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Robin Williams: C.R.A.P.

April 14, 2010

No, this hasn’t suddenly become a celebrity blog.  But honest, this post is all about Robin Williams–okay, just not the Robin Williams.

This Robin is a she and she’s the author of The Non-designer’s Design Book, Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice (short review on the bookshelf page).

While her book is concerned with the printed page, the principles apply to the process of designing visual aids of all kinds, including PPT slides. And her principles are what the acronym in the title is about:

  • Contrast
  • Repetition
  • Alignment
  • Proximity

Each of these is worthy of at least one, long post but I’ll limit it to (fairly) short summary posts. I urge you to get, read and use the book, but on the off chance you don’t, I’ll include a few of the key points. Let’s just start at the top:

the word contrast with the middle t in colorContrast is making elements look different so as to emphasize one or more of them.

It’s a way to make the most important elements on the page jump out at the viewer. Achieving contrast can be done in many ways like:  big vs. little font, color differences, or orientation, like a horizontal element contrasted with a vertical element. You need to use whatever suits the chart best but the goal is the same—call attention to something. But as she puts it:

If two items are not exactly the same, then make them different; really different.

This isn’t the time for subtlety. A good example is with fonts—if you’re going to use two fonts on the page (or the slide), then make sure they’re very different or they don’t create contrast.  Same thing with size and color.  If they’re too similar (two serif fonts for example) then they don’t create contrast, just confusion because it can look like you made a mistake.

One warning worth noting: be careful not to overuse this—more than two fonts, for instance, is nearly always a bad thing, it just looks like you couldn’t make up your mind. (And if you want to know more about fonts, this is the book you want.)

Proper use of contrast is a way to make a page rapidly understood—the really important stuff jumps out. It’s also a way to make the page appear to be simpler because it feels more organized and we already established that organized feels simple.

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