widow is a single word that appears on its own on the last line when your paragraph is laid out. It doesn’t look good. Do what you can to avoid widows by editing your ‘para’, up or down. An orphan is when the single word at the end of your para is stranded on its own at the beginning of the next page. It looks worse than a widow and you should remedy it as you would remedy a widow.

Secondly, use ‘white space’ wherever you can. White space is the areas around your paras and your text. It is your friend and lets your content breathe, makes it look better, makes it more readable and increases the chances of someone reading it and acting on what you want them to act on. Use white space liberally, more is definitely more here.

Thirdly, typefaces, otherwise known as fonts. There are hundreds of different typefaces, but two ‘families’ of typefaces. One is called ‘serif’, where the ends of the letters are pointy. It’s more traditional looking and is suited to long form content like documents, newspapers, magazines, brochures and books. The other is called ‘sans serif’ and being without the pointy bits is more blocky, modern-looking and better suited to headings and short form content. You’re reading sans serif right now. It works nicely to have some variety and use both types in your longer documents, typically with the headings a particular sans serif and the body of content a particular serif.

Fourthly, be ruthlessly consistent in your hierarchy of headings. Make sure your main headings are all the same style and size, your sub-headings are all the same style and size (but a different style and size to your main headings) and so on down to your para headings. Headings signpost your reader through your ‘doc’ and there are few things more frustrating than getting lost in a document.

I realise I’m taking subjects that would fill shelves of books and reducing them to a few paras. That said, a little awareness can goes a long way, which is the purpose of this post.

Caveat no.2: you will see widows in my blog posts. Blogging is an altogether more casual medium, rather like email, so don’t get too hung up on them for your less formal forms of communication.