3 Design Tips For Better Reading

Damn Good Advice by George Lois

I’m reading Damn Good Advice by advertising legend George Lois. It’s an almost excellent book. I love his profound wisdom, like “The word comes first, then the visual,” or “A trend is always a trap.” And from a copywriting aspect, his use of words is brilliant.

But what’s going on with the design on some of these pages?

In the spirit of Lois’ in-your-face audacity, I wonder if a guy touted as the “Original Mad Man” shouldn’t know that design can either make or break the readability of a message? Shouldn’t he realize things over-designed can sometimes become under-communicative?

1. No right justification for large blocks of text

Right justification brings an edgy style to invitations, callouts, Don Draperish ads and all manner of small amounts of text. But anything more than 2-3 sentences becomes very hard to read. If the left margin is overly ragged like the pages above, it’s even more hard to read.

2. No center justification for large blocks of text

So, is center justification the latest blogging trend? You see it a lot. But trends don’t increase legibility (refer back to item #1 and “a trend is always a trap”). These bloggers could be losing readers.

The thing with right and center justification is that each time our eyes come to the end of the line and snap down to the next, they need to hunt for that first word.

Our reading slows. Our interest wanes.

If you want your audience to read large amounts of text, you’ve got to give them the permanence of a left margin.

3. No wide blocks of text (i.e. the whole width of the page)

Wide columns are harder to read than narrow columns, especially on the computer screen. When our eyes snap from the end of one line to the beginning of another, a narrow column brings us to the next line more quickly.

How wide is too wide?

Columns should be no more than 45-75 characters, or 8-12 words. That means if your type size is large, your column can be wide. But if your size is small, your column must be narrow.

Damn Good Advice offers just what it says—some really good advice. Some of its design is good too. It’s just that some could be even better.


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