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“I cannot stop myself from clicking away from this website whenever I have to visit it.  Just looking at it makes me furious,” complained one of my clients.

My client was in the target market for the management consultancy – but their website raised her ire, not her interest.

No wonder.  This website had committed three of the deadliest design sins.  It was almost unreadable.

If you want people to actually read what you have written, here are seven design techniques that you need to avoid.

Want proof?  Take a look at 7 deadly design sins that stop people reading – the proofs.

1.         Small fonts

Readers have to squint to decode small fonts.  And, if it takes too much time or effort, they simply won’t bother.

Middle-aged and older people particularly dislike small fonts.  Sadly, eyesight deterioration is an almost inevitable part of aging:

    • at age 40, the retina only receives 50% of the light that it got at age 20
    • at age 60, it’s just 20%.

If you use tiny fonts, you may find that your audience simply cannot read your website or brochure at all.

Writing tactic:

Choose font sizes that work for your readers.

The best size will depend on the font that you’ve chosen and the medium you are using (e.g. website, brochure, magazine ad etc).   Your designer will be able to advise you.

2.         Block capital

When you read, you recognise words by their shape and context.

So when a text is in block capitals, the shapes of the words are too similar – and this makes them difficult to distinguish and read.

Take a look at:

COMFORT                               comfort

COMPOSE                               compose

COMPOST                               compost

The words in capitals have almost identical shapes.  They are indistinguishable blocks.

In contrast, the lower-case words have sticky-out bits (properly called ascenders and descenders) which give them shapes that are easy to recognise.

Writing tactic:

Use lower-case letters, except when the rules of grammar demand capitals.

3.           Extremely wide blocks of text with narrow margins and lines that go on and on and on

Long lines of text weary your reader.

Their eyes have to journey along each line and then travel back to the beginning of the next line.

As their eyes trek across your text, their interest levels and retention rates will plummet.

Writing tactic:

Use about 50 – 75 characters per line (about 2-3 alphabets-worth of text).

4.           Reversed out type

Light text on a dark background – which is known as reversed out type – plays tricks on your readers’ eyes.

Words can appear to be in a smaller font size

Also, the thin strokes in letters tend to disappear.  This makes delicate fonts and fonts that have big variations between their thick and thin strokes particularly difficult to read if they are reversed out.

Reversed out type can be dramatic.  It will work best for your audience if you use a simple font in easy-to-read size.

Writing tactic:

Use dark text on light backgrounds, especially in the body copy.

5.         Grey text

Your readers use the contrast between the colour of the type and the colour of the background to work out the shape of your words.

The closer the colours of the text and the background, the more difficult it is to make out the words.

The golden rules are:

Black is easiest to read.

Grey is more difficult to read than black.

Light grey and silver may be stylish but they can be almost impossible to read.

Grey text needs careful handling if you want to keep your readers’ attention.

Writing tactic:

Dark text on a light background is easiest to read.

6.         Backgrounds that fade from one colour to another 

Readers trying to decipher text on backgrounds with colour fades have to cope with a different colour contrast on every line.

On the first line, they might have dark text on a pale background.  In the middle, they’ll have to read mid-weight text on a coloured or shaded background.  By the end – if they are still with you – they’ve got to deal with light text reversed out of a dark background.

This greatly increases the time and energy it takes to read your text – without increasing the benefits.

In other words, it significantly reduces the value of your writing.

Writing tactic:

Pick one colour for your backgrounds – ideally white.

7.         Missing sub-headings

Your readers use sub-headings to navigate through your writing. They work as bullet points and significantly enhance skim-readability.

This is important because people skim-read a page or screen so they can decide if it is worth the time and energy that it will take to read properly.

Without sub-headings, you are casting your readers adrift.

Writing tactic:

Use sub-headings to help your readers find their way through your message.

Still sceptical?

Not sure how much difference design makes to your carefully-crafted words?

Take a look at 7 deadly design sins that stop people reading – the proof.

Over to you …

Which design sin do you think is the most deadly?  When did you last stop reading something because the design was so bad?

Have you ever committed any of the seven deadly design sins?

Confess all by posting a comment.

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