Document design principles

Here are my 10 basic design principles for enhancing the visual presentation of documents:

Use branding guidelines, templates and style guides

This is the starting point for any corporate communications. Use the guidelines, templates and styles which have already been established.

Get the content first

Get the real words, strip out any formatting (pasting from Notepad helps) and start with that.

Communicate before you decorate

Make sure the content is accurate, grammar is correct, typos are omitted and hyperlinks are working. Consider what the content is trying to communicate and make this the focus of your design decisions.

Think simple and minimal

Remember the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid)? Aim to simplify and minimise the use of design elements, where possible.

Stick with one typeface

Unless you have a very good reason for needing a secondary typeface, just use one.

Use colour with purpose and meaning

Your document should start off as black text on white paper. Add colour sparingly but as required for branding, meaning and guiding the reader. Like all design decisions, justify you reason for using colour.

Make it CRAP

  • Ensure there is sufficient Contrast between foreground and background elements.
  • Use Repetition to build consistency and unity between each section of the document.
  • Choose an Alignment; align all page elements the same way and along common lines.
  • Position elements so their Proximity shows relationships.

Space it out

Tweak the line spacing and manage the whitespace, so the text and other elements on the page can breathe. Don’t sacrifice good presentation for the sake of cramming everything onto a page.

Adjust column width

To enhance readability, aim to make text columns an average width of 15 words per line of text.

Format tables

Subtle changes to tables such as lighter-coloured border strokes, increased cell padding and alternate row shading will make data tables nicer looking and easier to read.