At the studio, we frequently perform design audits of company materials and find ample opportunities for improvement. When we survey such sales and datasheets, we ask a ton of questions: How easy are these to read? Does the layout engage the reader? How quickly can it be read? Is the information understandable at first glance? Like, what if the audience doesn’t read English? Can they tell what the sheet is trying to communicate? Do the visuals translate the information enough?
We usually drum up different approaches on how to improve, but there’s always a few basic ways to add interest and increase the functionality of the content. There’s five simple layout techniques to help increase readability. We do most of our learning through our eyes.
Photos and illustrations help to add visual reference, define personality of the content, and multiply the meaning of your message. Imagery is powerful. Personally, we prefer illustration for many applications, because it helps to set a company’s communications apart from their competitors’ materials.
Charts and graphs help to boil down very complex data into simple graphics that allow the reader to use the information for their needs faster. Using data visualization helps readers digest complex information quicker. For example, above is an image about the world’s debt outlook in a graph summary from the Business Insider. The graph outlines the data visually, making it easy to understand and make comparisons. These work well for annual reports.
Creating headings and subheadings organize the copy into bite-sized chunks. Each heading should be signaled by one or more visual cues, applied consistently across a body of text and throughout a document. A cue can be spatial (indent, line spacing, placement on page) or graphic (size, style, color of typeface). More information on this topic is available on Michael’s post about typography formatting.
Cutting down on content can really help. There may be a lot of information, but only key points and messages need to be presented. Too much copy to read can repel a reader. Edit down and be precise. Make sure the overall writing voice is directed to the target market.
Using color in a systematic way helps to categorize and organize items or sheets into a visual system. Color can be used to designate sidebars, mastheads or columns. Use color sparingly to highlight content and bring attention to certain points. Consult with branding guidelines before making color choices.