Design Tips

Submitted by Janine on 6 April, 2008 - 11:39

Below is a long-ish set of guidelines for effective design of newsletters, leaflets etc. Attached is a shorter version of these notes on one page of A4 (PDF).





  • Build on existing design ideas. Look at other union or socialist newsletters. You could use a template or borrow from an existing layout.
  • Keep it simple. Meaningless graphics, difficult-to-read text, too many fonts and visual elements on a page get between the reader and your message.
  • White space is your friend! Don’t cram too much text or too many pictures into your publication. Use white space as part of your basic design, or to frame, isolate or draw attention to particular items.
  • Think about ‘reader eye flow’. Apparently, a reader’s eye falls in the upper, left-hand quarter of the page, then instantly does a lazy-Z-shaped scan to the lower right, then returns to the top half of the page (if motivated enough) to begin reading. So your design should aim to ensure that the reader’s initial scan of the page stimulates him/her to return to the top to read the articles.
  • Choose the appropriate page size, number of pages and fold for your publication. The standard size is A4 (the size of this page), but it’s not compulsory! If, say, you want to produce a ‘know your rights’ guide for union members that they carry round with them, it may be best to make it credit-card-sized. And while you will often want to use a single sheet of double-sided A4, you could also consider folding it half to make a 4xA5 leaflet, or folding three ways as a ‘gatefold’.
  • Especially for a regular publication, spend a lot of time working out the best layout. Sketch it, change it, show it to others, change it again, make some bits smaller and others larger, reconsider and adjust. It will come out better as a result!


  • The ‘nameplate’ consists of the name of your newsletter, the subtitle, the origin (ie. who has published it) and the date. It’s usually at the top of the first page, but could be along the side, in the middle or at the bottom.
  • The nameplate should be visually distinct, so that it is separate from, and does not compete with, the headlines and text that follow. It should be strong enough to get the publication noticed and remembered, but ‘soft’ enough not to overwhelm the page.


  • Make important information — whether that is a headline, photo or advert for a meeting — larger than less important information. If you have a main article, decide what it is, then make it stand out, using position on the page and visual devices.
  • Put some items in boxes. White-on-black boxes are effective, but should be limited to very few per page. Boxes can look good when rotated diagonally.


  • Use reasonably wide page margins (say, 1cm on an A4 page). This will ensure that it prints better, without fuzzy edges, and that a reader’s thumb does not obscure the content!
  • Decide how many columns you want. On a standard A4 page, it is a good idea to use three columns. Ideally, they should be the same width with the same space between each pair.
  • Set columns far enough apart that readers won’t read across from one column into the next rather than returning to the beginning of the first word of the next line in the same column.
  • A smaller number of columns means that they are wider, and the eye has to travel further, which can make the text harder to read.
  • To make your newsletter look visually interesting, you can have some articles span more than once column.
  • Consider leaving some columns blank. If you are using a three-column layout, you could consider omitting text from the first column and devoting it to photos, quotes or facts.


  • Use different-sized headlines for different articles, according to the importance of the article.
  • Reduce headline letter spacing to reduce white space inside headlines, where it does no good. White space above your headlines separates them from preceding text.
    Make the headlines in a larger, bolder type than the text.
  • Type headlines in upper- and lower-case type; or use ‘small caps’ (where capitals appear as large capitals; lower-case letters as small capitals). Guideline: capitalise the first letter of every word in a headline except for articles (a, an, the) and short prepositions (of, to, for).
  • Where you use subheadings, use the same font as your headline, only smaller. Leave more space above subheads than below them, emphasising the break between the previous topic and the next topic.


  • Stick to using the same font – or the same ‘font family’ – throughout. Don’t let your publication look like you have just bought a new package of fonts and wanted to try out all 500 new type styles in one newsletter.
  • Make your text as easy to read as possible. In most cases, this is achieved by using a font that does not draw undue attention to itself. Generally, it is better to use serif fonts (Times New Roman or Palatino), can as studies have shown that they are easier to read than sans serif fonts (like Helvetica or Arial). This is because the serifs (the little ‘tails’ on the letters) guide the reader’s eyes along from letter to letter.
  • Make sure your text is large enough to read. As a guideline, 9.5pt Times New Roman is about as low as you can go; and larger than that is better.
  • Make your headlines stand out by choosing a typeface that contrasts with the body text’s font. For example, use sans serif headlines (like Arial) to introduce body copy set in a serif font (like Times New Roman).


  • It is usually best to left-align your text. It is easier to follow because each line starts in the same place, and has equal word spacing because words are not stretched out as they are in ‘fully-justified’ text.
  • Use one space only between sentences. Two or more creates distracting gaps.
  • Don’t have a full line break between paragraphs, as it may distract readers or signal to them to stop reading. Instead, use the ‘space before’ command to have a half-line space between paragraphs and/or indent the first line of each paragraph.
  • Use smart quotes ie. ‘ ’ and “ ” rather than ' and ".
  • Avoid excessive or ambiguous hyphenation, ie. too many hyphenated lines in a row or awkward word splits, eg. ‘the-rapist’. Or don’t use hyphenation at all!


  • Use cartoons, photos and other images – at least one per page. They draw attention and make articles more memorable. Make sure that they are relevant to your publication’s content, or they will distract from it.
  • Where to get graphics:
    • Take photographs; ideally, someone involved in producing your publication should have a digital camera and regularly snap relevant photos.
    • Use a scanner to scan in good photos, cartoons, newspaper headlines, etc.
    • Use clipart: your layout software probably includes a collection.
    • Get pictures or cartoons from the internet – Google image search is useful; and there are several good lefty cartoon websites.
    • Use charts and graphs to present information where appropriate. Make them readily understandable.
    • If you can, find someone who is willing and able to draw cartoons specifically about your workplace.
  • Beware of copyrighted images.


  • If you can print in colour, then do. It makes your publication livelier and makes it stand out.
  • If you are really lucky, you might be able to print in full colour. If so, have your photos in full colour, and use ‘spot colour’ (see below) elsewhere.
  • Even without full colour, you may be able to use a second (or third) colour as well as black – known as a ‘spot colour’. Use the second colour with restraint, in places such as: the nameplate; charts and graphs; the backgrounds of boxes, in a lighter tint.
  • If you can only print in black-and-white, then you could use coloured paper. Light pastel shades look good and enable the text to be readable.
  • But if you can only print black on white, that’s fine.


  • It's worth using a decent layout programme (eg. PagePlus, Quark XPress) if you can get access to the software, rather than Microsoft Word, which is essentially a word processor with a few layout features.
  • Convert the finished document to a PDF (portable document format), so you can distribute it by email and upload it onto a website in a format that most people’s computer can read.

Remember that these are guidelines. Break any of them if it really makes your publication look better.

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