Even if you’re not a designer, there are probably times when you have no choice but to do some designing. Presentations and resumes are obvious examples, but pretty much any prepared document could benefit from a little bit of typographic know-how, if not for visual appeal then at least for increased legibility and comprehension. With practice, much of layout design becomes second nature, fueled by a gut feeling when something is “right” or “wrong”; but you can also design a really nice text hierarchy with just a few simple ratios for size and spacing.
Start with body copy and design up from there.
In this example, I set my body copy at 20pt (note: this is for a presentation; for a print document this would be very, very large and you would probably want your body copy somewhere between 9 and 12pt). The size of the body copy sets the base for the following easy ratios:
- Sub-headlines should be about 150% of the body copy size (20 x 1.5 = 30pt).
- Headlines should be about 200% or more of the body copy size (I went with 50pt).
Thou shalt not cram.
Repeat after me: It is always better to have more space! Line spacing, paragraph spacing and letter spacing all make a huge difference when it comes to legibility. Here are some basic guidelines:
- Leading (line spacing) is critical for speed when reading text. Too small and the page is cramped with too-dense content, too loose and your eye struggles to jump from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. I tend to lean loose on line spacing, but a good starting place is 160% of the body copy (20 x 1.6 = 32pt).
- Paragraph spacing is the space between paragraphs, which includes the line spacing PLUS whatever number you set here. A good rule of thumb is to set your paragraph spacing to the same size as the body copy (20pt).
- Tracking (letter spacing) is also very important. A good typeface shouldn’t need much (if any) letter spacing in body copy, but I recommend adding a bit of tracking to any text that is all caps. All caps is more difficult for the eye to read, and adding some buffer between the letters goes a long way.
Finally, bit of general layout advice:
- Consistency is important! Design for the page that has the most content so that you aren’t making exceptions as content increases.
- Allow yourself as much white space as you can with wide margins and generous gutters (space between columns).
- Use a maximum of two typeface families. It may seem limiting, but tasteful design is often an exercise in self-restraint. Two typefaces can go a long way when you consider all of the variations you can create with weight, size, spacing, case, color, etc.
Give it a whirl, with a little attention to size and spacing, you’ll be creating great layouts in no time (please don’t come take my job).