Garnish Content with Design

hamburger with garnishes

Like good chefs, writers need to remember that presentation is important.

We could write a masterpiece, but if it’s just a solid block of text, no one will want to read it. It will look like a big lump of meat in the middle of the plate instead of a tasty burger.

Content is important. Yet as visual creatures, we need things that look good to attract us. From medieval illuminated texts to newspapers and magazines to web sites, we’ve understood the need for good design. Here are some of the things to keep in mind when applying design to our writing.

Audience and purpose – Thought you were going to get away from this one? Hardly. It matters who will read our content and why. Will it be a CEO, someone looking for the morning news, a job recruiter, a college professor, or someone just wanting to curl up with a good mystery? Each has her needs and preferences that dictate how we format our ideas.

Type font and size – Don’t get carried away when it comes to fonts. (Say it with me out loud, folks.) One font for the body text only. There is some discussion about whether we should use sans serif (without the curlicues on the letters like Ariel) or serif (with curlicues like Times New Roman). Most of the time I use a serif, especially, for longer works, but sans serif works well for shorter blocks of type. Just stick with one. And never, never use large blocks of fancy fonts like a script or Algerian; they will be unreadable.

The body type should be 11 or 12 points. Too small or too large makes it difficult to follow, and we want to make sure people actually read what we write.

Images – Images are great as long as they have a connection to the content. Don’t use images just for the sake of having a pretty picture. Use them to reinforce the meaning of your content. If it is web content, make sure to optimize the image (make the file smaller) to make it load faster.

Colors – Too many different colors are distracting. Keep to a simple color scheme with one or two complementary colors and one or two shades of each. Much more than that sends readers into visual overload. Be careful of text color also. Yellow, orange, or pink type is tough.

Background – Backgrounds can be a nice accent, but we need to keep them from crowding out the body type. This is an error many people make with web pages. If there is a background with a pattern, it’s a good idea to put the text in a box with a single color background. Reverse setups (say white text on black background) only work when the contrast between the type color and the background color is very strong.

Like good garnishes, design elements should enhance our content, not overpower it.

Next Week: Get an Attitude