Friday, October 30, 2009

More legibility = less boldface

If you have single slides with lots of words on them (such as a paragraph), don’t use bold type. Or all capital letters. Or worse, combine them (bold all capitals). It makes your text very difficult to read.

Here’s why:

Roman (or normal or regular) type is designed to be read and is at the core of all text faces.* Bold type usually has less white space, both inside the letters and between letters, and so the letters visually blend together more than their roman counterparts. The result is big white or black perceptual masses with less distinct letter shapes, and so your readers need to slow down to recognize letters and words. And if your audience is spending more mental energy processing text shapes, that’s less mental energy available to pay attention to you and your message.

Traditional typography sets most text in roman type with italics and bold reserved for specific uses or headlines. (And bold italic faces were rarely seen before the 1980’s). These conventions exist because they work. Roman type is easier to read, especially in larger blocks of text. Even projected, medium weight letters read better than all bold ones.

Here’s another, more practical reason not to make your slides all bold, all the time (or all-cap, all bold, all the time – shudder). If you start with bold all-caps, how do you emphasize something? Make it bigger, brighter, even harder to read? There’s nothing left.

So, if you have slides with bunches of words that looks similar to paragraphs, then this applies to you:
  • If you are designing slides in PP to project to a large group, it would be best to remove most of the words from your slides. Then you can feel free to use bold for the remaining 4 words on the slide.
  • If you are designing a slideument (a document that will be printed and may be projected), please “unbold” all that bold type (you’ll use less toner when you print, too).
Your audience will thank you.

* Display faces – those that are not designed to be used for entire paragraphs of text – usually don’t have many variations, if any.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“Filling space”

I encounter many aspiring designers in my work. It seems that some of them aspire to fill troubling white space with stuff. Extra text, cheesy clip art, blurry photos. You get the idea. Here is a tip on how to use photography in PP files to “fill space.”


Ok, I know many of you just can’t do that. The draw is just too great. Like some universal force, you - must - fill - the - space. So give in to the dark side, but do it with style. Choose a single image, not many. And make sure it’s a good one. Here are some tips:

If you are discussing many ideas, you don’t need to have an image to represent each one. Really. Especially on the same page. A single image can be remarkably effective, and is usually better looking than a whole bunch of little images. It’s also more efficient. You can spend less time looking for one really great image instead of more time gathering a bunch of mediocre ones.

Look for imagery in unusual places. If you have a digital camera, you may already have some good images lurking around. And you can always take some more. Get really close to things or frame usual objects in unusual ways. Clouds, landscapes, ordinary objects around the house are all potentially great images.

Crop. Do what professionals do, crop an image so that it becomes more interesting. For example, a typical snapshot often has the subject perfectly centered in the middle of the frame with lots of space all around. Boring. If you crop the image so that the subject is off-center (Google rule of thirds) and that some of the subject is cut off by the frame, the same image can become more dynamic.

You don’t have to be literal. If your topic or business is not particularly photogenic or doesn’t lend itself to naturally stunning images, then go for beauty over fact. Many of us work in businesses that are either visually boring (or downright ugly) or so intangible that visualizing key ideas is fraught with the peril of cliché. Resist. In the context of filling space, beautiful images can stand on their own with no hidden meaning.

Avoid clichés. Think beyond what first comes to mind. For example, a crystal-clear picture of a diverse group of people sitting around a conference table with their sleeves rolled-up is a crummy expression of teamwork. What about a motion-blurred photo of an 8-person rowing crew?

Repeat. There is no law that says you can’t reuse the same image over and over again. In the context of filler images, combined with interesting cropping, a single image can easily be used throughout a presentation. As noted earlier, this also has the advantage of being more efficient.

Again, if you are filling space, consider why the space is there in the first place. Some professional designer probably intended for the space to be clean. But if you must alter the design, try to do it well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Need to write


Time keeps passing, I need to write.

Funny thing about blogs: writing them is (or can be) very fulfilling, and help articulate otherwise mushy ideas. But for me, unless an idea really reaches out and grabs me – just won’t let me stop thinking about it – it usually ends up in a growing Word file called “blog topics.”

Oh well.

More in the next day or two.