What Are the Rules of Desktop Publishing?

Savvy designers follow these tried-and-true standards

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The rules of desktop publishing and design are really guidelines or standards rather than rules. They exist so that the process of working with documents runs smoothly and that the designs keep print readers and website viewers in mind.

The Rules of Desktop Publishing and Design

  • Use Only One Space After Punctuation. One space at the end of a sentence is the proper choice for the typeset material. This is because if you use two spaces, which is standard when typing a letter, the digital line of type may break between the two spaces and throw off the alignment.
  • Don't Use Double-Hard Returns After Paragraphs. With modern word processors and page layout applications, it is possible to precisely control the amount of space between paragraphs. Skipping a line isn't necessary and it usually adds too much space to a layout.
  • Use Fewer Fonts. A generally accepted practice is to limit the number of different typefaces to three or four.
  • Use Ragged-Right or Fully Justified Text Appropriately. If a client insists that fully justified text is better than left-aligned text, convince them they are wrong. Unless you are working with narrow columns in a newspaper or newsletter format, just go with the left-aligned text. That way you don't end up with lines with extra white space placed between words and individual letters by the software as it attempts to make every line exactly the same length.
  • Use Centered Text Sparingly. When in doubt, don't center it. Of course, there are occasions when doing anything other than centered would look funny, such as on most traditional invitations.
  • Balance Line Length With Type Size. If the desired size of type and the line length used in the page layout are incompatible, one of them needs to change. Don't use your largest type on your shortest line.
  • Use All Caps Sparingly and Only With the Right Fonts. In print and on the web, shouting is never worse than when it is done with all-capped decorative or script typefaces. Even if you use a traditional font, reading all caps is more difficult than reading uppercase and lowercase text.
  • Use Frames, Boxes, and Borders With a Purpose. A frame loses its ability to emphasize blocks of text if every other block on the page is boxed. Use the elements sparingly to be effective.
  • Use Less Clip Art. Use clip art with moderation and with purpose. Using a lot of clip art can look dated.
  • Use More White Space. White space provides visual breathing room for the eye. It is a classic design element. When used properly, white space guides the reader's eyes when you want them to go.
  • Know Your Audience. Design for the people you are trying to reach. If you edit a publication for seniors, don't use tiny type. If your audience consists of photographers, use only the best images.

These rules are guidelines. In most cases, they help you improve your documents. However, don't feel you have to follow them blindly. Sometimes a departure from these guidelines is productive, but it should be deliberate.