My Pet Peeves of DIY White Paper & eBook Design

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Design matters. Especially when the company name and reputation are involved. A well-designed white paper has the potential to elevate the “importance” of the content. Admittedly, don’t we all place ‘value’ on the appearance and attention to detail in the items we buy.

By nature of my profession, I view a lot of documents as sources for inspiration, trends, information and fun. However, as the explosion of Information Marketing is taking the web by storm; I’m noticing more DIY or off-the-shelf document formatting.

Design matters, a lot!

Below are just a few peeves that distract from the readability and ultimately, the value of a white paper or e-book. (I have purposely excluded samples from this article because I don’t want to embarrass anyone, including myself.)

Peeve: Frumpy, Dumpy CoversCreating a compelling “tell me more” cover is an art and skill. I typically reserve finalizing the cover until the interior is complete. If you’ve ever taken a small child grocery shopping, you’ll understand why he/she picks up certain (high priced brand) boxes off the shelves while ignoring others.

Fix-it Tip: There isn’t a quick fix tip for designing covers. In my opinion, one of the most challenging aspects of the project.

Peeve: Text That Hurts My EyesThis is one of my biggest frustrations. I give a company my email address to receive their ebook and I can’t get past the first few pages because the font and paragraph styling is best suited for a birthday card. As a reader, we tend to scan groups of words when reading and anything that creates a barrier to this process erodes the value of your content.

Fix-it Tip: Use serif typefaces for body copy. The finishing strokes or serifs on typefaces like Times New Roman and Garamond aid the eye as we move from word-to-word.

Fix-it Tip: Add extra line space. The default ‘single’ line spacing is not the best choice since it tends to make the lines of text too tight. The addition of some white space between lines guides the reader left-to-right.

Fix-it Tip: Avoid long lines of text by increasing left and/or right margins or adopting a multi-column format. Could you imaging reading an article in the New York Times that was a single column of nearly 23” wide? Eye strain!

Peeve: Lack of Visual Cadence
Documents of continuous blocks of copy without headlines, sub headlines, call-out boxes, and even bullet points are just plain boring. Let’s be perfectly honest; you’re skimming this entry right now trying to glean the best stuff. The goal is to increase readability & readership.

Fix-it Tip: Use subheads, formatted with a complementary font and color.

Fix-it Tip: Add white space between ideas or sections.

Peeve: Disordered Page Layout
Rag-tag, zip-zagging content is ugly. Ugly to look at and easy to dismiss. A call-out box here. Chart inserted there. Close file. Total waste of my time.

Fix-it Tip: Using a multi-column format can provide the containers for text and other elements to be placed efficiently and neatly.

Peeve: Blatant Disregard for DetailsRunning spell check is easy, but actually printing a hard copy and reading your own white paper is a big payoff in catching small details. Here are a couple more:

Fix-it Tip: Two spaces at the end of a sentence is very old school. Consult today’s style guides.

Fix-it Tip: Fix awkward line breaks on formal names, dates, locations and numbers by keeping on same line.

Fix-it Tip: Stop using the Return key to add unnecessary extra line spacing between paragraphs. Use paragraph styling instead to automatically format paragraphs with approx. 1 ½ lines of text between paragraphs.

Peeve: Using Every Color AvailableI was trying to read an online magazine today, but couldn’t get past the first few pages because the ‘production artist’ was using just about every color of the spectrum more suitable for a birthday card. An experienced publication designer will establish a color theme, rendering editorial content consistent; thus emphasizing images, charts and adverts.

Fix-It Tip: Stop the overuse of color by developing a limited color palette. A less is more mentality is needed.

Peeve: Ignoring StylingFormatting text as you go is inefficient and amateurish. Even MS Word has the ability to create styles for text and paragraphs.

Fix-It Tip: Select typefaces and attributes once and apply consistently throughout the document.