You don’t need be a fancy graphic designer to make things that look good. Whether you’re putting together a presentation or just writing a memo, following these simple rules will make everything you do look cleaner and more professional.
- Make Smart Font Choices
As a general rule, always pick a legible font. If your font is at all cooky, or hard to read, you’re probably making a bad decision. Your writing should be to be dynamic, not the font.
- One Space After Periods
Having two spaces after a period is an outdated rule. It was originally developed in the late 19th century so typewriters could mimic traditional printing styles. Over the last 30 or so years, the publishing and design industries have moved towards a single space rule. Having two spaces creates unnecessary gaps in a text block, and make it harder to read.
- Font Size
The default font size in most software is 12 pt. Most typefaces look HUGE when printed at 12 pt. Feel free to go crazy and try something smaller. Most typefaces are perfectly legible when printed at 9 or 10 pt. When you’re printing something small, like a business card, you can (and should) go down to 6 pt.
For digital applications, you’ll need to use a bigger point size. The smallest you should use is 14 pt.
- Line Height (Or Leading)
We all grew up writing essays that were double spaced. This is another bad habit that started with typewriters (there’s a pattern emerging here). As a general rule, your line height (the space between two lines of text) should be between 20% and 45% larger than the text size. So if your text is 12 pt, your line height should be between 14.5–17.5 pt.
- Line Lengths
When you’re writing a block of text, make sure each line is between 45–75 characters in length. Anything shorter than 45 characters forces your eyes to jump from one line to the next too often and can have a tiring effect. If it’s longer than 75 characters, your eye’s tendency is to want to go back to the beginning of the line. It’s also worth noting that line length affects line height. Longer lines should have taller line heights, and shorter lines should have shorter heights.
- Keep A Clean Rag
The rag is the shape created by the line breaks in a paragraph. A clean rag has minimal variation in length from line to line. An uneven rag not only looks bad, but it can distract your eye while reading.
- Fully Justified Text
When done right, fully justified text looks really clean and elegant. When done wrong, it’s a sloppy, hard-to-read mess. When justifying a block of text, you’ll generally want to use a serif typeface. Sans-serif typefaces tend to have less variation in letterforms. So, when you’re reading something where every line is the same length, set in a sans-serif, your eye can easily lose its place on the page. Also, use hyphens. Otherwise, there will be huge spaces between words.
Color can be a great tool for highlighting information and creating hierarchy. That said, it should generally be used sparingly. Pick one or two accent colors, and only use them when necessary.