brochure: design elements of a technical document




Planning the design of Print and online documents


In a typical day at work, you might produce a number of documents without having to worry about design at all. Blog posts, text messages, presentation slides and memos that use standard company templates—these applications and others present no design challenges either because you cannot design them or because you don’t have the authority to design them.


You will, however, have a say in the design of many documents you pro- duce or to which you contribute. In a case like this, the first step in design- ing the document is to plan. Analyze your audience and purpose, and then determine your resources.




Consider factors such as your readers’ knowledge of the subject, their atti- tudes, their reasons for reading, the way they will be using the document, and the kinds of tasks they will perform. For instance, if you are writing a benefits manual for employees, you know that few people will read it from start to finish but that many people will refer to it. Therefore, you should include accessing tools: a table of contents, an index, tabs, and so forth. Think too about your audience’s expectations. Readers expect to see certain kinds of information presented in certain ways. Try to fulfill those expectations. For example, hyperlinks on websites are often underscored and presented in blue type.


If you are writing for multicultural readers, keep in mind that many aspects of design vary from one culture to another. In memos, letters, reports, and manuals, you may see significant differences in design practice. The best advice, therefore, is to study documents from the culture you are addressing. Here are a few design elements to look for:

• Paper size. Paper size will dictate some aspects of your page design. If your document will be printed in another country, find out about standard paper sizes in that country.


• typeface preferences. One survey found that readers in the Pacific Rim prefer sans-serif typefaces in body text, whereas Western readers prefer serif typefaces (Ichimura, 2001).


• Color preferences. In China, for example, red suggests happiness, whereas in Japan it suggests danger.


• text direction. If some members of your audience read from right to left but others read from left to right, you might arrange your graphics vertically, from top to bottom; everybody reads from top to bottom. Or you might use Arabic numerals to indicate the order in which items are to be read (Horton, 1993).


Think, too, about your purpose or purposes. For example, imagine that you are opening a dental office and you want to create a website. The first question is What is the purpose of the site? It’s one thing to provide informa- tion on your hours and directions to the office. But do you also want to direct patients to high-quality dental information? To enable them to set up or change appointments? Ask you a question? Each of these purposes affects the design, whether the document is going to print or online.




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