September 21, 2017
Design Tips to Make Your Materials More Effective

By Rebecca Kushner

Make your newsletters, flyers, and brochures more effective — just by following a few simple design tips. Good design makes your main points prominent.

So grab a few pieces of your organization’s collateral material and rate their effectiveness in following these design principles:

1. What’s the focus?
Effective materials have a clear focus. Writing and organization create a focus, of course. But layout also contributes to the presence (or absence) of a main point.

Say you’re designing a flyer for a rally. What’s the most important piece of information you want readers to notice? The date and time of the rally? The cause and its worthiness? Your organization’s name? Your answer will change for each piece of literature you’re creating.

Start designing your flyer with these one or two key pieces of information. These items need to stand out in some way. That means they need to be bigger (use 24 point font if the rest of the page is 12 point) or darker (bold, different font or color), and set apart with white space.

The eye travels from the upper left corner to the lower right corner of a page. So don’t put your key information in the other two corners.

2. Simplicity
Remember this rule as you continue reading. Less is more, both in writing and design. Don’t use four different fonts or sizes. Don’t put lots of clip-art all over the page—instead, use a single photograph. Keep it simple.

3. Contrast
If you must put different sizes or fonts or colors together, make sure they’re really different. Use 20 point for a heading over 12 point text, not 14 point or 16 point, which won’t be noticed. Use orange and purple for your brochure, not orange and yellow, or orange and red. If something is supposed to be different, then make sure it’s very different.

Also use contrast to distinguish between your main and supporting points. Once hooked (by a catchy headline or intriguing photo), people do actually read the details in smaller font. Making all your text one size hides the main points among the less-important details.

4. Use left alignment
Don’t center your materials. Use left alignment (or right, in some cases). Left alignment creates an instant sophistication. Also, only use one alignment throughout your piece. A common mistake people make is to use a different alignment for the contact information at the bottom of the page.

5. Choose your font well
You should only use one, or at most, two fonts in your pieces. This goes for every medium, be it websites, brochures, or annual reports.

There are two kinds of fonts: serif fonts, whose letters have extra little strokes on the ends (Times New Roman) and sans serif fonts, which are smooth and don’t have the extra strokes (Arial).

If you must use two fonts, pick one serif and one sans serif, so they’ll look different (Tip #3 above). But don’t use the ultra-fancy fonts, such as Curlz—they’re too hard to read (Tip #2 above). Also, serif fonts are more readable for paragraphs, while the cleaner-cut sans-serif fonts are better for headlines. Finally, italics is hard to read, so don’t use it.

6. Spacing
Use the space on your page to group pieces of information together (such as the date, time, and location of the rally). Put white space between these groups of information (rally location vs. details on the cause vs. collaborating organizations).

After you’ve designed your piece, ask yourself (or better yet, ask a colleague): What’s the main point of this piece? If your colleague cannot immediately answer, go back to your desk to re-cluster information, re-size sections (bigger or smaller), or trim your verbiage so your main points stand out.

A few minutes of your attention to alignment, font choice, spacing, and contrast will create a focus that effectively conveys your message to your target audience.

Rebecca Kushner, of Kushner Consulting, is a nonprofit consultant specializing in research, writing, design, communications, and development work. For more information call her at (617) 524-6842 or go to

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