Most of you would probably not classify yourselves as a visual expert but often in your job you’re still making visual decisions to deliverables that will have a fair amount of exposure (whether that be to internal business partners or externally to potential consumers). Of course you instantly know what you like when you see it, but it’s hard to execute those appealing visuals yourself. Without extensive art skills and familiarity with design principles, it’s hard to pull off these feats in the time given.
Thinking back to the “fun” poked at the NSA’s PRISM program where a graphic designer remade the awful looking leaked presentation, there are two very key things to take away from that presentation that will help you make visual decisions that will help better convey your intended message and give your presentation that “know-it-when-you-see-it” feeling.
1. Stop using bold text
This is an exercise in unlearning past behavior. It is like that scary trust exercise done in team building camps, where one lets go of their natural instincts as they fall back and let teammates catch them before suffering bodily damage. In the same respect, you must resist your natural instinct to use bold.
As much as our inclinations are to use bold text as a way to draw attention (as well as underline, italics, or the dreaded bold/underline/italic combo) the practice generally turns into bolding so much that the viewer isn’t sure which part actually stands out. In many cases bold is used as baseline formatting, which minimizes the impact. No doubt, you may be reading this and arguing back at me with all with all of the instances in which bolding should absolutely be used, but I urge you to fall back, trust an expert, and stop using bold. Try instead to use a different color, ALL CAPS or a change in font size as these are more effective strategies for visually appealing deliverables.
2. Stop using shapes, fills and lines to create separation; instead use SPACE
This too is a discipline where you need to resist the urge to do what is natural. An all-too-familiar situation in information visualization is a diagram combined with support text. See below:
In terms of visual weight, the text box on the right is heavier and visually drawing us to the text instead of the quick, intuitive story that is illustrated on the left. What happens if we resist this urge to put a boundary/fill/shape around everything and let space do the work?
This illustration shows a popular idea in design: LESS IS MORE. It feels less cluttered, and allows our eye to be drawn with visually appealing use of “weight” which emphasizes the diagram. This allows the viewer to get to the point faster, which gives your deliverable a stronger possibility of leaving a deep, long-term impact on the viewer. The text still supports the diagram. None of the information gets lost. Space does the work for us, and alleviates the need to make other visual decisions. Think of it like two kids in the back seat bugging each other: space separates them better than a line (or a box). Note: the text is also no longer bold, which adds to the visual appeal.
If one has to sift through a ton of formatting, shapes and other such “helpful” visual items, the viewer’s brain spends energy stripping away what is not important instead of absorbing the information. Doing JUST THESE TWO THINGS will make a drastic improvement, regardless of your background, or your infamy for making visually appealing deliverables. In no time your designs will look contemporary, and better yet, will have a lasting impression on those that look at them. Instead of taking notice on the level of the visual appeal, viewers will be thinking about passing your deliverable on to others.