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Document Design Tips for Non-Designers


At the moment we are in a digital era that gives us design tools everywhere whenever we want.

Without going any further on the discipline of design, the fact that we can open a Word document or Google Docs and be able to, with a simple click, make the typography heavier (bold), and even transform it to a new one would be a dream for the old typographers of the fifteenth century. And that’s something you have to take advantage of.

We are here to talk about some tips that will probably help anyone who reads your documents be grateful to you.

Although the world of design is bigger enough to get lost in explanations and details (and believe me, design is based on detail), we can establish some “rules” that will help you sort your creations and make them more likable.

Let’s get this started.

1) You don’t have to be an expert to use contrast as an advantage.

Has it ever happened to you that you didn't get to read something? Or do it but in a very difficult way? Reading has to be almost an involuntary act, so any altercation that makes you realize that you are actually reading is a sign that something compositionally is going wrong.

Let’s check a practical example.




Did you see how it changes? You can follow a fairly simple rule:

Dark + Dark = NO.

Light + Light = DEFINITELY NOT.

Light + Dark = YES, ABSOLUTELY. (same otherwise)

Going by complementary colors can also help you a lot! (the ones facing each other on the color wheel). Guiding yourself based on these two principles, you can play with your contrasts so that your receivers really read what you are saying. If we have an extensive text, it is always more appropriate to use light backgrounds: by that we will facilitate reading and prevent the eye from getting tired. This does not mean that we cannot use dark backgrounds, but it is more appropriate to use them on headlines or shorter texts.

2) If you justify, let it be to the right.

With this section, we are going to learn a new concept: “saccade movement”. Our eye, in the reading process, pay attention to the words it reads while "jumping" forward to get an idea of ​​what is coming next. In simpler words: you don't finish reading a word that your brain is already reading the next one.

An alignment like the justified one can be a bit laborious for your brain in this sense. Paragraph breaks with this type of alignment don't usually end in a way that benefits your “brain reading”.

Let’s check this in an example:



Those spaces between words make our brains feel a little confused. Justifying to the right, or using a right alignment can save your text from that, and make your brain do a much more relaxed reading.

3) Sometimes, size does matter.

Maybe it's time to start looking twice if what we are composing is actually readable. If we use a typographic size that’s too small, your text will not be readable (obviously). But if, on the other hand, we use a very large typographic body, the effect will be similar.

What we can begin to do is use specific typographic sizes according to the purpose. For example, for a reading text in pdf/Virtual format, it’s recommended to use between 11 and 13pt (typographic size measurement), while in a printed text the ideal would be to adjust the size of the reading text between 8 and 10pt.

Pay attention to what your text is going to be used for, which format it will take to be read, and for whom (if it is someone older, for example, it may require a slightly larger body). This will allow you to define better what body size is best for your document so it can be easier to read. Surely, whoever is going to read that document will thank you later.

4) Hierarchizing everywhere.

Is this a text or a title? Part of the paragraph or a quote? Let your document speak before it is read.

Think about it like a family tree: The title is Grandpa (the greatest size), do you have subtitles? Great, let them be the parents (Intermediate size), the reading text can be the children (a smaller size). Do you have direct quotes? The cousins! Differentiate them in some way (it can be through typographical variables: Italic, light, etc). Each part of your text has its role, and like any role within a set, it must be able to be delimited and differentiated.

Give the reader a hint about what to expect as soon as they open the document.

For your DevOps, is there code involved in documentation? You already know what to do.

5) Value the blank spaces.

There is a very popular phrase (more than a phrase, a commandment) in design that is “less is more”. When generating a presentation or putting together a PDF, you must respect the space around each element. Let's see this in an example:



Overlap, for example, a text with some form of bright color or surrounding it with elements (and worse, if those elements have different colors) will make it difficult to read.

On the contrary, if we let the elements breathe within the page, we will achieve a much more enjoyable reading and the task of "hierarchizing" them will become much easier. Keep it simple, and make the reading job simple as well.

6) Be a copycat.

Pay attention to documents that you have read, and slides that have been shown to you. Absorb everything you remember seeing and thinking: “I read this very well, this looks very good”.

The brain always tends to simplify things and run away from those that are not as easy to decipher or understand, so when we find ourselves in front of something well-designed, we will automatically recognize it (the same happens the other way).

“Copying” is not a bad word, you got to where you are today by copying yourself: you learned to speak by copying your responsible adults, and you learned to write by copying from a blackboard or sheet of paper. Everything you know to this day you acquired in this way, it is by copying that you incorporate new knowledge, and only after being incorporated you can adapt it to your own form and style.

And that’s it! You have on your power everything you need to know to transform your documentation and presentations so you can be the best host for your audience. And remember, you don’t have to be a designer to make your work look better. If you want to know more about typography and document design I suggest you go check this amazing book: Inside Paragraph: Typographic Fundamentals by Cyrus Highsmith.


Victoria Giménez

Community Manager



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