A clear design checklist

As we’ve written here before, using design principles can make your content – whether you’re working on a flyer to promote an event, or legal information to share with your community – more compelling and easier to understand.

Below, you’ll find a checklist I created as part of my final assignment for a course I recently completed on clear graphics and design. It’s also available as a two page PDF document.

But, before embarking on design, it’s important to consider some of the core principles of user-centred design: think about your users’ information needs, and keep things simple. Mitchell Kapor said in his Software Design Manifesto back in 1990, “If a user interface is designed ‘after the fact’ it is like designing an automobile dashboard after the engine, chassis, and all other components and functions are specified.” We think the same holds true some 36 years later when it comes to user-centred design of legal or other information.

A clear design checklist

1. Have you made appropriate design choices based on the format/ s that you’ll be producing your content in?

online content should usually have a smaller word count than print content
most people read online content in an “F” pattern rather than a top-to-bottom and left-to right pattern
both print and online content are more effective in smaller chunks with very clear headings and subheadings
bear in mind that typefaces and images need to be readable regardless of the size of paper or screen used for your content

2. Do your colour choices provide both interest and contrast?

check your colours against a colour wheel to make sure they are either complementary, analogous, or triads – this will help provide effective contrast and avoid clashing
make sure that warm colours (which come forward) and cool colours (which recede) are used effectively to highlight the most important information

3. Is there enough repetition in your content?

make sure your use of colours and typefaces unifies the design – keep it simple by using no more than three different colour families and two different typefaces (or one typeface family)
avoid repeating elements too frequently – this can be jarring

4. Is your content properly aligned?

make sure that your text and graphics alignments (whether left, right, or centre-justified) make sense and help connect all elements of your content
avoid text centering for larger blocks of text – it is harder to read
avoid using more than one text alignment on the page

5. Have you used enough white space?

use bulleted or numbered lists and good-sized margins for larger chunks of information
leave more space above a heading than below it so that the heading looks connected with the text it describes
make sure that the amount of white space you’ve used provides enough contrast to allow your information to pop out

6. Are your typeface choices readable and effective?

if you need to use script or decorative typefaces, keep your use of them to a minimum
if you are using more than one typeface, consult an online font checker – for example, this one – to make sure your choices work well together
use type contrast to help the most important information stand out

7. Do your choices of graphics support your text content?

make sure that the graphics and images you use correspond to your text content
be mindful of using graphics that contain text content in English, as they may be challenging for people with low literacy or minimal English language skills

8. Is your print content easy to read?

print to a black and white printer to make sure that there is enough contrast between your background tone and your copy
make sure that typeface sizes are large enough to read for a broad audience

9. Is your design unified?

use headings, subheadings, colours, and styles to make important information stand out

10. Are items that are related to one another grouped together?

make sure your information is well-organized and signposted – this gives readers clear structures and stops information from getting lost in the shuffle
Want more tips on how to create clear content? Check out our PLE Toolbox, Module 2 and CLEO's Better Legal Information Handbook.


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