On color and readability in graphic design

July 4th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Subscriber JA writes:

“Bob, have you noticed how many websites use gray typeface on a
white background?

“It’s difficult to read.

“How about taking a minute to address the importance of color
schemes?”

Entire books have been written about color in design. And I am no
expert in color. Far from it.

But the whole of it can be boiled down to one principle:

The primary purpose of design is to attract the eye to the ad,
and to make the text easy to read — and the latter just as
important as the former.

Anything that makes the copy difficult to read, no matter how
dazzling or creative, is bad graphic design, whether in print or
online.

So at a glance, the color and type rules to follow are these:

1–Make all type large enough to be easy to read for older adults
with average or less-than-average eyesight.

2–The best color scheme is black type on a white background.

3–In body copy, avoid reverse type, which is white type on a
black background.

4–Avoid low-contrast color schemes such as gray type on a white
background, or dark blue type on a light blue background, or the
horrific but not uncommon gray type on a black background.

5–In the body copy for print materials, use serif typefaces —
letters with little extension on them, such as Times Roman.

6–Online, use sans serif typefaces — letters with no extensions,
such as Arial — in body copy.

7–On web pages, subheads can shine and make a statement when you
use an easy-to-read bold serif font such as Georgia bold, for
example, and set them in a darker color to pop off page online
and draw the reader’s eye down the page.

A dark blue looks nice. A deep red or rusty red can also feel
easy-to-read. The color depends on your overall design and what
type of audience and product you are working with.

8–In direct mail, despite what the vendors of handwritten
envelopes and letter mailing say, I have seen no proof that
handwritten outer envelopes or letters outpull typeset. If
handwriting universally outperformed typewritten, everyone would
use it all the time.

Remember, the primary functions of graphic design in advertising
are (a) to attract the reader’s eye and (b) make the copy easy to
read.

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