Are we putting design before readability?

Your first consideration when designing for print is readability or your content won’t reach it’s market. Why spend all that time preparing your text if people are going to struggle to read it? The design style should not overshadow the content otherwise you might as well scrap the text all together.


I was told last year by a recruitment company that there is a shortfall in people with ‘Design for Print skills’. After the fall the print industry took during the most recent recession I can’t say I’m surprised.  I didn’t think about this any further until today.

After having eye strain a few times recently I started thinking about how I’m not getting any younger. I keep trying to angle things into the light to see properly.  I started reading a film brochure this morning and it all became clear…… or rather it didn’t.

I encountered several classic ‘Design for Print’ mistakes that were making the brochure difficult to read. If they were on a backlit screen there wouldn’t be an issue and I don’t recall having any difficulty reading online.   This got me thinking and just to be sure I compared it to a digital design magazine that I bought last year.  The difference was staggering.

So on reflection I realise that I’ve been struggling with brochures, fliers and food packaging.  The latter being the most important to me due to having food intolerances.  If they can’t get it right they certainly don’t make me feel enthusiastic about buying their products.

These are the main issues that designers need to consider if their designs are going to be transferred from screen to print:

Contrast – Making the background and text colour too close will make it lose impact once printed.  Remember that while you are viewing it on a backlit screen during the design process, once printed there won’t be this added enhancement to the lightest colour.  While some people may be able to read it many will not think it’s worth the eyestrain.

I’ve put back so many food items where the ingredients had tiny black text on a dark red / pink background.  When I worked in advert design we were told that those colours should be avoided as they will bleed into each other.  This gives the edges a furry appearance, add this to the small font and lack of contrast and you will never make out those important words.

Using the right font – Choosing the right font for the purpose is key to helping your reader.  Fancy fonts are great for headers and logos but they can get overused if the customer or designer uses the same theme everywhere. A font that looks great big doesn’t always show up well when it’s small and when placed over a photograph it can get lost. Even if you do add a stroke some parts of the font can become so thin they are impossible to read.

Don’t be afraid to use your fancy font for the headline and them move to a classic Sans Serif for the bulk of the text. Any call to action or contact details should always be crisp and clear.

Less is more – If you have so much text that you have to drop the font size down below 7pt it’s time to do some prudent editing. If adding more text makes all of it unreadable it’s just not worth it. Just select the important information that points to a place where people can read more.  An example if this is mini business cards with a shop name, tagline and web address.  The shop name will have more of an impact, the tagline will explain what the shop sells and there is a link if the person wants to know more.


My troubleshooting has made me feel better about my eye site but I am booking an eye test to be sure. 😉

In all seriousness though – it has also made me feel a little sad about the ‘Design for Print’ knowledge that has been forgotten.

I’d love to hear if you have any issues with reading printed documents or making your work readable?



  1. Victoria Sol
    15 February 2016 / 20:28

    I actually have massive problems with computer screens, not so much with printed stuff. Maybe it depends on how the eye is shaped or something?

    My nemeses are the blogs (it’s almost always blogs) that use tiny, grey writing on a white background. I mean, for heaven’s sake, how anyone can read those is beyond me. 😛 Make it at least 10pt and contrast it properly. Grey on white is evil. 🙂

    (I suppose at least on the computer I can ctrl+ it to make it bigger…)

    • 15 February 2016 / 20:40

      I admit I quickly checked to make sure my text was black when I read that. 😛

      I totally agree about grey on white especially if it’s as much text as a sentence or a paragraph. The odd word is not so bad.

      Haha yeah you can always Ctrl+ on a computer where as I would have to get a magnifying glass and look like Mr Magoo! 😛

      I’m long sighted so anything I can hold back at arms length is ok if there is enough contrast. The grey ticks on Whatsapp make me bug-eyed! 🙂

  2. 15 February 2016 / 22:43

    Printed documents are generally still ok for me, and online is fine thanks to Ctrl+. As far mini sample sachets of toiletries and make-up with near-invisible font size print on them, well… Either my daughters have to read them to me or I sling them into the bin out of frustration!

    • 16 February 2016 / 07:07

      It is amazing how many customers people are losing this way. If I go shopping on my own I can’t try new things because they tend to carry the design on behind the list of ingredients! Just not common sense.

  3. 16 February 2016 / 10:43

    Excellent post Dayz! 🙂

    • 16 February 2016 / 10:58

      Thanks Stupid, been on my mind quite a bit lately. 🙂

  4. 16 February 2016 / 12:16

    Great post. I realised I needed reading glasses when complaining that the writing was getting smaller on packaging!

    • 16 February 2016 / 13:46

      Hehe at least you know now! I already wear glasses which is why I was confused! 😉

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