How To Design Great Looking Documents

April 24, 2013

by Justine Parsons

Do you get frustrated trying to get Word to do what you want? Are your emails, business cards, proposals, brochures, newsletters …. doing their job?  Designing great documents is a piece of cake…not!  When you need to send a document out quickly, often the more you play around the worse it gets.  Here are some basic tips for a professional, good looking document that delivers your message accurately, effectively and quickly.

How to design great looking documents

Think before you start  Whether you are designing a brochure, presentation or manual you will save a lot of time and angst if you think about what you want to achieve before you lay fingers to the keyboard.  Plan what you want the finished document to look like and which content you want to stand out.

Leave room for white space  Our eyes look for white space between paragraphs, around headings, in tables and images.  White space helps your reader to see your content … imagine looking at a page full of right justified text, you nearly need a coffee boost before you settle down to read it.  We don’t clutter our office, why clutter our pages.

There are two kinds of white space:

How to design a great document

  • Active white space: Space that’s deliberately left blank to better structure the page and emphasize different areas of content.
  • Passive white space: Empty space around the outside of the page or blank areas inside the content that result from a poor design.

Limit your fonts  Nothing looks more unprofessional than a document, brochure or business card with too many fonts or fonts that are hard to read.  Use no more than 3 fonts (and I’d suggest no more than 2), using them to emphasise rather than decorate.

Chose colour with care  Colour helps shape the emotional component of your message. The colours your reader sees immediately trigger a subliminal nervous system response and create a specific feeling.  It also creates a path for your eye so use colour to direct the reader to key information.

Do you want to match your flyer with your logo and company colors? Do you want to match the colours on your proposal with corporate colours of your client. Or maybe you want to match colors to an event or a holiday season.  Think of your document’s colour as mood lighting, are you looking for soft and subtle or neon!

Create balance Asymmetrical design works in nature and works well in design (stay away from symmetrical layout).  You don’t need every element to line up and a trick here is to leave your document once you think you’ve finished and come back to it with fresh eyes.

Content is key  Make every word count.  Content is the framework for your document, newsletter, brochure or email…it contains your message.  Think about your headings, paragraphs, bullet

s points carefully.  Is your content easy to find, do you need a table of contents, anchors or hyperlinks?

No errors  Proof read your work.  The last thing you want with your beautifully laid out document is a spattering of typos.  Be confident that there are no mistakes for your reader to find.


Your turn: which elements of designing a document give you the most grief?



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