The most interesting of documents perhaps won’t even be read if they are badly designed. Clear design is just as important as good writing. The key is to grab the reader’s attention and make it easy for the content to keep it.
This is a brief outline of the role that design plays in good communication. The CV needs to make an instant impression and it is therefore useful to keep these points in mind when creating your document.
Give visual cues
Let your reader know where to start reading, and where to continue reading. Headings, subheadings, initial capitals, and even numbered paragraphs, can act as important signposts through the text. Visual cues must be consistent throughout your document.
Break up slabs of type
Long, grey “slabs” of type are like a long, boring speech, people tend to tune out. Break up your document with short headings. These help the reader to easily find the section they want. You can also break up your document with small graphics, as long as it doesn’t look messy.
Use lots of white space
White space is an important aid to legibility. Use wide margins and plenty of room at the top and bottom of your page. Give the reader room to absorb the information.
Choose a typeface for readability
Typefaces with a serif (small strokes at the end of characters) are generally easier to read than sans-serif typefaces.
A typeface’s “x-height” is another important factor in readability. The x-height is the height of letters such as x, a and e, which have no ascenders (like h) or descenders (like y), compared with capital letters or letters with ascenders. Typefaces with a larger x-height are easier to read than typefaces with a smaller x-height.
Choose clear typefaces for your main text. Quirky or unusual typefaces can add character to covers and headings, but when used for text they will make your document much harder to read.
Avoid overusing bold or italics.
And never set a whole sentence or paragraph in CAPITAL LETTERS.
Use of colour
Black type on a white background is always the easiest to read. Type on a shaded background has an important role in forms design, and headings or highlighted quotes can be effective on a coloured background. But black on white is by far the best option for your main text.
For interest or design reasons, you may want to use dark coloured type on white, or black type on a pale coloured background or coloured paper but every step away from black on white will decrease legibility.
The least legible colour scheme is white or coloured type on a black background.
Reading between the lines
Four interrelated factors affect the legibility of body text:
- the line length
- the type size
- the space (or “leading”) between lines of type
- the alignment of the right-hand side.
There’s a limit to the number of words that readers can comfortably follow in a line of type. If the lines are too long, readers tend to lose track. But if the lines are too short, the reading flow is interrupted too often.
Generous space between lines increases legibility. The extra white space helps readers stay on the line. If the lines of type are too close, readers may accidentally read the same line twice, or skip a line.
There’s an intimate relationship between line length, type size and space between lines. If you increase the length, you should also increase both the type size and the leading.
Setting text “flush left, ragged right” (so that the left-hand side of the page or column of type is straight, while the right-hand side is uneven) increases legibility. This is because the space between words stays even, and the eye “knows” immediately when it has come to the end of a line.
Conversely, “justifying” the type (where both sides of the column or page of type are straight) creates uneven gaps between words and sentences. These gaps interrupt the reading flow.
By following these basic points you will start to create documents with more impact and remember what is easy on the eye is easy on the mind.