Chuck Green, the brilliant graphic artist and more, recently discussed (in a newsletter) the work tools he keeps close to him. They are:
- a card with fraction to decimal conversion chart
- a list of words I chronically misspell
- a Field Notes Calendar
- a Moleskine notebook
- a stack of lined 3×5 cards
- a pad of Bienfang Parchment Tracing Paper
- a Rolodex that I look at once every couple of months …and so on.
This got me thinking about what my work tools are. Whether online or physically, I have a dictionary and thesaurus, followed by Chicago Manual of Style, The Gregg Reference Manual, and the AP Stylebook. I also keep a red pen close by. And when I’m at my desk, I have an OTT-LITE to brighten my hard copy. Finally, I have a small cat that insists on curling up on my lap and snoozing while I’m working. Which is fine unless I’ve a project with many papers on my desk and the need to move frequently.
What about you?
P.S. Do consider signing up for Chuck Green’s newsletter. He is so generous with his ideas on design and presentation.
Do you spend money on a product if the presentation looks unprofessional? Case in point: As my husband and I approached a small family restaurant, I spotted two hand-scrawled signs in the window: Help Wanted. Cook Wanted.
Warning signals went off, but hunger prevailed. Once inside, we discovered that everything operated at the pace of a turtle. Food: adequate. When it came time to get our bill, we waited. And waited. Finally, we left our tip on the table and walked to the cash register. We weren’t upset. The owner/manager had our sympathy (but they lost us as customers).
Whether in the brick-and-mortar or brick-and-click world, people appreciate polished presentations, because this generally means they’ll find a good product and/or service. Let’s define “polish” and some of its components. The suggestions below aren’t for glamour or glitz, but for readability.
FONTS ON PAPER
Most of us use serif fonts (like Times Roman & Times New Roman) for text. This type of font is designed so the reader’s eye moves smoothly from letter to letter. The little squiggles (serifs) that are part of the letters are part of that process.
Traditionally, sans serif fonts (no squiggles) are often used for headings, accounting, data entry, etc. They also complement serif fonts.
Today’s home and office (ink jet & laser) printers usually operate at a minimum of 300dpi (dots per inch). At 300dpi and higher, both types of fonts are readable.
FONTS ON THE WEB
Most screen resolutions are set at 72-100dpi. Web typography experts often suggest that at this low resolution, Web designers offer the best readability by using sans serif fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana. This will undoubtedly change in years to come, but slowly. Most users will not replace their current monitors simply because better resolution is available. Designers may be the biggest exception. And who doesn’t love the wider, bigger screens?
Browsers usually default to Times Roman (Macs), and Times New Roman (PCs). I used Arial and Helvetica for the body text of this article. It may be worthwhile to use a sans serif font throughout the site, but it also takes time to add the required codes. NOTE: Some browsers ignore certain font commands/coding in tables if they are placed only at the beginning and end of an unordered or ordered list.
You may need to code for each bulleted or numbered item within each table cell or they may default to Times Roman or Times New Roman. It’s a judgment call. This is usually just for HTML. Most of today’s websites use Content Management Systems (CMS).
The text on a user’s screen is almost always controlled by the fonts the user has on his/her system. That’s why most designers using HTML give a minimum of two choices when writing the font face command. Some users, for various reasons, control the specific font and size their browser uses. Size is another, more difficult issue. You may learn that you can’t please all the people all the time!!
Read more about both of these issues and see examples in the Web Style Guide. Tip: Regardless of the font size, people using Windows can press the Ctrl key and the plus key together and increase the size.
Have you ever applied for a Web site award, and come across the term White Space?
Some people think it’s a NASA program, an degenerative eye condition, or the result of taking a hallucinogen. According to design experts like Grant Crowell, white space is the open space between design elements, and an important layout technique. Text is a design element.
I like to think of placing text the same way Ritz-Carlton chefs present fine food on exquisite tableware. If we offer lots of good text on our sites, but without order and organization, no one may understand what we have to say.
When you’re working with text in a table, use at least six pixels of cellpadding to set it apart from the margins, visible or not. The exception would be if you’re just using one table data cell.
Avoid big chunks of text. Break up your paragraphs into readable elements, keeping in mind that people tend to skim. Large paragraphs are not just confusing, they’re sending a subtle signal that the reader isn’t important.
Verdana and Georgia have a bit more space between letters than Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, etc. If you can afford to use either of these two, do so. They reinforce the idea of more white space. Smallbusiness.com uses Verdana for its body text.
If you need to squeeze your words together a bit more, go with Arial or Times New Roman, making sure to break up the text with lists, blockspacing, etc.
Just for fun, when you’re reading magazines and newspapers and watching TV, look for white space in advertising. Once you catch on to how type can be used in design, you’ll be hooked!